First-Year Women Students at the Nation’s Leading Liberal Arts Colleges

For the 12th year in a row, WIAReport has surveyed the nation’s highest-ranking co-educational liberal arts colleges to determine the percentage of women in this year’s entering classes.

We note here that several of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges are educational institutions for women. These include Smith College, Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College, Scripps College, and Mount Holyoke College. Because only women are admitted to on-campus undergraduate programs at these highly regarded colleges, they were not included in this survey which focuses on gender differences in enrollments.

We also remind viewers that the admissions cycle for the Class of 2025 that began school in the fall of 2021 was far from normal. The global pandemic had a major impact on students’ plans for college, parents’ ability to pay for college, and the willingness of students to be on campus. In the fall of 2020, enrollments were down at many schools due to the ongoing pandemic. In 2021, enrollments at many schools increased substantially. Some of this increase was due to the fact that many students took a gap year between high school and college due to the pandemic and enrolled in the fall of 2021. For this year’s entering class, we have returned to a near-normal admissions cycle. But overall first-year enrollments are down at some schools due to a large spike in first-year enrollments in the fall of 2021.

We also note that we continue to have a lower response rate to our survey than we have had in years prior to the pandemic. A year ago, this was due in all probability to the pandemic as many college employees were working at home without access to traditional communication channels and institutional resources. However, we note that lower rates of response have continued this year.

Of the 20 high-ranking liberal arts colleges for which we have data, women were a majority of the entering students at all 20 colleges. This is the first time in the history of our survey that women made up a majority of entering students at all responding institutions.

There are wide variations in the percentage of women in the first-year classes at these highly rated liberal arts institutions. Among the leading liberal arts colleges in our survey, three years ago Oberlin College in Ohio had the highest percentage of women in its entering class. This year, once again Obelin ranks first with an entering class that is 61.3 percent women.

Women as a Percentage of First-Year Enrollments at High-Ranking Liberal Arts Colleges, Class of 2026


% Women
Oberlin College82250461.3
Macalester College52531560.0
Haverford College36321559.2
Vassar College68140259.0
Hamilton College48128158.4
Colgate University81447057.7
Pomona College41423957.7
Grinnell College43824355.5
Trinity College56531255.2
Bates College51928254.3
Bowdoin College50827654.3
Amherst College46725354.2
Davidson College54229354.1
Claremont McKenna College32217052.8
Swarthmore College43422952.8
Washington & Lee Univ.47624852.1
Lafayette College75739452.0
Bucknell University103453151.4
Harvey Mudd College23812150.8
Wesleyan University75338150.6
Source: WIAReport Research Department

For five years in a row ending in 2017, women made up the largest percentage of the entering class at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, among the liberal arts colleges for which we had data. Five years ago, women made up 62.4 percent of the entering students at Macalester. But women were just 54.9 percent of the class that entered in the fall of 2021. This put Macalester College eighth in our rankings. This year, women make up 60 percent of the entering class, placing Macalester in the second position in our survey.

Haverford College in Pennsylvania has a first-year class where women are 59.2 percent of the total. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, which was a women’s college until 1970, has an entering class that is 59 percent women. This places Vassar in the fourth position. A year ago women made up 61.6 percent of the entering class. This was the highest percentage in our survey.

Women make up 57 percent or more of the entering class at Colgate University in New York and Pomona College in California. At Grinnell College in Iowa and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, women are at more than 55 percent of the entering classes.

Two years ago, only 46.9 percent of the entering students at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. This was the lowest level of any college in this year’s survey. The college bills itself as the nation’s top liberal arts college of engineering, science, and mathematics, fields where women traditionally have not been well represented. A year ago, women made up 49.8 percent of the entering class at Harvey Mudd College, just one woman student short of gender parity. Now, at Harvey Mudd, women are a slight majority of the first-year class.

For the past several years, just about an even number of liberal arts colleges showed a one-year increase – or a one-year decrease – in the number of women in their entering classes. But four years ago, 19 of the 21 liberal arts colleges in our survey showed an increase in the number of women in their entering classes. Only two showed a decline from the previous year. Three years ago, nine liberal arts colleges showed a one-year increase in women students in their entering classes, and 12 showed a decline. In 2020 at the height of the pandemic, nine showed an increase in the number of women in their entering classes and 11 showed a decline.

Last year, all responding liberal arts colleges had more women in their entering class than was the case a year earlier. As stated, the major reason is that overall enrollments increased from the down year of 2020 due to the pandemic. But some of the increases were dramatic.

This year, of the 18 liberal arts colleges that supplied data each year, five showed an increase and 11 showed a decline. Again, one reason for the decline was the unusually large entering classes at some of these schools that entered in the fall of 2021.

One-Year Gainers and Losers in First-Year Enrollments of Women at High-Ranking Liberal Arts Colleges

Oberlin College455504+10.8
Bowdoin College255276+8.2
Lafayette College369394+6.8
Harvey Mudd College115121+5.2
Washington & Lee Univ.236248+5.1
Bucknell University535531-0.7
Swarthmore College238229-3.8
Vassar College419402-4.1
Macalester College330315-4.5
Hamilton College295281-4.7
Bates College298282-5.4
Pomona College255239-6.3
Haverford College230215-6.5
Colgate University507470-7.3
Amherst College289253-12.5
Wesleyan University487381-21.8
Source: WIAReport Research Department

It is well known that nationwide women outpace men in college enrollments, graduation rates, and degrees earned. Because of a large and growing gender gap in enrollments at many colleges and universities, it has become easier for men to gain admission to some colleges and universities. Now, just because men have a higher acceptance rate than women at a given institution does not necessarily mean that men have received an unfair admissions advantage. A particular college or university may simply have had an outstanding pool of male applicants in a given year.

We will simply present the data and let readers make their own conclusions. In most cases, differences in acceptance rates were small. Of the 15 highly rated liberal arts colleges that supplied data, we find that women were accepted at a higher rate than men at 12 institutions. Men were accepted at a higher rate than women at only three liberal arts colleges. Macalester College had identical acceptance rates for men and women.

Gender Differences in Acceptance Rates at High-Ranking Liberal Arts College, Class of 2026

SchoolMale RateFemale RateDifference
Harvey Mudd College9.221.3+12.1
Trinity College30.640.7+10.1
Oberlin College31.437.4+6.0
Bucknell University29.635.5+5.9
Colgate University11.413.1+1.7
Haverford College13.315.0+1.7
Washington & Lee Univ.15.218.6+3.4
Grinnell College8.010.3+2.3
Hamilton College11.012.3+1.3
Davidson College16.617.3+0.7
Bates College13.613.9+0.3
Amherst College7.27.3+0.1
Claremont McKenna College10.510.3-0.2
Bowdoin College9.88.7-1.1
Wesleyan University18.512.0-6.5
Source: WIAReport Research Department

The greatest difference in favor of women was at Harvey Mudd College, which, as stated earlier is heavily focused on STEM disciplines. At this highly rated college, 21.3 percent of women were accepted compared to 9.2 percent of men. At Trinity College, women were accepted at a rate 10 percentage points higher than men. Oberlin College and Bucknell University gave about a six percentage point advantage to women applicants compared to men.

Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut accepted men at rate that was 6.5 percentage points higher than the acceptance rate for women.

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