college application and gender

Gender in Admissions to Top-Tier Colleges

Do you seek every possible advantage in your campaign for admission to a top-tier college? Of course you do! This can be relevant in the context of gender. Whether you’re male or female, there are ways to take advantage of your gender in increasing your chances of admission to elite institutions. Some background may be helpful.

In June of 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. Title IX, a comprehensive federal law, removed barriers that prevented a great many people from participating in educational opportunities that were available to others. It states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Among other things, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in public postsecondary education.

Although we often see Title IX in reference to women’s participation in intercollegiate sports, it is much broader than that in its impact. It mandates gender-blind admissions policies at public colleges and universities. The effect of this mandate is reflected today on the campuses of public institutions.

In undergraduate education, American women have outpaced men for many years. The trend toward female-majority campuses has been increasing since the passage of Title IX. In 1967, prior to the enactment of Title IX, the percentage of women in college was only 29%. By the late 1980s, the male/female ratio was evenly split. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women on campus now outnumber men 57% to 43%. By 2023, the U.S. Department of Education predicts that there will be three women in college for every two men.

The imbalance is evident in the undergraduate populations of top-tier public institutions, including the Public Ivies. For example, UCLA, one of the most selective of the University of California campuses, accepted 800 more women than men in a recent freshman class. This reflects the impact of the UC policies that stipulate that admission be based on a student’s academic record, such as GPA and standardized test scores, and personal accomplishments. The goal of fostering diversity in the student body cannot be used to justify preferring one gender to another.

In addition to UCLA, women are admitted at higher rates at many other top-tier public universities, including University of Texas–Austin, UC-Berkeley, Georgia Tech, University of Wisconsin-Madison, UC-Davis, University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia-Charlottesville. The University of Georgia lost a court case in 1999 concerning its traditional practice of awarding extra admissions points to male applicants. In a recent year, women were accepted at a 57% rate versus 53% for men.

Statistics indicate that admission to public institutions is based predominantly on merit. Your accomplishments, both academically and personally, are generally predictive of admission. The ramifications of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, which held that a student’s race may be considered as a factor in admissions, is an exception. The Court’s decision allowed public colleges to consider race to foster diversity. But gender is irrelevant.

The absence of gender bias in the admissions practices of public institutions is not evident at many private colleges. Private institutions that don’t receive federal funding are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination. This exemption allows elite private colleges and universities, commonly thought of as progressive influences in our society, to potentially choose male over female applicants, motivated by a desire to avoid an imbalanced student ratio of, say, 60% women to 40% men. Such an imbalance would result, over time, from the better average academic qualifications of women applicants. In fact, the ratio might become even more unbalanced than 60% to 40%.

Where there is controversy there is often opportunity. Gender-imbalance can be leveraged to your advantage as a man. For example, Vassar College, traditionally a women’s college, has a 34% acceptance rate for men compared to 19% for women, as the school seeks to reach approximate gender parity over time. As a result, they admit a number of men who are less qualified than a number of women applicants who were rejected.

There are also a number of private top-tier institutions at which the gender-imbalance runs the other way. In the name of diversity, women applicants are given preference over men in order to remedy a lack of gender parity. This list includes a number of engineering and mathematics-centered institutions like Caltech and MIT that, historically, have been unbalanced in favor of men.

The reason for a gender gap varies depending on a school’s history and circumstances. A rationale often given by schools for an unbalanced admissions ratio is that admissions officers are seeking to give all of their students a true co-educational experience. The goal of these admissions policies is to increase diversity through, among other measures, gender parity.

Below is a sampling of private institutions with an admissions gender gap that favors women. Figures shown are admission rates in a recent year for women and men, followed by the percentage differential.

  • Brown University: 7% women, 4% men – 3 points
  • Caltech: 16% women, 6% men – 10 points
  • MIT: 13% women, 6% men – 7 points
  • Carnegie Mellon University: 28% women, 22% men – 6 points
  • Brigham Young University: 51% women, 41% men – 10 points
  • Lehigh University: 39% women, 31% men – 8 points
  • Boston University: 37% women, 32% men – 5 points
  • Cornell University: 16% women, 12% men – 4 points
  • Case Western Reserve University: 40% women, 37% men – 3 points

As noted, some gender gaps favor men, including those listed below. You’ll notice that several of these schools are top-tier liberal arts colleges, which have traditionally attracted more women applicants than men, which resulted in unbalanced student bodies.

  • Pepperdine University: 31% women, 44% men – 13 points
  • George Washington University: 41% women, 48% men – 7 points
  • Brandeis University: 33% women, 39% men – 6 points
  • Wake Forest University: 32% women, 38% men – 6 points
  • Tufts University: 15% women, 20% men – 5 points
  • Vanderbilt University: 11% women, 15% men – 4 points
  • Vassar College: 19% women, 34% men – 15 points
  • College of the Holy Cross: 39% women, 49% men – 10 points
  • Davidson College: 19% women, 26% men – 7 points
  • Bates College: 23 percent women, 28 percent men – 5 points
  • Pomona College: 10% women, 15% men – 5 points
  • Swarthmore College: 15% women, 20% men – 5 points
  • Bowdoin College: 13% women, 17% men – 4 points
  • Carleton College: 21% women, 25% men – 4 points
  • Reed College: 37% women, 41% men – 4 points
  • University of Richmond: 30% women, 34% men – 4 points
  • Haverford College: 23% women, 26% men – 3 points
  • Kenyon College: 24% women, 27% men – 3 points
  • Middlebury College: 16% women, 19% men – 3 points
  • Pitzer College: 12% women, 15% men – 3 points
  • Skidmore College: 36% women, 39% men – 3 points
  • Wesleyan University: 23% women, 26% men – 3 points
  • Williams College: 18% women, 21% men – 3 points

Gender is one of the many factors we consider when building a college list. IvySelect provides superior college admissions counseling based on many years of experience in guiding students to admission at Ivy League and other top-tier schools. At the start of each engagement, we learn about you, your goals, preferences, and talents. Then we collaborate with you to develop an admissions strategy that is ideal for you as an individual.

Together, we’ll prepare a target list for application of 12 or 13 schools that fit you best. Gender advantage, as a factor in target school selection, is only one of many characteristics that come into play. We know from experience that target school selection is a critical step in your ultimate success in meeting your educational goals.