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Women’s Advantage in Admissions to STEM Programs

Women are matriculating at an increasing rate as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors at the nation’s college and universities, including the most elite institutions. This phenomenon shows that gender parity is possible in subject areas that have long been dominated by men.

However, women are still a minority as STEM majors overall. It’s a well-documented fact that fewer collegiate women seek and earn degrees in STEM programs.

We should note that men don’t outnumber women in all STEM fields. Gender equity would require that women account for about 50% of the individuals majoring in STEM fields. When we look at the percentage of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded to female students for the last two decades, based on National Science Foundation research, we find that there is little or no gender difference in the biosciences, social sciences, mathematics, or physical sciences. The only STEM fields in which men greatly outnumber women are computer science (technology) and engineering.

Some studies have found that women are intimidated by being among a small minority in engineering and computer science.The federal government and academic leaders are aware that more should be done to bring women into these fields. They have pushed programs such as Girls Who Code to boost interest and confidence among school-age girls. Nevertheless, educators assert that female students continue to face obstacles, including biases from classmates, teachers, and others, which often cause them to question their preference for STEM subjects.

If you’re STEM-inclined high school female it’s worth noting the elite institutions at which females are already well represented in STEM fields. University of California, Davis, came in first on the Forbes Magazine list of best colleges for women in STEM, with 56% female enrollment amidst a student body in which 29% major in STEM. It’s not coincidental that Davis is in close proximity to Silicon Valley. Forbes placed Cornell University second with 51% female enrollment and among 30% of students in STEM. Cornell offers the Empowering Women in Science & Engineering Symposium, which brings together women students, faculty, and post-doctoral students to learn from notable professionals in the field during workshops and panel discussions. Cornell is followed in third place by Johns Hopkins University.Other highly ranked schools include Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University, and Princeton University, which round out the top six.

Best Colleges has ranked the top 20 institutions that have the highest graduation rates for women in STEM majors, as shown in Table A, below. University of California, San Diego, tops the list with one in three women graduating with a STEM degree. Their proportion of STEM graduates is three times the national average.

Table A: Schools Where Women Graduate with STEM Degrees

Rank Institution Percent
1 University of California – San Diego 32.7
2 North Carolina State University – Chapel Hill 31.5
3 University of California – Davis 23.7
4 University of California – Berkeley 23.5
5 Virginia Polytechnic Institute 22.2
6 University of California – Los Angeles 21.7
7 University of Washington – Seattle 21.6
8 University of California – Irvine 21.5
9 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 20.9
10 University of Wisconsin – Madison 19.4
11 University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign 18.8
12 Texas A&M University – College Station 18.7
13 Kent State University at Kent 18.6
14 Pennsylvania State University 18.6
15 University of Maryland – College Park 18.5
16 SUNY – Buffalo 17.6
17 Rutgers University – New Brunswick 17.4
18 The University of Texas – Austin 17.3
19 University of Florida 16.8
20 Michigan State University 16.4

There’s another approach you may take if you’re a high school female planning to major in STEM and aspiring to attend an elite institution not included among the more gender-balanced schools listed above. Since many institutions, especially those with strong reputations in STEM, are seeking to increase the diversity of their undergraduate student bodies, you, as a woman, will have a small but real admissions advantage over male applicants, especially as an aspiring engineering or computer science major.

Highly selective private institutions, including those in the Ivy League, hold an edge over others in the quest for gender balance. Schools with smaller enrollments but huge pools of qualified applicants have wide latitude in admissions in seeking to remedy any gender imbalances in STEM fields. Your IvySelect college admissions consultant can help you identify which elite institutions are the most appropriate targets for you. In addition to school selection, we’ll assist you in optimizing your admissions campaigns in all other respects as well.