Top Women’s Colleges in 2022

Women's colleges are dedicated to women's academic excellence. Check out the top women's colleges investing in the higher education of women.

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.

Updated April 11, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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Top Women’s Colleges in 2022


Women's colleges provide unique educational experiences to women pursuing higher education across the nation. Dr. Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Scripps College, says that “Women’s colleges afford students a supportive, academically rigorous environment that also allows them to develop as leaders in curricular and co-curricular areas.”

With over 10 million women enrolled at higher education institutions, women's colleges offer academic opportunities such as small class sizes and inclusive communities.

Women's colleges emerged during a time when most colleges and universities barred women from enrolling. Today, about 5% of women college students attend women's colleges. Women's colleges in the U.S. account for a small section within expanding higher education options.

What Is a Women's College?

Women's colleges prioritize the enrollment and higher education of women. Many women's colleges are liberal arts institutions, focusing on educational pursuits such as creative arts, sociology, and literature.

The first women's college, Georgia's Wesleyan College, opened its doors in 1836. By 1960, 230 women's colleges offered higher education opportunities to women across the country.

Since the 1960s, many women's colleges have closed their doors — leaving fewer than 50 women's colleges open today. Over time, decreasing demand for single-gender institutions forced some women's colleges to change their educational focus. Others have changed their admissions policy by welcoming men, nonbinary students, and transgender women into their institutions. Elizabeth Dion, a senior theater and international studies double major at Hollins University, says that:

"Because of the intentionality of historically women’s communities, the students, faculty, and staff here [at Hollins University] grow incredibly tight and complex communities that are focused on supporting each other and allowing each student to be their truest and best self. I personally wasn’t looking explicitly for a women’s college during my college search, I just happened to stumble upon Hollins and felt immediately drawn to it, but I am so glad I did find my historically women’s college because I don’t know who I’d be without it."

While some women's colleges experienced steady or increasing enrollment in recent decades, most encountered financial loss due to low enrollment. The Me Too movement and other political actions have helped increase applications to women's colleges, providing a much needed boost for many institutions.

Women's colleges offer a unique experience that many women find academically, socially, and financially beneficial. Dr. Edwalds-Gilbert confirms that “Within the curriculum, students learn about gender and women’s studies, and faculty are conscious to include readings from a diverse array of scholars in courses across disciplines. Framing knowledge in this way recognizes the many contributions of women and people of color helps students see themselves as knowledge creators.”

Our Ranking Methodology

In ranking the best women's colleges in the U.S., we considered the following factors in our methodology:

Top 10 Women's Colleges

Best Women's Colleges

  • Wellesley College
    Location

    Wellesley, MA

    Tuition

    $18755

    Wellesley College, located in Massachusetts, was founded in 1870 by Henry and Pauline Durant. Wellesley is a private liberal arts college enrolling about 2,400 students. Class sizes average 17-20 students.

    Wellesley holds a 94% graduation rate, with students studying in over 50 majors. The study abroad and intercollegiate exchange programs invite students to participate in unique learning opportunities overseas and around the country.

    Some of Wellesley's most popular academic programs include psychology, political science, and economics. The Albright Institute and the Wellesley Fund invest in women's academic achievements on campus and worldwide. Hillary Clinton, Nora Ephron, and Madeleine Albright are among Wellesley's most notable graduates.

  • Barnard College
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $19510

    Barnard College was founded as a private institution in 1889. Over 2,600 students attend Barnard College on its New York City campus. Barnard partners with Columbia University, allowing students to enroll in courses, compete in athletics, and receive a diploma from both institutions.

    Seventy-three percent of Barnard classes have fewer than 20 students. Some of Barnard's most popular degree programs include political science, art history, psychology, and literature.

    Barnard's alumni network connects current students to mentorship programming in support of ongoing academic achievement. Greta Gerwig, Zora Neale Hurston, and Martha Stewart are among Barnard's most notable alumni.

  • Scripps College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $24774

    Scripps College was founded in 1926. Scripps is a private institution with over 100 full-time faculty members. The Claremont, California, campus enrolls about 1,000 women majoring in over 65 disciplines.

    The average class size at Scripps College is 16 students. The most popular majors at Scripps College include biology, social sciences, and communications.

    Scripps College is the only women's college member of the Claremont Colleges consortium — seven private institutions providing academic support and an on-campus community.

    The Laspa Center for Leadership provides experiential learning courses, fellowships, grants, and awards to Scripps students in support of their academic achievement. Some of Scripps' most notable alumni include Gabrielle Giffords and Beth Nolan.

  • Smith College
    Location

    Northampton, MA

    Tuition

    $21485

    Smith College, founded in 1871, is located in Northampton, Massachusetts. One of the largest women's colleges in the country, Smith enrolls nearly 3,000 students each year.

    Smith College is a member of the Five College Consortium, increasing course offerings for students. Smith offers over 50 academic programs and an average class size of 19 students.

    Some of Smith's most popular academic programs include biology, computer science, engineering, literature, and political science. Smith's honors programming, disability services, and the Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning support and invest in students' academic achievements.

    Julia Child, Sylvia Plath, and Gloria Steinem are some of the notable figures who graduated from Smith College.

  • College of Saint Benedict
    Location

    St. Joseph, MN

    The College of Saint Benedict (CSB) was founded in 1857 to support historically excluded and disenfranchised women. The private women's college is located in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, and enrolls about 1,700 students.

    The average class size at CSB is 19 students. Some popular academic programs at the College of Saint Benedict are business administration, biology, registered nursing, and psychology.

    Both CSB's retention and graduation rates are 85%, and nearly all students receive a financial aid package upon acceptance. In support of women's academic pursuits, CSB seeks to end structural inequities and promote purposeful learning through an integrated curriculum model.

  • Bryn Mawr College
    Location

    Bryn Mawr, PA

    Tuition

    $21773

    Bryn Mawr College, located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1885. Bryn Mawr enrolls more than 1,600 students with an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

    Bryn Mawr offers over 35 undergraduate degree programs and graduate degree programs in social work, social research, and arts and sciences. Popular undergraduate programs include psychology, political science, mathematics, and literature.

    Bryn Mawr supports students' academic achievements by partnering with Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Bryn Mawr's Q Project focuses on the development of quantitative skills, enhancing the experiential learning practices of many courses. Katherine Hepburn and Maggie Siff are among Bryn Mawr's most notable alumni.

  • Mount Holyoke College
    Location

    South Hadley, MA

    Tuition

    $22183

    Mount Holyoke College is located in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke College enrolls about 2,200 students. Seventy percent of classes at Mount Holyoke average less than 20 students.

    Economics, environmental studies, literature, and computer science are among the most popular of 48 academic programs at Mount Holyoke. The academic achievement of women is prioritized through its social activism, global leadership programs, and dedication to STEM learning.

    Emily Dickinson, Chloe Zhao, and Elaine Chao are noted as some of the most notable alumni of Mount Holyoke College.

  • Saint Mary's College
    Location

    Notre Dame, IN

    Saint Mary's College is located in Notre Dame, Indiana, and provides a faith-valuing education. Founded in 1844, about 1,500 students attend Saint Mary's.

    At Saint Mary's, students enjoy average class sizes of 18 students and a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Some of the most popular academic programs at Saint Mary's include registered nursing, social work, biology, and communications.

    Saint Mary's endowment and donations help to support campus improvements and research funding that enhance student learning. M. Julie McKinley and Stacy Lynett are among some of the most notable Saint Mary's graduates.

  • Simmons University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $25231

    Simmons University was founded in 1899 and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Nearly 6,000 students attend Simmons University — 95% receiving financial aid packages.

    In over 50 academic programs of study, Simmons offers an average class size of 15 students. Some popular degree programs include kinesiology, registered nursing, and communications.

    Simmons' investment in women's academic achievement is seen in its expansion, growing to include more academic programs and leadership initiatives. Some of the most notable Simmons alumni include Gwen Ifill and Margaret Murie.

  • Spelman College
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Spelman College, the oldest historically Black college for women, was founded in 1881. Spelman is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and enrolls over 2,000 students.

    Average class sizes at Spelman are about 30 students, with smaller upper-level courses. Some popular academic programs at Spelman College include health services, political science, psychology, and biology.

    To showcase its investment in women's academic achievement, Spelman offers fellowship awards, study abroad programs, and innovative STEM resources. Notable Spelman alumni include Stacey Abrams, Alice Walker, and Keshia Knight Pulliam.

Frequently Asked Questions About Women's Colleges

What is the most prestigious women's college?

The most prestigious women's colleges are highly ranked schools based on criteria like graduation and retention rates. Wellesley College, Barnard College, and Spelman College rank as some of the top women's colleges in the country. Wellesley has the highest graduation and retention rates of all women's colleges.

Barnard College, in partnership with Columbia University, offers students an expanse of academic courses and high graduation rates. Spelman College, the oldest historically Black college and university for women in the country, invests in the academic development of Black women.

Why do women's colleges exist?

Women's colleges were founded to provide women with higher education opportunities during a time when women were barred from institutions nationwide.

During the 19th century, hundreds of women's colleges opened, creating a variety of educational opportunities for women. Today, women's colleges continue to offer students a unique educational experience, often with a focus in liberal arts.

What was the first college to admit women?

Oberlin College, located in Ohio, was the first higher education institution to admit women. Oberlin was a coed institution from its founding in 1833. Oberlin was also the first college to admit Black students into its programs. Wesleyan College, founded in 1836, was the first women's college to open — dedicated specifically to educating women.

Are all women's colleges private?

Women's colleges — schools that entirely or almost entirely enroll women — are typically private higher education institutions. These undergraduate institutions often focus on liberal arts studies.

Nearly all women's colleges are private institutions. Many private women's colleges collaborate with coed institutions to expand their student offerings.

Featuring:

Portrait of Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, PhD

Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, PhD

Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert is Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Scripps College, a women's college in Claremont California.

She is a molecular biologist who completed her PhD at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and did postdoctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope in Duarte, California. Edwalds-Gilbert is a member of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and serves as a CUR Councilor for the Biology Division. In her own molecular biology lab, she has supervised more than 65 undergraduates and is a champion of increasing the number of underrepresented students in science. She is a National Science Foundation grantee, focusing on the regulation of gene expression under stress response, and she has received funding from the Keck Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Warsaw Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology throughout the 2018–2019 academic year.

Portrait of Elizabeth Dion

Elizabeth Dion

Elizabeth Dion (she/they) is a senior theatre and international studies double major at Hollins University. They are heavily involved in student leadership positions and extracurriculars on campus such as serving as the president of the Hollins Student Theatre Association, Lead Admissions Ambassador, Student Success Leader, stage manager, and Orientation Team Leader.

Feature Image: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images