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Arianne Cohen: 5 tips for getting your brilliant daughter into a great college

Arianne Cohen, on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Let’s face it. Competition among women for college slots is as energetic and fierce as the women themselves. “Across the country, females are taking more advanced classes, have higher GPAs, and are more likely to be valedictorians,” notes Jed Applerouth, founder and president of Applerouth Tutoring. “When you have a bigger pool of more-qualified females, it’s a little harder,” he adds. “I’ve heard parents complain that it’s harder for their daughters to get in.”

Translation: Young women face off against each other, while at many colleges, which seek to maintain some semblance of gender parity, admissions officers stretch a bit to let young men in.

But gender ratios cut both ways. Though 56% of college students are women, pockets of male-majority students can be found at excellent schools nationwide. Here’s how young women can harness gender to their advantage.

1. Leverage lead time over boys in extracurriculars. Ninth grade boys are not known for their future-planning skills. “It’s extremely typical that boys are off to a slower start as far as setting goals and meeting expectations,” says Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors and author of the upcoming “To University and Beyond: Launch Your Career in High Gear.”

Most boys catch up by 11th and 12th grade but are unlikely to see the value of 8th and 9th grade yearbook or debate club. This gives motivated girls a huge advantage in jumping ahead on the path to leadership roles. “If you get involved in yearbook or newspaper in 9th grade, by the time you’re in 12th grade, you could be editor,” Adler says.

2. Seek male-heavy schools. “Girls actually receive a pretty large advantage at schools like Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Harvey Mudd, Lehigh, Georgia Tech,” says says Dave Bergman, director of content at College Transitions, and author of “The Enlightened College Applicant.” “In those instances, boys are actually at a pretty big disadvantage — they see much smaller acceptance rates in the STEM fields, particularly computer science and engineering.” The opposite is true at liberal arts schools like Vassar, Wesleyan and Pomona, where females face stiffer competition.

Stick to schools like Harvey Mudd and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which both receive over 210% more male than female applicants for roughly the same number of spots. You can find applicant gender breakdowns for each institution from Peterson’s college search tool.


3. Choose male-heavy fields. The easiest way to jump into a gentler college admissions pool at all co-ed schools is to study male-dominated fields and topics. This often means STEM. Only 7% of female high-schoolers plan to have careers in STEM, according to a survey by the Department of Education. Many colleges that have balanced gender applicant ratios are bombarded by male STEM applicants, and may feature quite skewed acceptance ratios department-by-department.

“If you’re interested in a STEM field, you’re going to be at a large advantage,” Bergman says. Drill down into the specific programs you’re interested in, and do the math. You want to know each program’s acceptance rates by department and gender. Fair warning that the stiffest competition for women may be found in humanities departments in slightly less competitive liberal arts schools.

4. Pick jobs and projects that focus on stereotypical male topics. Summer jobs on construction sites, an internship in a truck design department, or a summer class on football sports medicine will immediately differentiate you from dozens of other female applicants. If stereotypical female popular fields like history and English are truly your jam, Adler suggests focusing on commonly male topics within them.

For example, you can easily differentiate yourself in a public relations internship at an engineering company, or an internship at a boys mental health clinic paired with a college essay on teenage male mental health.

5. Don’t forget about data. “Data science is big, but a lot of kids don’t know about it,” Adler says. Data is the new STEM — i.e., hot — because workplaces desperately need employees who understand both their field and how to analyze big data. Data can be on any topic, so you could do a high school data project about local kitten populations or women’s birth rates, and then apply to a data science department. May the ratios always be with you.

Finally, I’ve been mentioning very high-ranked schools here. They’re expensive. Read about negotiating the best price and all about college loans and family finances.

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