When it comes to college admissions decisions, there is one factor that influences the decision-making process that college hopefuls may not realize: gender.
“I have seen that gender does come into play in college admissions,” Kristen Moon, an independent college admissions consultant and the founder of the MoonPrep.com admissions consulting firm, wrote in an email. “The majority of universities are striving for diversity and to maintain roughly a 50/50 balance between men/women. When a university has a significant skew in either gender, being the minority can certainly work in your favor.”
Among the 478 ranked national undergraduate institutions which accept both men and women and reported admissions data to U.S. News, the average discrepancy between the male and female acceptance rate was a 2.6 percent advantage for female applicants.
However, there are many undergraduate institutions where the acceptance rates of male and female applicants vary significantly. For instance, at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, the school where female applicants have the biggest edge over male applicants, the female acceptance rate — 85.4 percent — was 31.3 percentage points higher than the 54.1 percent acceptance rate for male applicants.
In contrast, at Vassar College in New York, the school where male college applicants have the greatest advantage over their female peers, the 35.2 percent acceptance rate among men is 16 percentage points higher than the 19.2 percent acceptance rate among women.
Since undergraduate institutions typically aim for gender parity in their student body, applicants to schools that tend to have more students of one gender than the other should understand that their gender will be considered, college admissions experts say. This is particularly true at coed institutions that were previously single-sex schools, because these institutions tend to make a special effort to recruit students of the minority gender.
“Some colleges proactively try to achieve gender balance,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of SavingForCollege.com. “If there are more students from one gender applying, the acceptance rate for that gender might be lower.”
Furthermore, colleges often not only want a gender-balanced freshman class, but also strive to achieve gender parity within various academic departments, experts add. So students with a genuine interest and impressive achievements in an academic discipline where their gender has historically been in the minority often have an edge, experts suggest.
“That puts women at an advantage for most sciences and men at an advantage for areas like teaching, nursing and liberal arts majors,” Charlie Javice, the founder of Frank, an online platform that assists college applicants as they submit application forms and financial aid documents, wrote in an email.
In contrast, experts say students whose academic interests align with traditional gender roles, such as women who are interested in the liberal arts or men who are interested in the hard sciences, may have a slightly tougher time selling themselves to their dream colleges.
Mandee Heller Adler, founder and president of International College Counselors, an admissions consulting firm based in Florida, says college admissions officers are often intrigued by students whose academic interests defy societal gender norms.
“A male who applies to nursing would certainly get more attention than a female who applies to nursing, or a male who applies to fashion would certainly get more attention than a female who applies to fashion, similar to a man who goes into ballet,” she says.
“It’s just not as popular for boys as it is for girls, which opens up a lot more opportunities for those boys. So would they have opportunities that perhaps the woman with the same statistics would not get into? Absolutely, and that’s a reality of schools trying to balance genders within their environment,” she says.
However, Adler says a student applying to undergraduate programs where his or her gender is significantly in the minority should find out what types of mentorship programs are available and what employment and academic outcomes look like for students of that gender.
Sabrina Manville, co-founder of Edmit, a Boston-based admissions consulting firm, says gender is a factor that college applicants should consider when assessing their overall academic competitiveness.
One way to counteract the disadvantage of being a majority-gender applicant is to apply early to an undergraduate program to convey serious interest in that program, which can sway admissions officers to overlook demographic concerns, Manville says.
However, college admissions experts caution against students feigning interest in an academic discipline where their gender is underrepresented, because that type of phoniness tends to be transparent.
It’s unwise for students to declare an intended major on their college application that they aren’t truly interested in simply to boost admissions odds, according to Katie Kelley, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise admissions consulting firm who previously served as the senior assistant director of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“However, for students with a genuine interest in a major field in which they are the minority, their gender can provide an advantage over other students who are equally qualified in terms of academic profile,” she wrote in an email.
Steve Peifer, the vice president of college counseling at KD College Prep, cautions that college hopefuls whose qualifications are far below the norm at a school should not expect to be admitted to that school solely because they are a gender minority.
“Just remember that gender-minority status is not an automatic selection criteria if you are an underqualified candidate,” he wrote in an email.
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