By: Sarah Tulimat
After over three years in the United States, the most common question I get from people : How did you learn about Mount Holyoke College? Did you know it was a women’s college and how did you feel about that?
I almost always answer with a big laugh. I learned about Mount Holyoke college by coincidence through reading a blog post of an MIT admission officer. The admission officer was talking about a conference he attended regarding colleges that support international students well, both financially and educationally. Matt, the MIT admission officer, suggested that many international students overlook small good liberal arts schools. Most likely because they only hear of big names such as Harvard, MIT, Yale, etc. However, there are many other schools that provide similar educational quality but are not known to the international students community.
In that post, Matt provided a list of great liberal arts schools that offer financial aid for international students, especially since he knows that financial aid is a determining factor for choosing schools for us. Mount Holyoke, a small research liberal arts school was on top of Matt’s list. From his post, I visited Mount Holyoke’s webpage, browsed through its pages researching admission requirements and students life on campus. The beautiful campus pictures caught my attention, and I quickly started thinking to myself: I like this college, I think I want to apply. Mount Holyoke, however, was much more unique than many other schools I have looked at. It is a women’s college.
In the beginning, I was slightly uncomfortable with the idea. Why would a college in the United States accept only women? I mean, I grow up in Syria.. and even in Syria we did not have universities for women only. Most of us who attend the public school system have to attend girls schools or boys schools. However, our expectation for college completely differs. From that perspective, I disliked the idea that this school I have just discovered and liked is for women only. The only connection I made with single sex education was a conservative and a protective environment. And I did not want anything like that for my college education. I wanted to go to the United States to experience a diverse set of views and ideas, in a much more open atmosphere than that available at home. Well, It turned out, Mount Holyoke, and other famous women’s colleges had nothing to do with conservative and closed minded ideals.
As I read on and researched the college in depth, I understood that it was the oldest women’s college in the world. Back in the day, universities in the United States would only admit men. Women colleges, such as Mount Holyoke, were founded with a great mission — educating women in a time when they weren’t given that right. Since then, many things have changed. Universities began accepting women slowly around 1950ies, until now we live in a world where we cannot imagine that a woman would be denied going to college. Despite this change, women colleges still exist in the United States and the world. Many of them became coed over time such as Vassar college, Wheaton, and others. Some of them, including Mount Holyoke College and Smith, continue to believe that remaining a women’s only college is important to their mission and identity. For these schools, being a women’s college is more about dedicating an entire institution of higher education for the success and development of young women from around the world. This dedication makes women’s college very unique. While going to a coed university is an environment similar of the real world, attending a women’s college allow women to see themselves and their peers excelling and leading in class, students’ organizations and even athletic activities.
Why is that important? I will give you a concrete example from my experience. In Mount Holyoke College, the student government president is almost always a female. The gym is almost always occupied with many females. After three years in the school, I began taking such an atmosphere for granted. In my mind, it is almost implausible to think of a world where women cannot lead or do whatever they want. One day, I was tutoring a student in Amherst, a neighboring college in the valley. Amherst is a great coed school. My student started telling me a story about some of the drama on campus. She mentioned that the recent student government presidency elections became very controversial because of some possible cheating activities. She said that it is too sad because one of the nominee for the student government president position was a female for the first time in over 10 years at least.
I paused for over a minute. Wow, I thought to myself. Is that really possible? Well, I guess, it is. In that moment, I realized that one of the most important things that women’s college provide for its students, is the ability to perceive and experience a world where women can occupy any career or space. Students then graduate from college carrying that experience, which will be directly reflected in how they interact with the world. Nothing will stop them. Simply, they are so empowered and used to the occupying the spaces they wish to be in.
This is the magic power of women’s colleges nowadays. Students come from all around the world and regardless of their backgrounds, they all learn that they can achieve anything if they want to achieve it. Beside being great places to learn, women’s colleges teach students to care about the world around them. Since my entrance to Mount Holyoke, I’ve become a much more aware person. I understand many of the world social problems, and continuously seek to educate myself and others on how to mend them.
So if you are a female, and you have never heard of women’s colleges in the US. Start Googling them now. They are not what you may imagine. They are open minded places for independent individuals filled with great friendships, and some of the best professors in the world. As a shameless plug, check out Mount Holyoke College. And.. Smith. There are many others, and if you are curious about them, go ahead and send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, and I forgot to add, most women colleges I know are pretty generous with financial aid to international students. Keep that in mind, as you look for undergraduate colleges.