Gender Gap

Gender Gap

Colleges see demand for qualified male applicants grow as young women excel in high school.

By David Treadwell


With this year’s entering Class of 2012, the gender-balance ship righted itself at Colby. According to Beverage the College saw a higher percentage of male admitted students choose Colby (36 percent) than female (31 percent). The result is a 51 percent to 49 percent female to male balance for the Class of 2012.

Gender GapAdmissions officers were pleasantly surprised, as they had fended off what is becoming a disconcerting trend. Qualified female applicants are more abundant than male, which leaves college admissions officers at risk of moving to a predominantly female student body.

And a pronounced gender imbalance in a student body can make a college less attractive to students—both male and female—who want a co-ed experience.

You want to be a place that’s welcoming to all,” Beverage said.

Maintaining that balance hasn’t been a problem at Colby thus far, with gender coming into play in the admissions process mostly at the very end, when—and if—the College goes to its wait list. At that point, being a guy can be an advantage, Beverage said.

When it comes to the gender issue, Colby is hardly alone. Consider the experience of Colby’s NESCAC peers in 2007.

At Amherst applications had been running around 50-50—until last year, when the balance suddenly tipped to 58 percent women. At Bates women have never represented more than 52 percent of the student body, but gender is a factor in admissions, officials there say. Bowdoin has maintained its roughly 50-50 split (52 percent men to 48 percent women in 2007) but it’s getting tougher every year.

Said Bowdoin’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Bill Shain, “Everybody is competing harder for men.”

The trend at highly selective liberal arts colleges mirrors the change seen nationally.

In 2007, 56.3 percent of students enrolled full time in U.S. colleges were female; by 2015 that figure will climb to 57.9 percent, according to published reports.

It’s a trend that raises interesting questions. Why do young women generally out-perform their male counterparts in high school in grades? Does this trend unfairly penalize young women applying to the nation’s best colleges? How does this play out in the college classroom?

First, it may be helpful to look at the numbers beneath the numbers.

According to Steve Thomas, director of admissions at Colby, the men and women who enrolled in Colby’s Class of 2011 had comparable high school records, but the scores on combined SATs (required at Colby but not at all peer colleges) for women were slightly lower than the men’s.

In schools that report class rank, 70 percent of the women graduated in the top 10 percent of their class versus 46 percent of the men, Thomas said. On the SAT verbal, the mean for women was 688 versus 671 for men; on the SAT math, the mean was 669 for females versus 690 for males. Males nationwide have consistently outperformed females on combined SAT scores over the past 30 years.

The disparity in high school academic performance is less clear-cut when viewed in this way. But the gender gap is coming up for discussion more and more at college admissions conferences, said Martha Merrill, dean of admissions at Connecticut College. One admissions dean, Jennifer Delahunty Britz of Kenyon College, was so concerned about the issue she wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2006 flatly stating that qualified young men are more valued as applicants simply because there are fewer of them. As a result, Britz said, equally qualified girls were being rejected. Boys, despite being outperformed in high school, were catching a break.

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