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Evaluating Criteria for Good Fit Colleges for Women in STEM

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Gender inequities in STEM-related fields are a thing of the long past, right? Ever so regrettably, despite making important strides toward gender inclusion, engineering, math, and computer science remain largely male-dominated fields. According to the National Science Foundation’s 2023 report, Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities, women made up 51 percent of the total US population (ages 18 to 74) but only one-third of those employed in STEM occupations, with their wages consistently lower than those of men in the same positions. As a result, it should come as no surprise that female students often feel intimidated, excluded, or even unwelcome in their STEM classes as compared to their male counterparts. In addition to looking at the retention and graduation rates of institutions, it is important to consider the percentage of students who find employment within two years of graduating. As a independent educational consultant (IEC) who specializes in STEM, here are specific criteria I consider when evaluating “good-fit” colleges for my female students who want to pursue STEM majors.

  1. Ratio of Male: Female 

A good starting point for me is to look at the enrollment ratio between male and female applicants. The College factual website is my go to resource as it provides a breakdown of the colleges female to male diversity numbers. For example, Harvey Mudd is one such college that has a balance of 50:50 Male: Female ratio. University of Michigan is another example where the Male: Female ratio is also 50:50. That being said, many institutions are prioritizing to bring in more women into their STEM programs. It is a good idea to check with the admissions representative about any institutional priorities with this regard. I know that Rose Hulman Institute of Technology is one such institution with goals to increase female diversity in STEM. 

  1. Faculty or Staff Women Role Models and Mentors

It is especially important for women to have role models to guide them in their journey to STEM careers. Seeing if the college has women faculty and staff members who teach the classes and conduct research helps set them up for success. Asking if the college has mentorship programs geared towards women students is something to consider. For example, The Women@MIT mentorship program, The Women in STEM mentorship program at Stanford and the UC Davis CAMPOS initiative, Center for Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives of Science specifically provides mentorship, networking and research opportunities for their women students. 

  1. Professional Organizations and Clubs for Women in STEM

I have my STEM students research to see if the colleges have professional organizations and student run clubs that they could join to attend events and network with peers and professionals. Society of Women Engineers (SWE), The Association for Women in Computing, Association for Women in Mathematics, Association for Women Geoscientists, Women Chemists Committee are some examples of professional organizations. Additionally, Stanford Women in Computer Science and Stanford Sisters in STEM are some examples of student run clubs exclusively for female students. 

  1. Living Learning Communities focused on Women

Besides making a large school feel a lot smaller, having a supportive residential community focused on providing women the support and resources sets them up for success. Women in Science and Engineering is one such Living Learning Community at the University of Michigan that seeks to support women in STEM. 

  1. Women Colleges with focus on STEM

Colleges which are exclusively for women with a STEM focus provide opportunities for technical, leadership and professional development. Wellesley is one such liberal arts institution with strong STEM program and active alumni network which provides many opportunities for technical and professional development. Smith college is another example with 40% of students majoring in STEM, equipped with a state-of-the-art research facility with eight research centers.

  1. Scholarships, Fellowships and Internship opportunities

Colleges might offer scholarships for women to pursue research in the STEM fields. One such example is the college of Saint Mary Marie Curie Scholarship program funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation that provides a scholarship for women seeking bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry or math. The Space Grant Undergraduate Research program at Penn State offers the opportunity for underrepresented students to work with a faculty mentor in a research lab. In addition to the scholarships and grants offered by the colleges there are outside scholarships available to women pursuing STEM majors in college. For example, the American Physical Society and IBM co-sponsor research internship for undergraduate women where students work with an IBM mentor on research projects. One of the goals of this internship is to encourage women and minorities to pursue graduate studies in science and engineering.

Need more help with college planning for your STEM student? As always, feel free to reach out to me via e-mail [email protected] or call me 650-596-9583 to set up a FREE 45 min initial consultation via my contact form. I am here to support you and your family through the college admissions process.