Wellesley Featured in Vanity Fair article on "Resurgence" of Women’s Colleges

May 20, 2016
Historic photos show hooprolling

An article in the May issue of Vanity Fair tells the story of how women's colleges across the country are experiencing a resurgence in demand—and Wellesley College is featured prominently. The writer, Lisa Birnbach, traveled the country talking to students, faculty and senior staff at some of the best women’s colleges. "Wellesley… has a way about her," wrote Birnbach, a well-known college guidebook writer.

The article tells readers that "the first thing you should know is that admissions numbers are up at almost every women’s college this year," according to the Women's College Coalition. "Some are at historic highs." Birnbach cites Wellesley's Joy St. John, dean of admission and financial aid: "We're post-Title IX, Beyoncé calls herself a feminist, and now it's a plus factor, a savvy choice for their careers, for being leaders."

The article also includes the voices of students and faculty. "I’m not here to escape men. I want to join the cohort of powerful women who’ve attended a women’s college," one student said. "People here were people I wanted to be like. I didn’t feel that way about other colleges," said a senior about her decision to attend.

Birnbach recounts Irene Mata, professor of women and gender studies, explaining, "Micro-aggressions eat away at you. You have this time at Wellesley to build up your strength, and then you have lifetime relationships with your peers and your professors." Phil Levine, an economics professor, told Birnbach his students are often perfectionists. "They work so hard, sometimes I tell them to relax," he said.

Summarizing her experience visiting women's colleges in 2016, the writer declares, "The richness and intimacy of these students' experiences are enviable and inspiring. As a college-guidebook writer and a mother of college students, I have not heard so many students talk about appreciating their educations. These young people are studying bespoke curricula—with professors and deans collaborating to make their goals more attainable." Birnbach said her interviews suggest students find being "empowered and getting an excellent and customized education" is "immeasurable" in its benefits; she argues that "[a]cademically, these schools are as rigorous as the top coed colleges, if not more so."

As for Wellesley specifically, Birnbach notes it "feels like a place for women who are happy with themselves." She adds, "A surprisingly large number of seniors I met had not figured out their post-graduation plans by February—and seemed utterly unperturbed by it. They've read articles such as The New York Times' 'How to Succeed? Go to Wellesley.' The message of their imminent success has been received and they are calm. They've survived Wellesley’s tough grading policy."

Read the article on the Vanity Fair website. The online version of the feature includes a slideshow of famous women's college alumnae: photos of Madeleine K. Albright '59, Nora Ephron '62, and Diane Sawyer '67 are among those included.

Helena McMonagle '16 contributed to this story.