What I've been learning about benefits of all-girl schools

I’m just a mom researching schools for her daughter, so know that I am not an expert. But I listened to a podcast interviewing a researcher on the impact of single-gender schooling for women. There were a few takeaways that I found myself jotting down to share with my husband, and so I thought perhaps it would be worth sharing here too for other fellow parents of girls.

Quick background – apparently there are two major studies on all-girl education that people refer to. One was in 2009 and one was in 2016. This interview was with a researcher who was part of the 2016 team. The podcast was produced by NCGS (National Council of Girls Schools), in case anyone wants to track it down.

The researcher was admittedly not particularly sold on the idea of all-girls education when she started, but came out of the research process convinced of its tremendous value.

I will caveat ALL of this by saying I listened to the podcast while driving, and I took a few notes once I got home based on what I could remember. So this will NOT be perfect, and it will be skewed toward what I personally thought was compelling.

There were 3 main differences in single-gender educated girls versus their co-ed educated counterparts. (Note that she specifically mentioned that they controlled for other factors in order to isolate the impact of all-girls education.):

  1. Academic grasp/depth was greater, meaning a deeper ability to explain concepts, such as the meaning behind equations. As a result, academic confidence and ambition was higher. This increased depth was most remarkable in science and engineering fields. Interestingly, while in 2009, this difference was also significant in math, in 2016, once they controlled for other factors, math no longer showed as big of a difference.
  2. Girls from all-girl school were significantly more likely to be engaged in their outer world and be politically active. (As a side item, but related, these girls are also more likely to seek diversity in their work place and desire to connect with diverse populations.)
  3. Internal intellectual habits were stronger. For example, girls were likely to have a growth mindset, confidence, and were more likely to own their own ambition, and share about it more freely.

Bottom line for us: my engineering DD3 might particularly benefit from single-gender education (more so, than say, my DD2, who might well have benefitted, but perhaps not enough to justify her considering all-girl schools when she really was against it. And is attending a co-ed BS this fall.)

Happy to hear from others on this topic.

Some other podcasts I’ve been listening to on the subject have revealed interesting stuff too:

  • A leader outside of the girls education world who does career sessions with both all-girls and co-ed educated girls was interviewed on a podcast and the stories she told about the differences between the two were compelling. Most interesting to me was how single-gender educated girls had less “to get over” in terms of owning their expertise, intelligence and ambition. Also, graduates of all-girls schools carried a sisterhood mentality with them into these career sessions.
  • Same leader interviewed was floored by how often super-educated-qualified young women (college age) were apologetic and unsure about their ability to step up to big moves, whereas totally clueless and unqualified college boys had zero problem declaring big goals that they were absolutely not qualified for. Single-gender educated young women had far less of this kind of problem.

And I just listened to a podcast yesterday about the role of mentorship for STEM girls, and the importance of seeing someone like themselves in STEM groups. This wasn’t specifically about “all-girl” schools but rather focused on girls being successful in STEM. The takeaways were that girls behave differently in a STEM group that is comprised of at least 50% girls. Also, having a female mentor has a huge impact on whether she continues in STEM. Mentors that are just a few years ahead of the girl are particularly helpful. Lastly, having a mentor during times of transition (such as going from middle school to high school, or high school to college) has extra value.

My takeaway is that if DD3 ends up a co-ed school environment, it would become extra important for us to consider the STEM community.

As a female engineer (got my BS and MS in the mid-80s), I would just caution you not to scare your daughter to death about a co-ed environment, whether in high school or college. Even back in the dark ages, I had NO difficulties with it. I really worry that girls are going to get frightened away from STEM fields by well-meaning parents. It never crossed my mind to worry about how I would be treated. I was just “one of the guys.” I loved my time at UT-Austin even though there were very few women in my classes.

Please see this thread: https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/engineering-majors/2163398-women-in-engineering-p1.html

And by the way, I’m an introvert, not a person who can yell over others. I still did fine.

@MaineLonghorn Thank you so much for that perspective and thanks for the thread link! I know we don’t know each other in real life, but just know: there is about zero risk of your concern. But your point is well-taken and appreciated in the spirit of keeping a legacy of conversation here on CC for future parents searching for information. (Which is how I usually do try to post: as a sharing of info for future families.).

Fun side note: Before I switched to my current career (which is my frame of reference for most of my comments here), I was a computer programmer and software architect after grad school (20% women there, and then about 5% in my first job), so I absolutely agree that great careers can come from co-ed education.

Also, of course there are drawbacks to single-gender education.

So in case there is any confusion: I don’t mean this as a call for all STEM girls to go all-girl. I’m intending only to share some interesting data points that might be relevant to put in the big hopper of factors as we parents determine best fit for our kids. (it just so happens that all 4 of mine are girls, but fit is important of course for all kids).

Yes, thanks for the excellent info! Wow, four girls!

Are you focusing on colleges, or on high school and below? Both the “girls” verbiage and the content of the articles cited make it sound as if your sources are referring to secondary education, I think.

Of course, some of the conclusions can be generalized to college also, but the developmental context is important too. At what stages of building confidence and self-concept are female-centered spaces most important?

When it comes to college, there’s a lot of nuance to be considered beyond the question of whether a particular school is single-gender or co-ed. Some single-gender colleges really do have primarily single-gender classroom experiences, while others are quite blended with affiliated co-ed institutions.

Even when learning is blended, there can be pluses to single-gender residential life and other aspects of a women’s college. (Although, sometimes similar experiences can exist within larger co-ed institutions too. Douglass Residential College at Rutgers is just one example.)

Also, all co-ed programs are not created equal, especially in STEM. As one example, looking at competitive computer science programs in Southern California, one might compare Harvey Mudd with Cal Poly SLO. Mudd’s CS major is actually majority-female by a slim margin. SLO’s CS major is not only heavily male-dominated, but the numbers also skew more at graduation than at entry. One could reasonably question whether a male-dominated culture in the major is contributing to higher attrition among women. That said, there are many very happy women at SLO, and many STEM programs there with well-balanced gender ratios - it’s important to look by program and not just by school. (And I did this research four years ago, so this shouldn’t be taken as current info about SLO CS either - just an example of numbers that gave me pause at the time.)

My point is that debating in the abstract will only get you so far. It’s certainly important to consider gender issues (and both sides of these - how important are the benefits of a female-centered environment, vs. the benefits of learning to function in a male-centered environment which will be the reality in most STEM careers post-college), but at some point it’s better to compare “case studies” of actual programs under consideration, because none will be the pure case of the hypothetical arguments.

As a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, I can say (objectively and anecdotally, of course! :wink: ) that single sex education can be very good for girls/women. I recommend you take a look at Lisa D’Amours’ research out of Clevend’s Laurel School for some really good info on single sex ed and STEM, if you haven’t seen it: https://lcrg.laurelschool.org/research.

@aquapt secondary school (this is the prep school forum).

@hellomaisy thx for the suggestion. I thought of you the other day because I think I remember you saying MB robotics is headed by a woman? (I’d have to check my notes in that — I have might have been misremembering as I drove along the freeway listening to podcasts.)

Oops, sorry - I always look at “latest posts” and forget that some may be in the prep school forum.

My dd went to an all girl school for middle school. We took her out for a job transfer and regretted it immediately. I wish we would have stayed and had husband travel.

When we switched back to a coed ds (we had previously attended so had two different perspectives on same school) it was very noticeable how much more empowering a girls school can be. My dd isn’t a star athlete but that was one area that I found super frustrating.
Another difference was the focus a lot girls had on their appearance. The all girl school had uniforms (awesome!!!) and 95% of the girls had hair thrown in a pony tail and no makeup.
I felt so uplifted and “rah rah” about girl power when my dd attended. It was very hard for me to go back to feeling like she was considered “ less than” at her coed school. It wasn’t something that could be put into words. It was those micro aggressions that you notice but can’t necessarily described.

My dd did not apply to the all girl schools when she applied and to be honest I’m not sure why. Maybe time, maybe she didn’t care, maybe because she had her favorite and that is the school she really wanted. She loves her school and is so very happy but a part of me will always wish that we had kept her in the all girl school.

Yes to everything @Calliemomofgirls said. I went to a Women’s College (Smith…) and cannot agree more with what you’ve said/researched here. Additionally, the sisterhood is real (hi, MHC!!) and everlasting.

My daughter is at a girls school now and LOVES it. The education she is getting is second to none. They delve deeper into subject matter than I’ve ever seen. The assignments she gets are useful and relevant and she does not need to compete with any male counterparts in order to get a word in edgewise. She does not need to “dress” for school and realizes that she can just be herself.

Her school has a dedicated STEM program, which is also amazing. She’ll be taking a foundry class this semester where they will explore the science and chemistry behind melting certain metals. They will set-up and build their own foundry and will then create their own castings. I just don’t see this going as well for girls in a co-ed environment.

I would love for her to go to a Women’s College after this, but know that those chances are not highly likely. I think the fact that she’s at a girls school now will give her the tools she needs to get the most out of whatever college she eventually chooses. She has found her voice and knows how to use it. I can’t say that would have happened had she chosen a co-ed school.

With all of that said, I think the same rings true for all-boys schools, too. Obviously the benefits are different, but they are there.

I was told (and am too lazy to look it up) that girls did better with single sex education, but boys did worse. (I’m the mother of 3 boys . . . )

I have several friends who attended all girls schools and they were and are, to a person, confident and articulate. And quite a few chose to continue their studies at women’s colleges. They all remain fans of girls schools and remain connected to their “sisters”.

A very dear friend’s D transferred out of an excellent girls school (day - and her mom’s Alma mater) to a coed magnet school for STEM and is much happier. The environments of the two are wildly different, so I doubt it was just the change from girls to coed, but she says she loves having lots of peers in her area of passion (robotics). To be fair, she’s not in the minority being a girl in a STEM environment nor does she lack female peers at her new school.

Another friend has a D who was mercilessly bullied at a coed BS (for being more interested in school than in all things social) and who transferred to a girls day school where she thrived. I think her classmates thought it was really cool that she was so “brainular”. Even after this, though, she only considered coed colleges. But that environment was a godsend for her for high school.

I think this is one of those areas where you need to do exactly what @Calliemomofgirls is doing – get the information and then figure out how it applies to the schools you’re considering and the girl in question. I also think that for BS, this may look different than it would for a day school. There may be more girls in STEM at a BS, especially one that is strong in STEM. And it may also be more comfortable, given the residential nature of a BS, to not have boys around - not for what happens in the classroom but for what happens outside it. It can be a great option for some.

I hope you get to visit and report back, @Calliemomofgirls. Great topic!

My DD attended coed public elementary, then private day middle (4yrs) all girls and is 1 week in at her coed BS.
DD wants to be an architect and falls in the brainy, book loving, introverted pile.
In ES all her closest friends were boys, in MS she struggled to find her friend group but eventually found a great cohort. However the majority of girls were not in that pile. DD found the school very cliquey with lots of mean girls and way too much focus on looks (and my observations supported this). An earlier post mentioned girls throwing their hair in ponytails ummm definitely not the case at DDs school. With everyone in uniform hair was definitely used as a way to stand out. The school was k-12 so this observation included high schoolers.

DD wouldn’t consider coed HS after her experience, she doesn’t call it bad and made great friends but didn’t want all girls again.

Side note observation - all the girls I know that chose not to continue on to HS at DDs school chose to attend a coed high school.

My take is, like everything, it depends on the child AND the school. One has to mesh with the other. And the challenge is getting it right.

Interestingly DD started classes yesterday at her BS and mentioned that there were mostly boys in her Biology honors class.

100% agree that it depends on the school. We looked for an all girls private HS and our D was very underwhelmed with their STEM programs and attitude of the staff.

I attended an all girls BS for all four of my high school years. It was a life changing experience, and had a greater influence on my life than my 4 years at a co-ed college. As stated, the benefits of single sex education for girls is well documented, and I know I reaped all the rewards I could from the experience. Although I am the first to admit that after 4 years of all girls, I was done with single sex ed and would only consider co-ed schools for college. I have no regrets about that decision.

I was in BS in the early 90s and a lot has changed since then. We had a healthy percentage of boarders and only a handful of international students. Domestic boarders came from around the country, and the school did not empty out on weekends.

All girls boarding schools have faced many challenges over the past 20 years, and the demographics at the schools have changed significantly for many. They have a hard time recruiting because they are limited to 50% of the population, plus many students will not consider single sex schools. As such, international enrollments have increased, sometimes making up the majority of a boarding population. This changes the overall culture of the residential program, and ends up being a turn off to domestic students.

Some schools have responded by recruiting more “local” boarders to sell the idea of no commute during the week, but close enough to go home on the weekends. What happens then is that the school empties on the weekends, except for the international girls who may have created their own “pod” and may socialize with only each other.

I’m a big fan of girls schools and the experience they can provide, but I think it is essential that parents look at the percentage of international students, as well as the geographic diversity of where the domestic boarders hail from. Better yet, plan an overnight visit if you can, to get a true sense of residential life and what it really looks like after 5pm on a Friday.

I <3 this thread, and wish more of our daughters would consider these factors.

I know, however, that I was against single sex education when I was an 8th grader looking at high schools, so I was not surprised that my own child had similar views.

On the up side, I realized that a childhood friend is now the head of one of the all-girls schools mentioned on CC. I would not have envisioned that back in 8th grade at the misfit/nerd girl lunch table, dodging the food-fight cross fire between the druggy girl table and druggy boy table.

Our son wanted to attend an all-girls school. He was sure it would be a fantastic experience. :wink:

My son says his girl friends are a good influence vs his boy friends are a terrible influence.

My kids attended a private PreK-8th grade school, and the boys there were a nightmare. There was an overall sense of entitlement from the kids (and parents) which was met with a lack of discipline from the school. It felt as if it was the place where wealthy parents sent their poorly behaved boys. The girls at the school brought balance to the class, and helped make it a better experience overall. Due to our experience there, I did not even consider an all boys school for my sons. Not even for a second.

Sorry for going off topic, just wanted to agree with the sentiment that having girls in a class can be good for the boys!