Midterms are finally over, the air is colder in the morning when you walk to your first class, it's darker when you get out of your last class, and all you can think about is going home for semester break. You can't wait to get home and tell everyone about your first few months away at college, and besides, you are dying for a home-cooked meal. Holiday dinners all over the country will be filled with the wild stories told by colleges' newest initiated members. However, for a small percentage of these wide-eyed freshmen, this fall was more than their first time away from home, it was also their first time at a school where the students were all the same sex.
So what happens when you trade your locker next to the cute hockey team captain for a dorm of girls all trying to get into the bathroom in the morning? You find a school with a completely different "feel" to it and begin the most exciting experience of your life.
The "relaxed atmosphere" is what Kristen Apeland, who attended a co-ed public high school in Virginia, first noticed when she arrived at Endicott College in Beverly. And she is not alone, Even Lynn Clark, who has a small, Catholic co-ed high school background, felt the same way towards Emmanuel College in Boston.
Out of the 57 women's colleges in the United States, ten of them are in the Boston area. However, even in Boston, not many people are aware of what life at an all-women's college is actually like. Because of stereotypes of single-sexed schools ("You must be gay if you go to an all-girl's school," or "Only rich, snooty girls go there"), many people have narrow opinions of these schools. Well, according to these four students, they are wrong.
The majority of women's colleges are small, which adds to the closeness students quickly develop for each other and also helps make their transition into college easier. And this sense of security can be helpful, especially during first semester when college life can be overwhelming.
"Because Lesley is small, I feel I am able to go further and get involved in more activities," remarked Ellen Sheraton. "I am more confident because I don't feel overwhelmed.
Once settled into college, what about the guys?
"Actually, I don't mind too much that it's only girls," admits Dawn Nelson who is a freshman at Emmanuel. In fact, all four girls say the absence of men in class and around campus has helped make them better students. Because there is no sense of male dominance in the classroom, they feel more at ease with themselves and what they have to say. The students tend to be more aggressive academically because they feel less intimidated by those of the same sex.
But, because the male/female competition has been removed, doesn't mean the students are not competitive. However, it is a supportive competition rather than a need to be better than everyone.
"We all strive to be the very best we can, but we also help each other get there," said Kristen. "After all, we are all in the same boat."
As soon as they arrived on campus, all four felt welcome, which was attributed to the lack of guys to impress.
"Everyone says hi to each other," Kristen says, "because there is no reason not to." If there is not guy/girl tension, there is no need to be competitive or envious about looks or personalities or abilities or possessions. This attitude belongs only to on-campus life, however.
Because their schools are all women, the students have to rely on other schools for an outlet.
"It is hard because you always have to look for the normal, typical college scene at other schools," said Ellen. In fact, each mentioned the added pressure they feel at frat parties or other events, because if they don't meet someone then, when will they?
"Because the opportunity to meet guys in class or around campus doesn't exist," says Kristen, "you sometimes go to these parties with an Ait's now or never' attitude and in situations like that it's not always a good attitude to have."
This need to have other schools to party with makes location crucial to women's colleges.
"Over the summer, I was afraid school was going to be lame," said Lynn, "but because it is in a big college town with so much to offer, school is great. If it were in a rural area, school would be death."
Because of Endicott's location in the suburbs of Boston's North Shore, Kristen and her friends come into town every weekend.
"Usually we drive or take the train in and then go to wherever the party is."
Yet guys (or the lack thereof) aren't everything. It was not long before each girl noticed several distinctions that set their schools apart from their friends' co-ed schools.
"There is a noticeable hype on feminism," says Lynn. "For instance, one of the first days of pre-cal, the instructor asked if we were all freshmen and right away a girl corrected her by saying, AWe are freshwomen.'" But this feminist attitude also helps the colleges prepare their students for the world.
"I remember at orientation we were told that Endicott women were women of distinction." said Kristen. "There is something different about the girls here, something that only we share."
This tradition of women's colleges however, is being threatened because many are choosing to go co-ed. In 1982, 500 colleges in the United States admitted only women. Since then, 96 of them have gone co-ed, including Wheaton College, in Norton (MA) and Colby-Sawyer in New London, NH. Unfor-tunately, many schools are forced for financial reasons. What's surprising is the intense protest these schools get from their student bodies. After Mills College in California went co-ed, the women made it such an issue, the administration was forced to reverse its decision.
"I would be very upset if Lesley went coed," said Ellen. "It would change the whole concentration of school from academic to social." At these colleges, students learn what it means to be a woman and how to be more aggressive so they won't settle for second.
Women's colleges may be a gem whose value many don't realize, so high school seniors may overlook them in their college search. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.