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Can Your Gender Give You a College Admissions Edge?

In general, men enjoy an advantage over women at many elite schools.
In general, men enjoy an advantage over women at many elite schools. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Countless mediocre-to-bad “comedic” films feature the storyline of a young man or woman posing as a member of the opposite sex in order to gain some level of competitive advantage. In Ladybugs (mediocre) to Juwanna Mann (bad), young men dress up as women in order to star at a sport. In the 80’s cult classic Just One of the Guys, a teen girl dresses up as a boy in order to enter the apparently ultra-competitive and absurdly sexist world of high school journalism. The canon of gender disguise comedies contains dozens more entries and, amazingly, only goes downhill from here (See the horrifically awful Amanda Bynes flop She’s the Man).

Yet to be seen is the plot of a prospective college student pretending to be a member of the opposing sex in order to gain acceptance to an elite college. Given the wide disparity in admission rates along gender lines at many top schools, it seems only a matter of time until Channing Tatum is donning a wig and joining a sorority on the silver screen.

The Widening Gender Gap

In 1979, women officially overtook men as the dominant sex on college campuses. Over the last decade women have comprised 57% of the four-year college students in the country. Given that that the gender demographics of the United States have not changed; the latest census shows women making up 50.9% of the country and men 49.1%, this makes for a pretty fascinating phenomenon. While sociologists and other scholars debate the root causes of girls superior school performance, we’re only focused on one thing—what it means for admissions.

The Male Advantage

Naturally, the relative scarcity of qualified male applicants gives them a leg-up in admissions at many schools. School administrators generally strive toward a fairly even split of men and women on campus and worry that a 60/40 female-to-male ratio would turn off many prospective applicants. So congrats, high-achieving gents, you are the beneficiaries of your peers inferior academic performance.

Among the elite institutions offering men a significant edge are George Washington, Tufts, and William & Mary, where gentlemen enjoy a stunning 14 point advantage over young women. Vassar features admit rates for men that are nearly twice that of female applicants. Many other highly selective institutions offer a more modest advantage to men including Brown, Pomona, Vanderbilt, Tufts, and Middlebury.

Generally speaking, gender-based advantages typically on occur at smaller liberal arts schools. Larger schools, even elite one’s like UCLA, tend to hold the same, more statistically-based admissions standards across gender lines. In other words, schools like UCLA are looking purely at GPA and SAT scores, not whether the name on the applicant is Daniel or Danielle.

The Female Advantage

Worry not, gals, your admissions journey is noted necessarily fated to be a harsh, uphill climb. If you have an interest in anything to do with computers, engineering, or the hard sciences, then the tables turn completely.

Not surprisingly, many of the schools that favor female applicants have “Tech” in their name; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Tech, and Caltech all have a much higher acceptance rate for young women. MIT’s acceptance rate for women is double that of male applicants.

Other top schools without the official “Tech” designation that grant favor to female applicants include Babson College, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvey Mudd. Of course, all of these schools are known for their strengths in the same, and typically male-dominated areas of concentration mentioned above.

The Bottom Line

In general, men enjoy an advantage over women at many elite schools due to the greater quantity of qualified female applicants and institutional desires to keep some semblance of a balance of the sexes on campus. Young men looking for a backdoor into an elite college may benefit from targeting schools with a significantly higher admission rate for male applicants. Female applicants face greater scrutiny at many prestigious institutions but have the upper hand in just about all engineering, science, and IT-oriented programs.

College Transitions recently compiled the latest admission rates by gender at over 700 colleges and universities across the country. Click here to access this information. Note: All data was collected from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for the most recent academic year.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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