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The 10 Best Colleges for Females in STEM Fields

by Staff Writers

Great progress has been made over the past century with regard to bringing greater numbers of women into higher education programs, and today many more women graduate with bachelor’s degrees than men. Yet most of those degrees aren’t in STEM fields, with just higher than 37% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees going to women, and the vast majority of those in the medical sciences, a female-dominated field. Few women seek out careers in computer science, engineering, and physics, and researchers have been hard-pressed to figure out exactly why this is the case.

Whatever the reason, some colleges are working hard to even out their enrollments in STEM fields by attracting more female applicants and helping them stay until graduation. Some have actively recruited female students and others have tried to make mentoring by other females a part of the college experience. Read on to learn about some of the schools, listed in no particular order, that have been most successful in getting women into STEM majors and careers.

  1. Westminster College

    In Forbes’ rankings of STEM colleges for women, Westminster came out in the No. 1 slot. The school’s math and computer science departments’ students are 50% female, impressive considering that the average for computer science departments nationwide is just 15%. Westminster is also one of the few schools to graduate more women in STEM majors than men, with more than 36% of their total grads (both men and women) receiving degrees in STEM fields. Dr. Helen Boylan, a chemistry professor and alumna of the school, thinks part of the reason for the success of women at Westminster has to do with the role models they offer, stating, “I think our success in recruiting women into STEM is a result of prospective students interacting with successful women faculty and seeing lots of women students in the science classrooms and labs.”

  2. Carnegie Mellon University

    Carnegie Mellon might not have topped Forbes’ list, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcoming to women who want to pursue a career in a science or technology field. Take the school’s computer science department as an example. In 2005, just 7% of the school’s computer science students were female. Today, more than 40% of the students in the program are female. The change was largely due to changes in the way the school approached potential students, actively recruiting women, modifying admission requirements, and working to change the “peer culture” in the department, which research shows can be one of the major factors in determining whether women choose a major and stay in it until graduation.

  3. Harvey Mudd College

    Dr. Mara Klawe has made it her mission to bring more women into STEM since she became president of Harvey Mudd College. A nationally-recognized computer scientist, mathematician, and educator, there may be no one else better qualified to help inspire women to get into more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors, and her methods seem to be working at Harvey Mudd. Since she took over five years ago, the percentage of students who are female has risen from 33% to 42% and the numbers of women in computer science have jumped from 10% to 40%. Other majors have had big increases as well, with 37% of engineering majors and 20% of physics majors being female, majors that are traditionally extremely male-dominated. The changes made to draw in these students more than likely benefit male students as well, with the school modifying recruitment materials to be more inclusive, creating a more nurturing campus environment, changing up the curriculum, offering more paid research projects, and helping students attend professional conferences.

  4. Colby College

    Colby College also scored very well on Forbes’ rankings for women in STEM, with enrollments for women in science and mathematics programs that were fairly similar to that of the school overall. The school has a history of being accepting to women, with the liberal arts school being the first all-male college in New England to accept female students. Each year, the school is home to the Colby Forum for Women in Science, which helps female students in STEM majors to get help with career development, offering tips on everything from interviewing to projecting a professional image. In past years, the forum has explored bigger issues like gender bias and departmental culture in the sciences.

  5. Tuskegee University

    This historically black college in Alabama serves up a double whammy when it comes to adding diversity to STEM graduates, helping both more women and more minority students through degree programs than many other schools in the nation. While Tuskegee offers a wide range of majors, it’s well known for its engineering programs and offers a large number of STEM-related degree programs from computer science to veterinary medicine. What may help many females stick it out in often challenging degree programs is the partnerships the school has with large STEM businesses like Hewlett-Packard and Xerox, offering summer internships that can help pave the way to a successful career after graduation.

  1. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

    SUNY-ESF is one of only two public colleges to make Forbes’ list of top colleges for women in STEM. Focusing on training women for careers in environmental sciences and conservation, the college boasts a significantly large female percentage in its graduating class, great news for a major that doesn’t always draw large numbers of women. The college is also home to a number of professional scientific organizations for women in the environmental science, engineering, chemistry, and medical fields which can provide a supportive community and help women find career resources for life after graduation.

  2. Polytechnic Institute of NYU

    NYU’s Polytechnic Institute, otherwise known as NYU-Poly, is one of the most female friendly (and diversity friendly) STEM schools in the U.S. NYU-Poly offers majors in engineering, applied sciences, technology, and research, all of which have much higher than average female enrollment. Provost Elizabeth Dianne Rekow says, “In recent years, we have been attracting more women to STEM fields through recruiting, developing talent at the pre-college level, and the mentoring provided by our faculty. By bringing together scholars with diverse outlooks and backgrounds, we find that research improves, and students benefit in their studies and their careers.” Ranked as the seventh-best school in the United States for women and minorities in STEM by Forbes, it looks like their efforts are paying off.

  3. United States Coast Guard Academy

    The CGA doesn’t just help prepare grads for a career in the military; it can also help give them, especially female students, a leg up on a career in science or technology. The Dean of Academics at CGA thinks the diversity in enrollment in STEM programs may have something to do with the service aspects of their time at school, stating, “The connectivity of all of our academic majors to the day-to-day operations of the Coast Guard offers a unique venue for our cadets to make their academy experience come to life.” He may have a point, as majors in fields like marine biology, engineering, and medical science will often get many more chances to put their lessons into practice than students at other schools, perhaps offering female grads experience and interest they cannot get elsewhere.

  4. Worcester Polytechnic Institute

    WPI is fast becoming one of the stand-out schools for women who are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The President and CEO of the school said, “WPI has been able to attract outstanding female students and faculty in the STEM disciplines by making our interest in and commitment to their value and success explicit through pipeline, recruitment, and support programs, and through a campus culture that values collaboration, innovation, curiosity, and exploration.” The school is bringing in female students in record numbers, with the highest enrollment of women in the school’s 145-year history. Women will make up 34% of the class of 2014 at WPI, an increase of 83% over the past five years. What’s bringing them in? WPI offers female students support, advocacy, and development programs from the moment they arrive on campus and has also developed programs to get girls and teens interested in STEM careers at an early age.

  5. California Institute of Technology

    Caltech is one of the best schools for science and engineering in the nation, but it hasn’t ignored diversity in its enrollment to get there. It is home to large numbers of female students and professors alike and has a dedicated Center for Diversity on campus to help students from all backgrounds adapt to life at college, find resources and support, and get career and college guidance. Since 2001, the school has gone to great lengths to even out the genders on campus, with the goal of doubling the female faculty over the next decade and making significant increases in the number of female students. So far, the school has made great progress in achieving these goals (though there is still some room for improvement), with 42% of students in the class of 2013 being women, due in large part to more targeted recruitment.