I never felt supported at my high school. As anyone from the US South can tell you, in general, if you call yourself a feminist, you wear a target on your back. It took me over five months to start a Girl Up club at my school. Even when it was up and running, we had to endure criticism and harassment from both students and teachers. When it came time for me to pick a college, the number one thing I looked for was an environment that would be supportive of my views. And, you know, to get as far away from Florida as possible.
None of the colleges I toured felt right. I loved the academic rigor and aesthetics of schools like University of Pennsylvania and Columbia, but they felt too competitive. None of them felt like home.
When my Columbia tour guide mentioned Barnard, I was intrigued. I had never thought about a women’s college before, but maybe it was something to consider. The more research I did about the school, the more I fell in love with it.
Barnard is undeniably feminist. The alumna of Barnard and other women’s colleges are leaders and incredible women. The creator of Kamala Khan (Marvel’s first Muslim superheroine!) went to Barnard, Meryl Streep went to Vassar, and Katharine Hepburn went to Bryn Mawr, and Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley, for example! These schools tend to create female leaders as well. Graduates of women's colleges make up more than 20% of women in Congress, and represent 30% of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America, according to Elisabeth Pfeiffer, Huffington Post contributor and women’s college graduate. This is quite significant considering that only 2% of American female college graduates attended women’s schools (Source).
I was afraid that the rigorous environment would pit students against each other, or that it would be competitive, but every girl I’ve spoken to who went to Barnard said that the opposite was true. A recent graduate told me that instead of competing with each other, they pushed each other to work harder.
“In this world,” she said, “Women have to work together, otherwise we will never change the world.”
A junior from Bryn Mawr told me something similar. “My friends from back home always assume that it must be like one cat fight after another, but it’s not. We have to support each other, and we want to. The magic of a women’s college is that it’s really a community. I know that these girls are my sisters and that they have my back.”
Linda Wertheimer, an NPR journalist, often credits her experience at Wellesley for teaching her how to be strong and a leader. “Going to a women’s college made a big difference,” she said. “It gave me the sense women could run things… and I just never thought that it made sense to give that up.”
I connected with a group of girls from all across the country who want to go to Barnard, and even the experience of talking with such like minded girls is amazing. Despite the fact that we all want to go to same school, when we ask questions and discuss grades and extracurriculars, it’s not a competition. We all genuinely want to help each other.
What truly sealed the deal for me was visiting the campus and doing my interview. Stepping onto the school grounds felt like finding my home. During my interview, the alumna who spoke to me treated me like her equal. It wasn’t an interrogation or critique of who I was. It was a conversation. She was genuinely interested in me as a person and I left feeling good not just about how it went, but about myself. She even hugged me after.
I think the magic of a women’s college is that they were designed for us. When girls are together, our natural instinct isn’t to fight, but hold each other up. I’m choosing to apply to Barnard because I want to go to college somewhere where I know I will finally be part of a community.