Women And Men And The College Application Process

Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Higher Education published The Missing Men, an article that investigates the root causes of why so many more women attend college than men today. The 50 year trend is startling:

While the article offers ideas for getting men to attend college in higher numbers, the piece has me reflecting on the work that colleges with staggering application numbers and low acceptance rates must do to try and bring in a balanced class if necessary to meet institutional aims. Amazingly, US News reports that 51% of degree-seeking students at Harvard are men. At my alma mater, Wake Forest, that number drops to 47% and at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, it’s even lower than the national average (40% men/60% women).

There are multiple institutional priorities that admissions committees must satisfy when admitting and enrolling a class. In my experience both working in college admissions and talking with colleagues at schools across the country, a generally balanced class of men and women was often one of them yet was rarely easily achieved.

Am I inferring that it might be easier for a male student to gain admission to a college with a highly selective admissions process? Not necessarily – again, it depends on the enrollment goals of the institution (note the UNC – Chapel Hill numbers – it appears they are fine having a much greater number of women than men on campus).

But for schools with fairly balanced women to men student ratios, I believe that it is fair to assume that maintaining that balance is an institutional priority. And in the United States, where, according to Brookings, roughly 45,000 fewer men than women graduated from public high schools in 2018, I believe it is also fair to assume that colleges are receiving more applications from women than they are from men (add to this the fact that women are likely applying to more schools than their male counterparts). If you are ever able to get an admissions officer to tell you the number of women and men in their application pool do let me know! However, I feel confident concluding that there is likely a fairly large disparity in the number of applications submitted by women over men at a number of colleges and universities.

Is this as important of an issue as merely getting more men to attend college? Of course not. I’m not sure it’s an issue at all – I just find it interesting. In the end, trying to enroll a class of roughly an equal number of women and men requires a lot of yield know-how (it’s ok to admit fewer men if you can get a high percentage of them to enroll), a bit of luck, and, likely, a different kind of read during the application review process.