Rise in Females Reflects U.S. Trend

The College hit a milestone this year, albeit a small one.

Three more women than men were offered admission to Harvard, marking the first time in its history that more women than men were accepted to the College.

And yesterday the Office of Admissions announced another first: Harvard is expected to have more women than men in its incoming first-year class.

Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73 says that while numbers are too close right now to tell for certain if women will outnumber men—it will come down to final enrollment decisions next September—she is pleased with the response from women admits this year.

“We are pleased to see that the appeal of Harvard College remains very strong (for men and women both) and heartened by the evidence that women are this year at least as likely to accept our offer as men are,” McGrath Lewis writes in an e-mail.

While next year might be the first time women outnumber men at Harvard, more women than men nationally have been entering higher education for several years.

Director of the Ann Radcliffe Trust Judy D. Fox says she expects in upcoming years that Harvard will follow the larger national trend.

Fox says she hopes the acceptance numbers will change perceptions of Harvard as a male-dominated school.

“It may take a few years for the total College population to reach 50-50, but it will certainly be interesting to watch the trend and exceedingly important for all of us to make this a welcoming place for women,” Fox writes in an e-mail.


Of the 19,750 applicants to the College this year, 1,016 of students accepted this year were women, while 1,013 were men. Not only were more females than males accepted in regular admissions, but they also made up the majority of early acceptances.

McGrath Lewis says while the College does not set quotas, the admissions office has been actively recruiting women since Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges—and their admissions offices—merged in 1975.

Such recruitment includes search mailings and asking local alumni to identify particularly strong candidates.

McGrath Lewis says that current male-female split can be attributed to the attitudes of prospective students—the College in recent years has been more attractive to qualified male candidates.

“We’ve been more popular among strong men than women and we’ve tried to bring the interest of strong women up to that level,” says McGrath Lewis.

Harvard’s male draw stands out nationally. Overall enrollment in higher education for men has declined since 1992 and federal projections show the percentage of men in college will shrink to 42 percent by 2010, according to a 2000 article in Time Magazine.

Warren Research Professor of the History of American Education at the Graduate School of Education Patricia A. Graham says the national trend is due to changing expectations of adult women.

“Basically this is largely a consequence of adult women now having greater choices for their lives, and boys who may be bright but who are disinterested in school not continuing their educations,” Graham, a former director of the National Institute of Education, writes in an e-mail.

Graham says that parents also have also changed expectations.

“Parents now generally believe that daughters deserve higher education as well as their sons, a view that was not prevalent throughout American society even 30 years ago,” Graham writes.

McGrath Lewis says that the admissions office has seen lingering evidence that families have been slightly more reluctant to send their daughters away to college.

“The high yield on women [this year] is an encouraging sign that talented women seem every more able to take advantage of great opportunities!” she writes.


McGrath Lewis say while hometown location has factored into acceptance decisions of women, academic and extracurricular interests are not very distinguishable by gender.

“People think women have some other criteria to choose a college, but we do a lot of follow up and differences don’t vary between gender,” she says.

Once on campus, females seem to be as present in leadership positions as men are. This semester women are at the helm of the Black Students Association, The Crimson and, for the first time, Harvard Hillel.

There has also been a proliferation of female social groups on campus. This year a new sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, joined the two existing campus sororities, Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Gamma. Other female social clubs—many of which have been established in the last few years—include Isis, Seneca, Bee, Pleiades and Sabliere Society.

Karin C. Sheieh ’05, president of Women in Business (WIB), also says interest in her organization has increased. She says WIB has seen the number of compers double from 20 to 40 in the past few years.

“I definitely hope this trend goes to the business world,” Sheieh says. “There aren’t many women in top management, yet I know many girls who will make excellent managers and executives.”

In the classroom, however, there are still gender disparities within certain academic departments and in the concentration choices of men and women.

According to concentration statistics taken from upperclass students each November, twice as many men as women have concentrated in fields such as economics and computer science for the past four years.

Women, on the other hand, made up more than double the number of men concentrating in areas such as anthropology and English and American literature and language.

“Women are slightly more inclined to study humanities, men are a little more inclined to do social science, and a few more men do natural sciences—not by much though,” McGrath Lewis said. “I think the main thing is to make the point that you can choose among them and we meet all kinds of needs.”


But many student leaders say the College has a long way to go in meeting the needs of women on campus.

“The [three] person number is a symbol,” Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) Co-Chair Ilana J. Sichel ’05 says, referring to the number of more women than men accepted this year to the College.

“There is a veil of total equality and it is even more important to think about the history of gender at Harvard and how that might affect the current situation for women—what does it mean that for many centuries it was majority men?” she says.

RUS Co-Chair Carolyn D. Amole ’07 says that the admissions numbers could be a wake up call for Harvard but that she’s felt for a long time that Harvard was more like “a boys school that they let girls into.”

Sichel says a greater number of women at the College could influence her organization’s mission to establish a centralized location for women’s resources.

“It could affect our goal for a women’s center,” Sichel says. “This is getting a lot of press, and I think the first-years who come to Harvard next year will be really aware of the historical context they’re coming into.”

During prefrosh weekend RUS constructed a tent outside of the Science Center meant to represent a women’s center.

Angela A. Smedley ’04, vice president of the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW), also says there is a need for a women’s center and that with the admittance of more women to the College, her organization will be forced to recognize the need to align with other women’s groups.

“We want to represent ourselves in women’s issues more than we have,” Smedley says. “I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk so much about having a women’s center when half the campus—and now more than half of the [first-years] coming in—are female.”

Spaces for women has long been an issue for RUS and other women student leaders on campus. Although the College stipulates that student groups, even gender specific organizations, must admit everyone regardless of race or gender, some men on campus have additional social space because of the presence of non-recognized final clubs.

Amole writes in an e-mail that she is not a very big fan of final clubs but she would rather focus on obtaining space for women.

“Doing away with final clubs is not a priority of the University, and it is certainly not my priority as a feminist on this campus, either,” Amole writes. “I would much rather spend my time and energy for more important causes, like getting a women’s center.”

Fox says that she is hopeful that men and women will work together to create an equal environment for both genders on campus.

“I would hope that men and women will engage together in [their] pursuits and make it possible for all to see that one gender is no more dominant in finding success here than another,” Fox writes.

—Bari M. Schwartz contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Monica M. Clark can be reached at mclark@fas.harvard.edu.