April 26, 2012
Admission to the nation’s top universities has grown increasingly selective in recent years. But for female applicants, who are applying in higher numbers than males to many of these institutions, including Brown, chances of admission may be even slimmer.
The University accepted a record-low 8.9 percent of applicants last year when it received 30,944 applications for the class of 2015, roughly 60 percent of which were from females. But when the University offered places to 2,757 of those prospective students, male applicants were admitted at a rate of 10.8 percent, compared to an acceptance rate of 7.6 percent for females, according to the 2011-12 Common Data Set. The University denied admission to nearly 5,900 more females than males.
Though Princeton admitted a smaller percentage overall of first-year applicants in 2011 — 8.5 percent — 8.6 percent of female applicants were admitted, making admission to Brown for females applying to the class of 2015 more competitive than to Princeton.
The difference in admit rates for males and females at Brown has fluctuated between 2.5 percent and 5.2 percent in the past eight years. The gap reached its peak when 11.7 percent of females and 16.9 percent of males were accepted for the class of 2012.
‘A domino effect’
Universities may aim to maintain a gender balance, meaning women may not be admitted simply because of their gender, said Bev Taylor, founder of Ivy Coach, a private college admissions consulting practice based in New York.
“The reality is that because young men are rarer, they’re more valued applicants,” wrote Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, in her 2006 New York Times op-ed entitled “To All the Girls I’ve Rejected.”
“I admire the brilliant successes of our daughters. To parents and the students getting thin envelopes, I apologize for the demographic realities,” she wrote.
But Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 wrote in an email to The Herald that admission officers at the University have not, at least during his time here, been pressured by administrators to maintain a gender balance. According to data from the Office of Institutional Research, 51.3 percent of undergraduates at the University in fall 2011 were female.
Women began to apply to the University in greater numbers than men in the 1989-90 academic year, Miller wrote, a few years after the number of women attending college nationally surpassed the number of men in the mid-1980s.
Males do not have to work hard as women to be admitted, Taylor said. Due to the different rates at which males and females mature, she said, males are more likely to receive disciplinary action, while females are more likely to enroll in the most rigorous courses and prepare for Advanced Placement tests and other standardized exams. “Maybe it’s all a domino effect starting from kindergarten when they are more mature than their male counterparts,” she said.
Admission officers expect differences in behavior between males and females, Delahunty said.
Parenting also reflects the disparity in expectations for different genders. “Saying that they’re disadvantaged is just part of the story,” she said. Females are expected to be “more on top of their game.”
“What can we do about it? Not much,” Taylor said. “Unless males can get their act together and be as mature as females.”
Female applicants also tend to oversee their own college admission process more than males, Delahunty said.
Though Taylor said the 3.2 percent lower admit rate that female applicants to Brown experienced last year is not a major difference, other schools show more bias against female applicants. She added that this bias is similar to the disadvantage faced by Asian-Americans, especially those of Chinese and Indian descent. “It’s just one more group that faces discrimination in this process,” she said.
Calling all scientists
The difference in admit rates between the genders is partly a result of the University’s recent efforts to attract students in the physical sciences, Miller wrote, as admission officers have increasingly tried to recruit students interested in pursuing the physical sciences for the past seven to eight years.
“There are more women admitted than men in humanities, life sciences and social sciences, but men constitute nearly two-thirds of the students admitted in the physical sciences,” Miller wrote. Engineering has been among the top five most popular intended concentrations among admitted students, and a third of the admitted class last year declared its interest in the physical sciences, The Herald previously reported.
“We spend a great deal of time recruiting and acting affirmatively in the admission process for female physical scientists, but the under-representation of women in the physical sciences is a national trend, not just a Brown phenomenon,” Miller wrote. “The good news is we admitted nearly 100 more female physical scientists this year than we did six years ago.”
The gender disparity in applicants has become more pronounced over the last decade, especially at small liberal arts schools, said Ed Hu ’87, chief advancement officer at the Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif. Hu, former associate dean of admission at Brown, said the University has always drawn more female applicants than males due to its reputation as an “open, progressive place.”
Universities like Brown — known to be strong in the humanities and to foster interaction with the faculty and administration — tend to attract females in greater numbers, said Jeffrey Durso-Finley MAT’91, director of college counseling at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. Institutions like Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology draw fewer girls because they are not known to be “nurturing,” said Durso-Finley, former associate director of admission at Brown.
Hu said the gender issue was not as salient in the early 1990s when he worked in the Office of Admission, but as the discrepancy in acceptance rates has grown, admission officers have been willing to talk about how “boys are having an easier time.”
Durso-Finley said that unlike some smaller liberal arts and former single-sex schools that are at a “tipover point” of 60 percent female or more, Brown is “not in the crosshairs yet.” Once the enrolled female population approaches and surpasses 60 percent, the campus atmosphere can change drastically and in turn affect future applicant pools, he said.
“Brown doesn’t have to fight this yet,” he said. “They have not shown a demonstrable difference between how they select students (of different genders).”
And with college admission becoming increasingly competitive, Hu said he believes the gender issue is just one of the contributors to a complex admission process that takes into consideration geography, academic interests, legacy status and more.
“It’s just so competitive out there that it’s not just a gender thing,” Hu said.