Research paper

                                          Gender Trends in US College Admissions




Over the last several decades, there has been an increasing emphasis placed on issues of gender equity in the classroom. Thus, people are no longer considering gender as an important factor in determining college admission. However, complete gender equality has not been fully achieved in college admissions. A lot of people have the opinion that colleges are pioneers in the trend of eliminating gender inequality. For instance, they think that colleges empower both men and women with knowledge, which not only ensures that they have equal access to quality education, but also provides them with equal chances for careers and life choices. For women, who have traditionally been victims of gender discrimination, college education motivates and encourages them to enter traditionally male-dominated fields, in which it is well proved that salaries are higher. Thus, college admission has opened up opportunities for qualified women to achieve higher wages, advance in the workplace, and gain respect from others, which makes them better able to live independently. However, this research paper reveals the real situation regarding gender trends in the US college admission process. Specifically, while gender inequality has been drastically lowered, gender is still a significant consideration in some college admissions procedures.

The study begins with an analysis of the causation of gender inequality’s existence in the college admissions process in three aspects: financial condition, sex differences, and public voice. Within each aspect, the paper addresses how these problems will influence college admission. The second part of this article argues that in order to address these problems, colleges can provide a variety of equalizing opportunities for women. To clarify, gender here only concerns two categories: men and women.


What is the Root of Gender Inequality in College Admissions?

First of all, men with financial issues are able to figure out if college is a good investment for them, and choose an alternate path to financial freedom. For instance, men are less likely to take on the heavy debt since they can create their own businesses, find employment in manual labor, or enter the job market without a huge amount of student loan debt. What is even more fascinating is that men are not going to face huge wage penalties early on in their careers. Instead, men who start full-time work after high school are able to accumulate savings, while their college-educated peers are still suffering from heavy debt or even worse, not finding jobs that fit their majors. Thus, going to college may seem useless at this point in men’s lives. Female students, on the other hand, pay a steep price for not entering college. According to one source, “Female dropouts simply face worse job prospects. They are more likely to be employed in lower-paying service work, while men who drop out have more opportunities in higher-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, and transportation.” (Fisher, 2013) As we can see, women are not recommended to initially miss out on a college education, even if they want to. Financial problems receive such great attention because they are, obviously, the most common, most differentiated indicator of success among high school graduates. As for this difficult decision, many male students choose to give up the college admission opportunity and step into the workforce as soon as they are able to. According to an interview with an admission counselor: “There are fewer men graduating and fewer men deciding to go to college straight from high school. Many are considering other options – entering the workforce or military. They are also more likely to question value of college education and it’s affordability.”(Budd, 2015) An unwillingness to pile on debt when they could be making money may explain why less men are applying to college, but what else accounts for the disparity in college admission for males and females?

In terms of the tests that determine college admissions, sex difference inevitably exists in standardized test scores. “In 2003, for example, males scored an average of 537 points on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), whereas females scored an average of 503 points. Less well known is the fact that males also show a slight advantage on the verbal portion of the SAT.” (Altermatt,2004 ). Researchers offer a variety of explanations for this variation in test scores. Some suggest that the sex differences are the result of biological factors. For example, males may perform better than females on mathematics exams because hormones play a significant role, which differ greatly between sexes. For instance, some hormones that are only generated in men’s bodies lead to enhanced functioning in the part of the brain that contributes to two abilities which are important in solving and understanding calculus with ease – Spatial imaginary and reasoning. According to psychologist Doreen Kimora, “Men score better than women on certain other types of tests, including those involving spatial reasoning, such as the ability to imagine the entire shape of a three-dimensional object when presented with only one view” (qtd in Maugh, 1991). Even though standardized tests like SAT are not designed to be biased, colleges, with their purpose of seeking perfect candidates for their programs, tend to consider these biological differences. This research explains why some schools with outstanding science and engineering programs tend to admit more males than females, as they are basing their decisions on text scores, which typically favor men. These results do not necessarily indicate that men will be able to perform better in the degree programs once they are admitted, however. As Eileen Pollack indicates regarding her experience in the field of university-level Physics, she “graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in the major, having excelled in the department’s three-term sequence in quantum mechanics and a graduate course in gravitational physics, all while teaching myself to program Yale’s mainframe computer.” (2013).  She goes on to recount that despite her ability to succeed in the field, she did not pursue a master’s or doctoral degree due to, “hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs. I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.” (2013) As we can see, the prejudice against women in the sciences follows them past the admissions process, despite their ability to be successful in such majors.


Another biological effect that causes lower SAT scores among females is that female students usually have higher anxiety levels than male students. In particular, females are very likely to focus too much on negative thoughts about the exams and their fear of not knowing how to succeed also interferes with their performance on tests. According to a study cited in Women’s Health, “It turns out, risky situations tend to increase anxiety in women but not in men, according to a new study presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. And in women, that stress can seriously thwart performance” (Fetters, 2014).  I am usually a typical example of this kind of counterproductive anxiety. My brain will unconsciously blank out when I’m under pressure. I have always conceived low scores on tests to be an uncontrollable factor due to my low ability. However, this is not true as long as I stop feeling anxious and focus on preparing for the exam. Biologically, sex differences exist and affect us all, which is why these measures need to be taken to ensure equal representation for men and women in the college admissions process.


As mentioned above, females may not feel very confident in their academic performance. This issue brings up another reason that gender inequality used to be so prevalent in the world — public voice. Males outperform females on both mathematics tests and some tests of verbal abilities because they are taught to believe in their academic abilities and, thus, approach these tests with a greater sense of confidence. According to an article in Bloomberg Business, “men tend to be more confident and assertive about their abilities than women. In an internal review, Hewlett-Packard famously found its male employees were likely to apply for promotions when they believed they met 60 percent of the qualifications listed, while its female employees shied away from doing so unless they thought they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Other studies have suggested that women ask for negotiations less than men and that women experience greater anxiety when they’re negotiating” (Otani, 2015).  Rather than giving women the message that they are allowed to be ambitious and confident, society conveys that women should end up carrying nearly all of the care giving responsibilities in a family. The trend used to be that there were a lot of housewives with no degrees and no jobs, taking care of their family members for decades. Although this trend is changing, society simply doesn’t recognize the contribution that each individual, both male and female, can make to both the workplace and family. Therefore, women with less confidence are likely to give up opportunities to enter higher education, thus different education choices will eventually lead to their lower wages and lower social status.  It is clear therefore that there is a nexus between public voice and gender inequality. Public voice contributes to gender inequality, and gender inequality triggers further gender stereotypes.



How Does College Achieve Counterbalance in Gender?

At this point, the disparity of gender in college admissions has been greatly lowered, but the trouble is that the gap still exists and has been barely narrowed over the past two decades. Many college admissions offices have declared the idea of a gender-blind admission policy. Nevertheless, gender-blindness seems to be not very effective in the admissions community. What if the application pools are unbalanced? Obviously, when there is a pool of college applicants filled with mostly women and less men, applying for roughly the same number of seats, gender-blindness is not working. Some colleges admit more males than females, others do the opposite, still others choose their applicants based on their programs every year. But according to the data in general, “At Columbia University, the acceptance rate was 8 percent for men versus 6 percent for women. At Vanderbilt University, it was 11 percent versus 15 percent. At Pomona College:15 percent versus 10 percent. Williams College: 21 percent versus 18 percent. This bias in private-college admissions is blatant enough that it can’t be long before ‘gender-blind admissions’ becomes the new campus rallying cry.”(Ivy Coach, 2015)  The fact is that until there is a perfect counterbalance in the applicant pools to highly selective college between males and females, colleges will always overcompensate by holding females to higher standards.

There is another, more effective way in which colleges make use of gender differences to achieve gender balance. It involves the integration across the fields of study. For instance, colleges provide programs that suit male students, who are either interested in athletic programs or model-building workshops. On the other hand, female students are more likely to get involved with fashion, art, and drama. If colleges are providing students with great opportunities in these extracurricular activities, potential applicants, who are seeking the same opportunities, are going to apply. From my personal experience, our school is trying to break social norms that males dominate the technology majors, while women dominate social sciences majors, by providing specific programs that integrate both degrees. This measure would make the degree programs equally attractive to both genders, in order to change the proportion of each gender in the application pools.



The path of creating gender-equal college admissions has been ongoing until today. We have faced a lot of obstacles during the last decades, since gender stereotypes have existed for so long and they are deeply entrenched. The reasons for this situation are complicated, due to financial, biological and psychological effects.  All of these problems rely on one thing: tolerance. Our ignorance to these problems is no longer acceptable, as they leave women in a subordinate position to men. However, our colleges have made many improvements and play a role as models in today’s society. “We need schools that set high expectations [and] treat each student as an individual, as opposed to a gender stereotype.” (Fisher, 2013) For instance, schools are considering an individual’s performance as the priority during the admissions process. As mentioned above, colleges are providing programs and activities that suit all genders and they also at least try to keep their enrollments equal to every gender. Eventually, our efforts in closing the gender gap in higher education will go a long way in building a better educational environment for everyone.





Anne Fisher (March 27,2013) Boys vs. girls: What’s behind the college grad gender gap? Retrieved from November 16th 2015 from:


Ashley Budd (2015) Missing Men: Addressing the college gender gap

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Thomas H. MUAGH II(1991) Hormone Cycles Affect Men’s Test Results, Study Finds: Biology: Psychologist says males are prey to variations, just as women are, but on a yearly basis.

Retrieved from December 4th 2015 from:


Eileen Pollack (2013) Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

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Akane Otani (2015) De echte reden waarom mannen zelfverzekerder zijn over werk vinden, Retrieved from December 4th 2015 from:


Ellen Rydell (2004) Can anxiety explain sex differences in college entrance exam score? Retrieved from November 18th 2015 from:


Maryland population Research Center(2015), What is behind gender inequality in college ? Retrieve from November 12th 2015 from:


Anne Fisher (March 27,2013) Boys vs. girls: What’s behind the college grad gender gap? Retrieved from November 16th 2015 from:





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