Do boys have a better chance of getting into a college than girls?

It is a growing truth that colleges are seeing a shift in the balance of male-to-female student ratios. In fact, though males vastly outnumbered females on college campuses just a few years ago, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) predicts that this year's incoming college student population will have 75 boys for every 100 girls. This begs the question: since college admissions boards desire diversity in their student population, will they now be more likely to admit a boy over a girl even if their qualifications are otherwise equal? Or, even more striking, will they admit a less qualified boy?

What we know for sure is that colleges are currently working harder to attract male applicants. Some universities have used athletics as a draw, and some have expended more traditionally male-dominated programs, such as business. Skidmore College in New York, for example, has used both strategies in hopes of drawing in more boys.

However, there does not appear to be any sort of generalized trend for preferential treatment for boys during admissions. Though if you are concerned about a gender penalty (or bump) and want a better estimation of your individual odds, there are two things you should analyze about each college you are interested in:

  1. Current enrollment statistics will tell you if there is a wide gender gap at your target college. Interviews with admissions officers have revealed that if such a gap existed, they may prefer male applicants. Bruce Poch, admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, California suggests that, "if [enrollment] were to suddenly be 65/35, [a gender preference] would be very reasonable."
  2. Application statistics are revealing as well. Pomona College, for example, admitted 17% of its female applicants to 24% of its male ones in order to maintain a rough 50/50 ratio. Other colleges such as Swarthmore College near Philadelphia engage in similar practices, as suggested by admissions dean Jim Bock who says that he would consider admitting more boys than girls off the waitlist if the incoming class seemed too lopsided.

Girls should not panic too much, however. University of Delaware admissions director Louis Hirsh along with several other admissions officers assert that they would not admit an unqualified male applicant over a qualified female one.

Ultimately, the best any applicant can do is to put his or her best foot forward. I highly recommend that you not stress yourself over potential gender handicaps or the effects of gender diversity. Though boys may receive a slight bump at the margins, there is no evidence yet to suggest that colleges in general are offering preferential enrollment to male applicants.

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Thank you for your comment.

I am speaking generally regarding concerns about gender bias. Similar to the debate surrounding affirmative action on the basis of race, some critics to gender-based decisions cite fears that under-qualified candidates will be accepted solely because of their sex.

After looking at the comments of admissions officers at many colleges nationwide, I am confident that, at least at this point, colleges are unwilling to admit unqualified boys simply because they are male.

I hope this has answered your question.

- Brian Cavner, 02/06/08 at 10:39 pm

Who said anything about admitting the unqualified?

- Anonymous, 02/06/08 at 10:26 pm

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