Does Gender Give Your Child a College Admissions Edge?

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Countless mediocre-to-bad “comedic” films feature the storyline of a young man or woman posing as a member of the opposite sex in order to gain some level of competitive advantage. In both “Ladybugs” and “Juwanna Mann,” young men dress up as women in order to star in a sport.

Yet to be seen is the plot of a prospective college student pretending to be a member of the opposite sex in order to gain acceptance to an elite college. Given the wide disparity in admission rates along gender lines at many top schools, it seems only a matter of time until Channing Tatum is donning a wig and joining a sorority on the silver screen.

The Widening Gender Gap

In 1979, women officially overtook men as the dominant sex on college campuses. Over the last decade, women have comprised 57 percent of the four-year college students in the country. Given that U.S. gender demographics have not changed, this makes for a pretty fascinating phenomenon. While sociologists and other scholars debate the root causes of girls’ superior school performance, we’re focusing on one thing in this column — what it means for college admissions.

The Male Advantage

Naturally, the relative scarcity of qualified male applicants gives them a leg up in admissions at many postsecondary institutions. School administrators generally strive toward a fairly even split of men and women on campus and worry that a 60-40 female-to-male ratio would turn off many prospective applicants.

Among the elite institutions offering men a significant edge are George Washington University, Tufts University and the College of William & Mary, where gentlemen enjoy a stunning 14-point advantage over young women. Vassar College features admission rates for men that are nearly twice that of female applicants.

Generally speaking, gender-based advantages typically only occur at smaller liberal arts schools. Larger schools, and even elite institutions like UCLA, tend to hold the same, more statistically-based admissions standards across gender lines. In other words, schools like UCLA are looking purely at GPA and SAT scores, not whether the name on the applicant is Daniel or Danielle.

The Female Advantage

Worry not, gals, your admissions journey is not necessarily fated to be a harsh, uphill climb. If you have an interest in anything to do with computers, engineering or the hard sciences, the tables turn completely.

Not surprisingly, many of the schools that favor female applicants have “Tech” in their name; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Tech and Caltech all have a much higher acceptance rate for young women. MIT’s acceptance rate for women is double that of male applicants.

Other top schools that grant favor to female applicants include Babson College, Carnegie Mellon University and Harvey Mudd College. Of course, all of these schools are known for their strengths in the same and typically male-dominated areas of concentration mentioned above.

The Bottom Line

In general, men enjoy an advantage over women at many elite schools due to the greater quantity of qualified female applicants and institutional desires to keep some semblance of gender balance on campus. Young men looking for a back door into an elite college may benefit from targeting schools with a significantly higher admission rate for male applicants. Female applicants face greater scrutiny at many prestigious institutions but have the upper hand in just about all engineering, science and information technology-oriented programs.

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also a co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at