Does the Gender Gap Matter When Choosing a University? | Top Universities

Does the Gender Gap Matter When Choosing a University?

By Dasha Karzunina

Updated January 28, 2015 Updated January 28, 2015

Whilst it might be obvious how the gender gap is affecting those who want to work in higher education (see my blog post on this from last week), it might not be so immediately clear why those choosing a university to study at might want to consider this too.

Are you in the process of choosing a university? If so, here are a few reasons why the gender gap could be worth considering.

This blog post is not aiming to appeal exclusively to prospective female students, as there might well be a variety of reasons why male students should also care about choosing a university with a good gender balance too.

1) If you are planning on joining any student societies or groups, will you be encouraged to lead?

Imagine you’ve recently joined the cheerleading society (or the hockey club, a political group or any other society). The committee in charge is entirely made up of men, and as election time approaches, you realize you are the only woman standing. You might not feel all the encouragement in the world to go ahead and succeed. Had there been other women standing, and had you had a female mentor throughout your time with the society, you might feel very differently.

2) Is it important to you to be taught by a diverse body of professors?

A study carried out by Harvard University titled ‘Women and Men in the Classroom: Inequality and Its Remedies’ found that the presence of female instructors seems to have had an inspiring effect on female students. The latter were found to speak for almost three times longer under instructors of their own gender than when they were in classes led by male instructors. The data suggests that a teacher's gender can play a role in stimulating classroom discussion, in the sense that it appears to influence the gender balance of discussions, lessening the extent to which male students dominate.

3) Is it important for you to have female role models within your institution? If you plan to pursue a career in academia/research, would it be important to see other women who have ‘made it’?

The effects of low self-esteem carry over into graduate school and professional life, even in settings which might be thought to confer feelings of high self-efficacy. For example, Stanford researchers Zappert and Stansbury have found that female graduate students tend to experience low self-esteem in comparison with male graduate students. Self-depreciation is especially pronounced in fields in which women are present in the lowest numbers.

4) If you have a pastoral or academic mentor, would their gender make a difference to you? Who would you feel more comfortable sharing your concerns with?

Charly Young from The Guardian explains that girls generally have too few role models, as senior decision-makers in most industries are usually mostly men. Role models in personal and professional networks are particularly important, with a significant lack of motivation seen especially amongst girls and young women from low-income families.

5) Finally, is it important to you that there is gender balance within those studying your subject? Would you like your university to attempt to recruit a diverse group of students?

You may believe that the gender make-up of an institution somewhat reflects its philosophy, and that it’s important for universities to make efforts to diversify recruitment of staff and students by providing equal opportunities and widening access. Of course, on the other hand, obtaining gender balance across all subjects remains an international challenge, so perhaps this issue is for now best viewed in terms of a few institutions which stand out as making exceptional progress, blazing a trail which others will hopefully follow.  

Whilst I don’t think the gender gap will necessarily come above other factors students consider when choosing a university (i.e. the status of professors, range of subjects, facilities, etc.), I do personally believe this is a key aspect to consider, especially but not exclusively for female students. Although this wasn’t at all on my mind when I was choosing my university, retrospectively I believe I should have paid more attention to it.

How did the gender gap affect my student experience?

I ended up getting involved with a fair few societies, soon wanted to be on committees and put myself forward for leadership positions. It wasn’t long before I realized that even within student leadership (which is supposedly more progressive than overall university leadership), there were very few female leaders. When I did eventually run for a position of responsibility, I ended up running against four guys. It was intimidating being the only girl and the lack of women standing was apparent immediately! So in my experience, if ‘women in leadership’ is an initiative your university is taking seriously, then it will be translate into the student body too.

At the end of the day, universities are meant to shape us into conscientious citizens, in turn shaping the wider society we’re part of, and so it is important to make the right decision academically as well emotionally and personally when choosing a university; your university years are not to be forgotten.

For more on the gender gap in higher education, read Dasha’s recent post “Who runs our education?

This article was originally published in January 2015 .

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Written by

Originally Russian, Dasha studied at the University of Nottingham. During her degree in maths and philosophy, she fell in love with university life and was soon involved in student politics. She took on various roles of responsibility within the student theatre, student media groups, sports teams and student democratic structures. Her passion for higher education and student interests led to her representing students full-time for a year and then gaining a role within QS as International Research Liaison.

Dasha is a keen linguist, a runner and a theatre enthusiast. She believes in the power of words and excellent presentation and takes every opportunity to travel. Her ambition is to empower the world by ensuring more people have access to high quality education.


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