Comparing co-ed vs. single sex schools

Staff writer Peridot Park discusses her experience attending an all-girls school in comparison to her experience at Menlo. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov on Menlo School Flickr.

Peridot Park, Staff Writer

Before moving to the Bay Area and starting school at Menlo, I attended The Spence School, an all-girls’ school in New York City. I went to Spence from Kindergarten until the end of my freshman year, making sophomore year my first year at a co-ed school. Although there were other major changes between Spence and Menlo (for instance, the class size: Spence had a class size of 60, versus Menlo’s class size of 150), the change I had anticipated the most was the switch from a single-sex to a co-ed environment.

I found that the difference between the two environments was much less drastic than I had predicted. Most of my friends at Menlo are girls, so there would not be much reason for me to observe any change within my direct friend group. However, this is not everyone’s experience; “After coming to Menlo, the gender composition of my friend group has definitely changed. I have both girl and guy close friends,” said sophomore Michelle Louie, a alumna of The Girls’ Middle School.

I also did not experience having to  undergo a social transition coming from an all-girls to a co-ed school, a sentiment which Louie echoed. I found that there were a few differences in the “culture” of the school, but the types of drama or “cattiness” that many would assume are embedded into the social atmosphere of an all-girls school are still present within female friend groups at a co-ed school.

As a small all-girls school, Spence was an intensely close-knit community, and many girls were relatively unafraid of facing potentially negative opinions from their peers. I did notice a slight academic change between the two environments; I found that, in general, girls were less concerned about speaking up in class at Spence than at Menlo. Thus, I would say that the most apparent social difference between single-sex and co-ed schools is a slightly heightened awareness of judgment. “Academically, I found that there tended to be slightly more participation in an all-girls environment, which ties into the social difference that people didn’t care as much what other people thought of them, and didn’t try as hard to seem ‘perfect,’” said sophomore Emma McGaraghan, who attended Castilleja School for middle school.

With this having been said, I am definitely glad that I transferred to a co-ed school. When looking ahead to college, I believe that never having attended a co-ed school would have been detrimental to my social awareness. I am also glad that I attended an all-girls school, especially in elementary and middle school, for the academic reasons given above (i.e. I believe all-girls schools are beneficial for building academic confidence). “I am glad I went to an all-girls school […] because it was the perfect time to develop academic habits in a no-judgment zone […] but I would not want to be in an all-girls school any other time [other than middle school], because I appreciate a more well-rounded experience,” McGaraghan said. I readily agree with this; I would say that all-girls schools are effective at training girls academically, and although the social difference between single-sex and co-ed schools is actually fairly small, single-sex schools can neglect to provide a complete social experience.