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Getting Your MRS Degree: Husband-Hunting in College

As little girls, our parents told us that we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be.  The key was education, and presumably a college or a graduate degree.  Want to be a doctor?  Go get that PhD!  A lawyer?  You’ll have that JD in no time!  A teacher, a scientist, a businesswoman?  With a degree, the world would be ours.

But just a couple generations back, some women went to college for a very different type of degree – their MRS, earned by finding their future husband in the hallowed halls of a university.   The logic was simple – if a woman had no particular career aspirations but wanted to get married, she could meet scores of smart and successful men on a college campus. So to college she went, flirting with boys in her classes and dating as many men as possible, all in an effort to have a ring on her finger by graduation. 

Now, to ambitious modern collegiettes™ like ourselves, the concept of going to school solely to find a husband may seem laughable.  We’re smart, we’re successful, and we’re independent women who don’t need a man to make our lives complete (you know you love rocking out to that Destiny’s Child song after finals as much as I do!). 

But then again, the term MRS degree still gets thrown out there every now and then.  Maybe we’re grumbling about our impossible homework and saying we won’t need Physics when we’re trophy wives, maybe we’re considering partying at the Pre-Med frat or laying out in the Law Quad to find more eligible bachelors, or maybe we’re watching the hilarious video by the Columbia ladies who are looking for their MRS in business school (see below).  So what gives?   Are we really just joking around about finding a husband in college, or is that really something that we’re looking for deep down, and is there anything wrong with that?

Family Ties
In many cases, women who are looking for husbands in college are doing so because they first and foremost want to be mothers, and marriage is the desirable first step to starting a family.

“I don’t want to get married right this instant, but I want to be a stay-at-home mom, so I need to find a husband eventually,” said Anna, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.  “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and I too want to be active in my kids’ lives.  I don’t want to define my life by my career; my family makes me who I am.”

This loyalty to raising a family is reflective of societal gender roles that haven’t really changed much in the last few decades, despite expanded educational opportunities for women.  It’s still widely believed that women are responsible for maintaining a home and raising a family, regardless of whether or not they work outside of the home.  Today’s college girls know that balancing those traditionally female duties with a full-time career can be endlessly difficult, which is why some women have decided to end their time in the workforce once they have children.

“I want to have my own career because I want to be able to support myself if things don’t work out they way I’m hoping they do,” said Kaydee, a junior at the University of Michigan.  “But when I have kids, I won’t want to work – I consider raising children to be a job of its own, and I think society respects the value in that.”

For many women, working until children come along seems like a good way to put their college degree to use.  Today, girls outnumber boys at most American colleges, and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into our education.  So, for example, a woman with an engineering degree might feel the need to spend some time as an engineer, as her knowledge of engineering probably won’t be used much while raising her children.  But for many women who prioritize family first, they do so with the understanding that their careers will take a hit, either by deciding to work part-time or not at all.

This trend can be seen even at America’s most elite universities, where female students are expected to become the country’s next leaders just like their male counterparts.  Many women there, however, are more concerned about being leaders in the household.  Interviews done with 138 female students at Yale in 2005 indicate that over 60% of them planned to cut back on work or leave the workforce entirely when they have children, and a 2001 survey of recent Harvard Business School alumnae shows that 31% of them were working only part-time, and another 31% were no longer working at all. 

Now, most of these women probably didn’t go to college exclusively to find a husband.  But with the strong desire to raise a family one day in mind, many college girls have started to look around while they’re here.

 “I wasn’t looking for a husband when I came to college, but now that I’m a senior, I am,” Karin, a University of Michigan senior, said.   “When I’m into a guy, I end up wondering if he’d be a good fit for a husband, if he’s going places in life.  I’m 21, and I think it’s about time to find someone I can see myself settling down with.”

Not only are there a plethora of single guys on campus, but also the logic from our mothers’ days still holds true – these men will be successful one day, and could likely support a family with only one income. 

“I want to be married by the time I’m 27, so there isn’t an urgency right now,” Kaydee said.  “But at the same time, there are so many opportunities to meet guys in college and you know they’re ambitious.  Where would I meet a husband after college, on a blind date?  In a bar?”

Career Women

While many girls want to have a family one day, not all women want to give up a career to do so.  For women who place higher value in having a successful career, looking for a man in college is more of an afterthought – while it would be nice to meet a husband on campus, they’re not out there looking for one, and it’s definitely not why they’re here.

“I just don’t understand why a girl would spend X amounts of years and dollars only to find a guy that they may or may not end up with,” said Caroline, a University of Michigan junior.  “What if they didn’t find anyone?  It just seems like a huge waste.”

And while the Columbia B-School video is obviously hilarious, some girls think it would be ludicrous to go to grad school for a man.

“I’m applying to med school right now, and there’s no way I’d be going just to find a husband – why would I put myself through that torture if I didn’t actually want to be doctor when I graduated?” said Kate, a senior at the University of Michigan. 

It seems like most women today want to have a career, but what differs is whether or not girls plan to remain devoted to that career once a family comes along.  For women that do want to remain working, many point to their background and upbringing as evidence that balancing a career and motherhood is possible, and sometimes desirable.

“I went to an all-girls school for 13 years, so I was taught independence, feminism, and to rely on myself instead of a man,” says Hannah, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.  “I’m also from New York City and everybody there has a working mother, so I’ve seen the value of having a mom with a strong career – now I’m working to have one of my own.”

“My mom was a stay-at home mom, and taking care of four kids is definitely a full-time job,” Rachel, a University of Michigan junior, said.  “But having a career of my own is really important to me – I want to manage to be an attorney and a mom, and while that might be difficult, it’s certainly worth a shot.”

A Balancing Act

No matter your views on motherhood, the concept of finding a man in college can be quite compelling.  As college women, many of us feel enormous pressure to do it all – to become a successful career person, a loving wife, and a devoted mother – and sometimes, the thought of getting an MRS degree can seem much easier than that PhD.  There’s a certain allure in the simplicity of it – all a girl needs to do is find a boy to marry, and for the rest of her life, she will be taken care of. 

But today’s college girl, despite her plans for the future, wants to know that she can take care of herself.  This means that many women are waiting until later on to start a family, which allows them time to complete their education and get a strong start in their careers.  People are getting married later than ever these days, with the median age for first marriage being 26 for women.  Compare that to 21, the median age for women in the 1970s, and there’s clearly been a major shift in thinking since MRS degrees were in their peak of popularity.

Our generation was born after the feminist movements of our mothers’ times, and that push for independence might make us feel more inclined to focus on our careers, or to wait longer before worrying about having a family.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be looking for a husband now, especially if having a family is your top priority.  Husband-hunting might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in my opinion, the basic message of feminism is the same one that our parents told us when we were children: that we can grow up to be anything we want to be.  Whether that’s a career woman, a wife and mother, or some combination of the two is up to you.

Anna, University of Michigan sophomore
Caroline, University of Michigan junior
Hannah, University of Michigan sophomore
Karin, University of Michigan senior
Kate, University of Michigan senior
Kaydee, University of Michigan junior
Rachel, University of Michigan junior

Sarah Smith is a junior at the University of Michigan, Class of 2012, majoring in Communication Studies and Political Science. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Forum, Michigan's Greek Life Newspaper, and the secretary of Michigan's chapter of Ed2010. Sarah is also an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and she currently serves Michigan's Panhellenic Association as the Vice President of Public Relations.  A native of Sterling Heights, MI, she has been a Michigan fan since birth and loves spending Saturday mornings cheering on her Wolverines. Some of her favorite things include The Office, Audrey Hepburn, women's magazines, and microwave popcorn - preferably with lots of butter and salt!
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