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Last updated April 24, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Navigating College Admissions and Changing Reproductive Rights Laws

Key Takeaway

Access to reproductive health care is changing college admissions. Students are hesitant to attend college in states with abortion bans, and university officials must contend with the ramifications on enrollment and retention. 

One of the critical steps when college planning with a high school junior is helping them finalize a list of colleges where they want to apply. Even in the face of anxiety about SAT scores, dwindling admit rates, and AP classes, creating a college list can be fun. Imagining yourself on a college campus, meeting new people, joining clubs, or playing frisbee on the quad can add a sense of excitement into a challenging process.

I’ve seen that excitement disappear for some of my students when looking at schools in certain states.

Take this conversation I had recently with a mother and her junior daughter:

“Since you’re interested in Northwestern and Boston College, how about looking at Vanderbilt, Rice, or Duke? Maybe Tulane? Similar academics and student profile. And the weather is warmer. What do you think?”

“Eh, we aren’t looking at schools in those states. Not after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Let’s focus on the northeast or west coast. Or at least getting out of Texas.”

Point taken. And this is a refrain we are hearing more and more.

Admission officers, college counselors, and independent consultants have always helped steer students towards campuses that will be a great academic, social, and financial fit for them. But since the Dobbs case overturned Roe, more families are considering the impact of state reproductive politics.

And it’s not just families of college-bound people who can get pregnant. Access to women’s healthcare and reproductive care can have life-altering impacts on any person on a college campus.

We created this article to examine the current state of women’s reproductive healthcare issues in the states where these populations—about ⅔ of the college-going population—face the most legal restrictions on their rights.

States with Restricted or Banned Abortion Access

Using the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s abortion accessibility map, we’ve listed the seventeen most restrictive states below. Attending college in any of the following states may limit your options to access abortion care if you need it.

While each state’s policies may vary, universities often have specific resources to help students navigate regional restrictions.

If you’re looking to apply to schools in any of these states, we recommend that you do some research into the women and gender resource centers at each college or university. What resources they offer—and whether they have them at all—will clue you in on the options you’d have available.

We’ve also listed some of the biggest flagship and private universities in each of the restrictive states, and we’ve linked to their resource centers to help you start your search. Even if you’re not applying to these particular institutions, their resource pages should get you started in the right direction based on the state’s laws.

Restricted Access

Severely Restricted Access

Eliminated Access

Using resources like can also help you find off-campus resources or resources in nearby states that might increase your options (but bear in mind that traveling to access an abortion may also be under threat).

Questions to Ask

Whether you’re applying to college in a protected state like Washington or a state with abortion bans like Arkansas, you might find it helpful to ask pointed questions during your college search.

Doing virtual and in-person visits, chatting with current students and staff, and engaging with a university’s website and social media can help you feel out the environment of a particular campus.

As you talk with community members, consider a few questions:

  1. What kinds of healthcare can you receive at the student health center?
  2. How does your health insurance or the student health insurance coverage work? Will you be covered for contraception, emergency contraceptives, or abortion? Can you easily access free or affordable birth control?
  3. What off-campus resources are there, and how easy are they to access? Will you have the right insurance, if needed?
  4. Does the school have a women’s, gender, or LGBTQ+ center for support or advocacy? Don’t be afraid to reach out to offices other than admissions. In particular, look on the website of student affairs, the office equity and inclusion, or even the health center or residence life.
  5. Are there support systems for and representation of other intersections of your identity?
  6. What on-campus support exists for parenting students?

If access to abortion is an important issue to you, don’t be afraid to ask about it, especially at schools in states with limited or banned access.

Having all the information can help you make an informed decision.

How are colleges facing these concerns?

As an admissions officer at Vanderbilt, I was often asked direct questions related to being a generally progressive institution in a notoriously conservative state. Questions related to women’s rights and reproductive healthcare are absolutely valid and, as mentioned above, we suggest you ask them. Directly. Especially if you’re considering schools in a state that restricts women’s healthcare.

These questions are being raised in admission offices, presidential suites, and board meetings across higher education. Enrollment officers are concerned with how their institution can attract and support students like the one I mentioned in the introduction, especially in an era when (most) colleges are focusing on the broad scope of diversity, equity and inclusion, the college-going population is declining due to birth rate trends, and women represent about 60% of college students.

Anyone who has worked on a college campus knows that, for better or worse, the first step to addressing any issue is to create a task force. Those same folks can also tell you that students will be quick to demand action from their administration.

Chief enrollment officers and other student services must balance what is legal with their duties to students. And sometimes they find themselves in a legal gray area, especially with laws and court decisions being enacted, overturned, or challenged faster than universities can respond.

Sometimes that means universities or individual student affairs workers may choose to outright oppose state policy, or even risk their jobs and funding by connecting students with resources that are in opposition to state law. It’s an unfortunate and unfair reality for those in the higher education administration profession, especially at state schools, whose role supporting students is undermined by politicians.

So, as a student or parent, remember to do research on state policies as they are ever changing, ask specific questions of admissions, and when possible of the other relevant student support or healthcare offices on campus.

Ultimately, each student and family needs to decide what they are comfortable with and what supports they need. No one plans to have an abortion ahead of time, or for their child to need one, or for their partner to need one. But, under today’s laws, it’s advisable to be educated and prepared.

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