A Visit to Mount Holyoke

I want to preface this post by saying that I normally love New England in the spring but I wasn’t looking forward to my tour of Mount Holyoke College on Monday after I arrived in Massachusetts Sunday evening to find torrential (read: horizontal!) rain.  But I had come prepared with my windbreaker, umbrella, and a pair of sneakers that dry quickly – and then Mother Nature gave me a break Monday afternoon when the sun appeared and the temperatures came up nicely.

A unique feature of campus - Mount Holyoke's outdoor ampitheatre.

After a morning visit and presentation at Stoneleigh Burnham School up in Greenfield in the morning (fodder for a separate blog), I made the quick drive into South Hadley to Mount Holyoke and parked behind the visitors’ center where I would meet the tour.  (A quick note for first-time visitors – the majority of MHC’s campus is on the opposite side of the street from the visitors’ center, which appears – at first glance – to be part of a shopping center so you may drive by it without noticing at first.  I know I did!)

I was on a group tour with two admitted seniors, one of whom was definitely enrolling in the fall and the other who was making her final decision, as well as their parents and our guide was an enthusiastic young woman from Jamaica who clearly loves her experience at MHC and was a great resource for both students.  As we walked around the old and very well maintained campus, the theme of the day was “girl power” – though when you’re at an all-women’s institution, that’s certainly to be expected!

The first thing that immediately struck (but did not surprise) me when we began to walk around campus was the diversity in the student body.  (Indeed, our guide indicated that 25% of MHC students are either international or are students of color.)  When you have that kind of heterogeneous mixture at a school, it’s a sure sign that the lessons students learn about themselves and the world outside won’t end at the classroom door so MHC seems to be a great fit for a student coming out of a very homogenous area who wants to branch out.

Like many of its peers (including those in the Five Colleges Consortium), MHC further encourages and pushes its students out of their comfort zones by not putting students in residence halls by class year and by imposing a foreign language and a physical education requirement.  (Our tour guide was quick to point out for the non-athletically inclined, however, that physical education credits can be earned for everything from riding (of course!) to yoga to walking dogs at the local humane society.)

The Five Colleges Consortium also offers great advantages to MHC students (as well as to those students at other member schools) with things like the PVTA bus system that helps transport students between campuses and to other local places (like shopping malls and grocery stores) and the ability to take courses at other member schools.  (Hence, it wouldn’t be out of place to find a boy or two in a class at MHC – which amuses the girls to no end!)

Academically, MHC is also at the top of its game, with U.S. News and World Report just announcing that 14 of the top 30 college professors in the United States are currently on the faculty at MHC.  (I’m not going to lie – I hear a lot of statistics on a lot of campus tours and that one made my jaw drop!)  I also arrived on campus the day after the senior research symposium and there was still a buzz in the air from the accomplishments of the graduating class of 2012 – it was definitely palpable.

This guy greets all visitors to the MHC equestrian center.

I would have been remiss to spend time at MHC without heading up to their equestrian center before I left.  I’ve been there once before, but it was back in 2004 and that had been during the winter, so I was eager to refresh my memory.  The equestrian center is an easy walk or bike ride for students from campus and is laid out in very straightforward, accessible fashion.  My student guide (one of two equestrian fellows who help the riding coaches manage their contacts with recruits) took me through both indoor arenas and the stable block and talked to me about the different options students have for riding, both for credit and as a part of one of MHC’s three equestrian teams.

MHC is one of the few colleges in the nation that has an equestrian center on campus but does not offer a major or minor in anything equine-related (remember that academic rigor I just mentioned?), but what they are adamant about is riders on their team who take the sport seriously – and rightly so.  Hunt seat is a varsity sport at MHC and dressage and western are club sports, but regardless of their team’s status with the school, everyone is expected to train their hardest and pitch in with fundraising.  Also, team tryouts occur each semester at MHC instead of each year, so if students want to retain their places on their respective teams, they have to work for them.

Horse boarding is allowed at the MHC equestrian center, but my guide was quick to mention that not every horse can cope with their set up.  Turnout is limited and only in sand paddocks, so if horses require more space and freedom, the equestrian staff can provide a list of local farms to inquiring students.  Additionally, if students don’t own or don’t bring a horse to school with them, the college owns a tremendous and diverse array of school horses for students to use.

I loved my time at MHC and can definitely see it as a fit for some of my students.  If you want to know if MHC could be a fit for you (or if another college would be better), contact me and we’ll find out!

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