Regular readers of this blog undoubtedly know that I have made it a point to make trips to many of the top women’s colleges in New England in the past couple of years and that my reasons for doing so have been twofold: The majority of my clients are youg women, so all-female education is something that I feel is an important option for them to consider when embarking on the college search – and many of the top women’s colleges are also home to top riding programs.
While occasionally overshadowed by neighbor (and fellow Five Colleges Consortium member) Mount Holyoke College, Smith College is both a top women’s college and a top riding school and my visit to their campus on a beautiful sunny day in late April proved this to me – and more!
Smith has the distinction of being located in the bustling and wonderfully eclectic town of Northampton, Massachusetts. (If you have never been to Northampton because you think western Massachusetts is too rural, I invite you to visit Northampton to be proved instantly wrong.) The campus itself is up on a hill overlooking the town but all of the shops and restaurants are within easy walking distance of campus and the wonderful PVTA bus system that is the lifesblood of the Five Colleges campuses that they serve makes the town doubly accessible.
Smith’s academic and social arrangements for students also make it stand out considerably from not only other women’s schools, but also from other liberal arts colleges of its size. Notably, Smith boasts an open curriculum for students, which means that there are no general education or liberal arts cor requirements for students to meet in order to begin working in their majors or to graduate. Rather, each student may select her own courses (with the close help of a faculty advisor, of course) each semester based on what she wants to study, whether the courses fall within her chosen major or not. Students are required to take a little over half of their courses outside of their major, however, but most do so with enthusiasm, as they may still play to their strengths for all four years. (This means that those who dislike the sciences can successfully avoid them, for example.)
Smith is also unique from a residential standpoint; whereas most colleges and universities (female and coed) have traditional dormitories, Smith is arranged into a house system, with all classes, first year through senior, assigned to a house which will contain anywhere from ten to 100 girls and which is largely self-governing, with its own house council and unique traditions and activities. Each woman has a say in how the house is managed and most become so attached to their living communities that they remain in the same house for all four years. (Indeed, every Smith alumna is so attached to her own particular house that alumnae often greet each other by asking first which house a fellow alumna lived in.)
The arts are hugely popular at Smith – including art history, which is a particularly strong program – and theatre and dance students have expanded performance opportunities thanks to the Five Colleges, who allow auditions and performances between member schools.
Smith is also the only women’s college with an engineering major. (It is also a unique college that approaches engineering from a liberal arts background and perspective.) The engineering building is one of the newest on campus and without a male population on campus, the Smith women have a lot of access to tremendous resources.
Yet unlike many women’s colleges I’ve visited, Smith felt the most like a coed school – most likely because they import more Five Colleges visiting students than they export students to the other campuses. (In fact, the very first student I encountered on Smith’s campus was a young man from a Five Colleges school.)
For riders, students need look no further than the far edge of main campus, where Sue Payne has long headed the school’s riding program and varsity hunt seat team. Within walking distance of dorms and classrooms, the students have easy access to lessons and team practices and the riding program is open to any Smith woman who wishes to participate. The equestrian center has stabling for forty horses and currently boards about ten for students, with the rest serving as school horses for the team.
Could Smith be your perfect fit? Contact me and we’ll find out!