Smith College Visit Report by LostCoast
Visit to Smith College in May 2013 by LostCoast(Parent of Student, HS Class of 2012)
(Member since June 01 2010 with 52 posts)
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Campus Tour: Yes - Pretty good sampling of campus, though it avoided the older buildings, which we went into on our own.
Friendliness/Courtesy of Students:
Friendliness/Courtesy of Staff:
Appearance of Campus:
Overall Campus Impression:
Area Immediately Around Campus:
Campus Visit Notes for Smith College
Smith was a last-second addition to our tours. My daughter decided that New Haven wasn't for her, and instead of going on the Yale tour we drove up to the Five Colleges a day early. We were already going to tour Mt. Holyoke, and decided to see Smith and Hampshire as well, for comparison. Fortunately, Smith had no problems adding us to a tour at the last minute.
The campus feels larger than Mt. Holyoke, but that might be an illusion. There are fewer large trees than at Mt. Holyoke (though still plenty), and the campus is on more of an overall slope. As a result, you can stand near the admissions office, and get a sweeping view down, across the artificial pond, all the way to the athletic fields on the far side of campus.
The buildings feel less massive than at Mt. Holyoke. Not that there aren't large buildings, but many of the buildings are houses and other buildings converted to campus use. Many of them look to date from the 19th century, and I suppose they may have just been purchased when the campus was founded.
The buildings on "science quad" are newer, and look pretty much like science buildings on any campus, but not ugly. One was undergoing extensive renovation while we were there. We had to see those on our own. Like all tours, this one focused on "showcase" buildings--the very modern student center, the new science & engineering building, the library, and the theater building. All were fairly impressive. The science/engineering building felt a bit sterile to me, though the facilities looked very good. I felt that Mt. Holyoke did a lot more to make their new science building interesting. Though my daughter has no interest in theater, we were both impressed with the theater arts building. Very nice for a comparatively small college.
Compared to Mt. Holyoke, I got the strong feeling that Smith puts more emphasis on science/technology. They spend much more time talking about it at Smith. The campus has, I would guess, at least twice as much floor space devoted to their science buildings, despite the similar enrollments at the two colleges. They also proudly point out that theirs is the only engineering program at an all-women's college (general engineering only). They could probably add that it's pretty uncommon for any liberal arts school, at least among the ones that we've seen.
The major offerings at the two schools are very similar, and their academic rigor also seems to be comparable. Students have access to classes taught at either school (albeit with a 20-40 minute bus ride). So the differences in emphasis at the two schools might not make much of a practical academic difference. It may be that going to one and taking some classes at the other could give you the best of both possible worlds (whatever those worlds might be for you).
Almost all of the students live in one of something like 30 houses on campus, which I think works out to an average of about 80 students per house. We went in one of the houses, which looked to be a converted building from the 1800s. Looked too large to have been a home, but I don't know what else it might have been. Perhaps it was one of the original residence houses? Very nice inside, and the rooms that we saw were quite large, second in size of all we've seen only to Mt. Holyoke. Our tour guide said that, given the varied origin of the houses, there is no such thing as a standard room, and some would be smaller.
Choosing a house is apparently done more by its location than anything else. Our guide said that you mainly look to see which one will minimize your walking distance. Or I suppose that you could choose one close to town if you want to go off campus a lot. Our tour guide indicated that, although it isn't all that easy, you can change houses if things don't work out. She also very nicely gave everybody her email address, and offered to provide advice on house selection and other issues if/when the time comes.
Social life at Smith seems to focus on the house level. It sounds like each one has its own social events and traditions. After awhile, they began to sound a bit like sororities, and my daughter had to bite back reflexively saying "sorority" before "house" when talking about them. Given that she is absolutely uninterested in joining a sorority, she finds that to be a bit of a turnoff for the campus. For that aspect, she prefers either the campus-wide traditions of Mt. Holyoke, or the fewer overall traditions that Scripps appears to have.
For the surroundings, I would describe Northampton as a large town, not a small city. It's in our ideal size range. Not too big and crowded, but large enough to have plenty of interest for students. Anybody who enjoys lots of clubbing or the other attractions of a major urban center, however, would find it pretty stifling. Campus merges with town, and the town center is within easy walking distance (well, maybe not so easy in January).
The feel of Smith and Mt. Holyoke are so different that I think many students will look at the two and immediately realize that one or the other is the place for them. Students like my daughter, however, look at the pluses and minuses of each, and be up in the air, which is where she is right now.