Help me choose the ED college (LACs/Women’s college/Artsy and progressive campus)

Hi there,

My D’s preferences about the college (Priority declines):

  • Liberal/progressive campus
  • Good studio art facilities (including art studios, libraries and museums)
  • Good academic environment (especially for art history)
  • Located near city like Boston or NYC (Suburban is the best)
  • Beautiful campus; Large dorm (access to apply for single room)
  • Free curriculum; Easy to change major

Her stats:

  • Excellent GPA; Top class ranking; A decent high school in New York State; No SAT; Great EC’s; Abundant leadership roles and volunteer experiences.

Some colleges that she’s considering:

-Wellesley (is the vibe too competitive?)

-Barnard (does it have good studio art facilities?)

-Smith (does it have good studio art facilities?)

-Mount Holyoke college

She’s also considering some co-ed school:

-Vassar (does it have good studio art facilities?)

-Swarthmore (is it liberal like those women colleges?)


And some universities:



Any advices would be very helpful for us! And we’re also very willing to hear the suggestions of the alumni of these schools!

The title of your post mentions ED. Personally, I think if there is no clear front runner, she shouldn’t apply ED. I understand you are on a fact-finding mission :slightly_smiling_face: but most importantly, have you run the NPC for the schools you are asking about to see if they are affordable? If they aren’t, then they definitely should not be options for ED since you lose the ability to compare financial aid packages.

In regards to the schools you asked about, I wouldn’t say Barnard has a “free curriculum”. There is a pretty extensive list of core/distribution requirements.


Almost everything about your description sounds like Vassar. The studio facilities looked fine to me, but I’m not a fine artist. Haverford has surprisingly good art studios (maybe better than Swarthmore), a fantastic center for visual media w/a maker space and if your D prefers a women’s college, Bryn Mawr is 1.5 miles away with full academic cross-registration. It’s easy to be a Bryn Mawr student and major at Haverford (and vice versa). Haverford has lots of single rooms, but the dorms at Bryn Mawr may be nicer. Also, Haverford and Bryn Mawr are 20-25 minutes from Philadelphia by train.
I’m surprised Wesleyan isn’t on her list, not near a major city, but such a vibrant arts community and certainly progressive.

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A couple of thoughts:

  • South Hadley, where Mt. Holyoke is located, is very small, not necessarily suburban/urban. You’d have to go to Amherst or Northampton for a suburban or urban feel.

  • Tufts really impressed me when I toured and touted their art programs a lot + it’s really close to Boston

  • I’ve heard Swarthmore is liberal and the campus is nice with a train to Philly on campus


Tufts has the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School of Fine Arts. Destroys the rest on those facilities, not even close. And has everything else for which you are looking. Go see it and the facilities before ED though.


Swat is very liberal - also consider Haverford and Bryn Mawr.

She may want to look at Oberlin. Maybe a little stretchy to call it the suburbs of Cleveland, but has everything else.

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Well Barnard certainly is NOT suburban. It’s in Manhattan where space is at a premium. Most likely she’ll be in a double in Freshman year - although my daughter often didn’t see her roommate for days because she lived in NYC, had a boyfriend, thus spent many nights elsewhere.

By sophomore year she hooked up with four friends to get a suite. In Junior year they just rented an apartment privately at equivalent cost.

As far as curriculum, it is quite flexible. Yes, there are some courses that everyone takes, such as a college writing seminar. But even my daughter (who was already an effective writer) felt it helpful to figure out the precise format and process that was expected.

There is no traditional “core”, where you are stuck in courses or mandated literature regardless of interest. Instead there are certain areas of exploration, which can be satisfied by a very broad number of courses, where likely one will intersect with your curiosities.
In fact, some courses can actually satisfy two required explorations.

Per example, my daughter had to fulfill SOME computer science exposure, but did it in a project that created an interactive neuroscience app.

Her math course was a fun exploration of planetary movements.

I’ve never had her hint, that any of her course selections were “imposed” or otherwise wasting time/unwelcome.

She felt very bad for her friends at Columbia College, who were stuck in courses that a rigid core mandated.


My son double majored in art studio and art history. His criteria were similar to your daughter’s (though he was open to rural, outdoorsy environments). His short list included Williams, Wesleyan, Kenyon, Hamilton, Skidmore, Conn College.

He also liked Brown, though he favored LACs. Haverford also has a good art studio program and draws on Bryn Mawr’s art history strength. Tufts joint program with the Boston MFA is interesting, but my son didn’t like the physical distance between the Tufts main campus and the art school.

He ended up at Williams. Williams may not appeal to your daughter because of its mountain village setting, however, I would suggest that she take a look because of its art history strength and art studio facilities . Both are both outstanding, and the synergy between them is seamless.

There are 3 world-class museums on or near campus – The Clark in Williamstown and MassMoCA in adjacent North Adams plus the college’s own museum which offers hands-on experience to art history students. Summer museum internships are readily secured. Graduates of Williams art history BA and MA programs hold prominent curatorial and management positions throughout the US, to the extent that they are known as the “Williams mafia.”

Studio art department is small, but well funded. It is taught by working artists with an emphasis on technique and practice.

Williams has fairly loose distribution requirements and double majoring even in disparate disciplines is common. Single rooms for a four years are also doable.


Colleges with top studio arts programs tend to offer the broadest facilities, so beyond seeking spaces for familiar media such as painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography, you also may want to look into whether facilities for woodworking, metals and ceramics might be available.

This Newsweek article on suburban colleges includes schools from your daughter’s current list that would be excellent for visual arts, such as Skidmore and Smith:

With setting aside, Williams, as mentioned above, offers superb arts programs. Hamilton offers one of the more exciting studio arts buildings in the country and an unrestricted curriculum. Wheaton, near Boston, would make a less challenging admit.