Kenyon vs Grinnell vs Mount Holyoke

My child has three great choices, and that make it so hard. Obviously, Mount Holyoke is a little bit of an outlier as it’s an all women’s college, but she loved it when she visited. Of course, she also loved Kenyon and Grinnell. She loved the small classes and rural campuses, the students and administration. They all just really checked a lot of boxes for her. She’s going to be a psychology major and possibly a theater major, too.

We had been planning to go back to admitted student days for her top choices, but of course, that’s not an option now. I have a feeling that it would be clear if we could have. Can anyone share with us their experiences with student life at these schools? I think that would be the most helpful in terms of making a decision as this is harder to suss out online. I’m also happy to hear any other thoughts, too of course, that would help us make a decision.

In comparing Kenyon with Grinnell, Kenyon’s relative emphasis on theatre, as well as on other fine and visual arts, contribute to a creative campus atmosphere overall, should this be important to your daughter.

Mt. Holyoke women tend to be independent, strong, creative, ambitious and they enjoy a very warm, homey atmosphere on that campus. There is also the possibility that she could take classes at Amherst, UMass Amherst, and Smith. Buses run to those schools. Mt. Holyoke stands out in my mind as a place that carefully tends to the atmosphere and cohesion among the students. There are home-baked cookies served (I’m pretty sure this still exists) every night. There are glass sun-areas in each dorm to help brighten up the winter days. There’s a goose named Jorge in the lovely waterfall stream that runs through campus. It’s a gorgeous and lovely atmosphere that’s difficult to find elsewhere. The psych among the several campuses (five college consortium) is excellent. It would be hard for her to match those five colleges, collectively, for psychology.

As a Mount Holyoke alum, I agree with some of what Dustyfeathers has said, but on a few points she has not quite represented the reality of a Mount Holyoke experience. First, with respect to the Five Colleges, the buses are a wonderful perk, and students do regularly take classes at the other schools. It does, however, require an extra time commitment. Smith is 11 miles (20 minutes by car) from Mount Holyoke, and Amherst is 12 miles (also 20 minutes) away. If you consider that you must time your departure for when the bus comes through, then a trip to either Northampton or Amherst is easily over an hour round trip. It may simply be impossible to fit this extra time into a typical college course schedule. However, the option to take a course or two at one of the other colleges during your four years is definitely a plus for Mount Holyoke students. As for M&Cs, which is what we call the milk and cookies tradition, it was often a simple snack, such as fruit, veggies or crackers. If cookies were offered, they were rarely freshly baked. M&Cs is indeed a wonderful tradition, however it is not quite the warm, homey experience you might imagine. For us, it was a nice study break, we’d run to the kitchen and grab the snack, then head back to our rooms. Always appreciated, but not quite the social gathering of students you might be picturing. Finally, most of the dorms are beautiful and have lovely living rooms, but none that I lived in had a sun porch.

I had a wonderful experience at Mount Holyoke, and believe it might be a great choice for your daughter. Nonetheless, for opportunities in theatre, and the arts in general, I would recommend Kenyon, which my daughter currently attends. If theatre and other arts are just part of wider considerations, then definitely keep Mount Holyoke in the discussion.

Ha! That’s great to hear but when I toured Mt. H and we were on campus for two days, our tour guide showed us rooms in several of the dorms that were sun-facing and had glassed in brick or windows. This tour guide explained them as sun porches but it might be that each dorm has sunny areas. YMMV

Oh and hey! I found information about the milk and cookies at Mt. H.

Grinnell is a wonderful school, but I would question how strong their arts programs are.

You can consider data on aspects of your daughter’s choices if you would like. For example, Kenyon, Grinnell and Mount Holyoke recently registered 15, 6 and 4 drama “first majors,” respectively:

We visited Grinnell a lot as both my kids considered it, with a total of 6 visits, including 2 overnights and class visits, and 1 kid was a recruited athlete. My athlete was also interested in continuing with both music and fine arts, so we spoke with faculty and toured facilities. Our conclusion was that there were many, rich opportunities for our student to continue with music and fine arts at Grinnell, though I cannot speak to theater specifically. Both my kids also visited Kenyon multiple times, and the athlete also explored music and fine arts as well as recruiting at Kenyon. We did hear at Kenyon about the competitiveness for theater opportunities, so I would recommend that a student interested in theater at Kenyon ask to talk with current majors and non-majors about opportunities.

Other considerations that would be relevant for our family, but not necessarily for yours, would be diversity of the student body – which can be pulled from the Common Data Set – and socio-economic diversity which can be pulled from the NY Times interactive article from Jan 18, 2017, titled something like "Some colleges have more students from the top one percent . . "

I will always have a soft spot for Mt Holyoke, as I loved it as an applicant, though went to Bryn Mawr instead. I do think that women’s colleges – where women are the leaders in the classroom, in student orgs, on athletic fields etc. – can be transformative in helping young women develop confidence and faith in their intellectual abilities and leadership. Good luck with your decision – three wonderful choices, and I’m sympathetic to the challenge of trying to make this decision without another opportunity to visit.

I go to Grinnell and would say that if you want world-class theater for your student, maybe attend Kenyon as it will have the best offerings of the three. That said, many students at Grinnell choose Theater as their second major and love it. It is less competitive for parts since the department is small and students outside the major often participate. Our Psychology department is very popular and you get to do research in your first classes which is pretty neat. I feel anecdotally that Grinnell and Mount Holyoke would be similar in quality for the psych/theater combination, but I’m obviously partial to Grinnell. Let me know if you have more specific questions about Grinnell @time4adventure

Kenyon. It has all she is looking for in a truly idyllic setting. It’s professors are fantastic.

Academically she will be fine at any of her three options as a psychology major.

My first reaction is that either your daughter wants to attend an all female school or she doesn’t. If yes, then the choice is clear. But she really should be able to give a yes or no answer as an 18 year old.

If not, then it may depend upon her talent & desire to have a second major in theater.

Otherwise the most notable differences between Grinnell & Kenyon are percentage & number of international students and number of students from wealthy families.

If you want to include school financial situation into your criteria, Grinnell wins hands down, with their per-student endowment over $1M, with Mt. Holyoke second at some $350k, and Kenyon with $245k (all 2019 data).
Just a thought for the hard times and unavoidable cuts in programs ahead.

OP: I glanced at a couple of your earlier threads. Does your daughter still prefer a non-preppy campus ? If so, then Grinnell College might be the better option between the two co-ed schools in that respect.

Overall, not an easy decision as all 3 options have attractive as well as limiting aspects.

In 2018, the retention rate of first year students was 94% at Grinnell College, 92% at Kenyon College, and 91% at Mount Holyoke College.

The 6 year graduation rate was 84% at Grinnell College, 89% at Kenyon College, and 83% at Mount Holyoke.

P.S. Selecting an LAC is a very personal decision due to the small number of students & strong/dominant campus culture often found at LACs.

I would agree with @Publisher . I think what your daughter should really be looking at is the personality of the student body. All SLACs have pretty stellar programs, but the real difference is in the students.