Which women’s college best for STEM?

Putting together a list for my D23, she is interested in women’s colleges and had a great summer program (STEM focused) at Smith where she loved the atmosphere and the town. But she is a very serious science student, particular interest in physics and astronomy/astrophysics/space science. I know at Wellesley she could take classes at MIT but not much point going to one school to take classes at another! Does anyone have insight into strength of science curriculum at the women’s colleges? Thanks! Happy to hear about other factors to weigh as well.

I think Smith is about the strongest in science, and one of the only to have an engineering degree. Another option would be the consortium at Claremont, with Scripps being her main college. The Claremont colleges are much closer physically than the Amherst colleges so easier to take classes at the other schools.

I think she’s going to have a lot more options at schools that specialize in astronomy (and have a planetarium)


While I agree that Smith is strong in STEM and I love Northampton, I have to say that Barnard has strengths in STEM that are really unmatched because of the way that is has become so integrated with Columbia. While a student can major in Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Physics at either college, the only majors that you can study at Smith that you can’t study at Barnard are Engineering and Geoscience. Here’s a list of Barnard majors that are not available at Smith:

Chemical Physics
Environmental Biology
Environmental Science
Environmental Sustainability

Some of these deserve further comment, beginning with Astronomy, which is this student’s primary area of interest. While Smith has a major in Astronomy which integrates a lot of Astrophysics, it does not have a separate major specifically in Astrophysics. At least as important is the fact that the Astronomy major at Smith is through the 5-College Consortium, which will inevitably necessitate some inconvenience. This “inconvenience” not only means that a class is longer due to transportation to another campus, but it may cause disruption to the rest of the schedule due to the difficulty of scheduling other classes around it because of the extended time for class on another campus 8-10 miles away.

Smith does have a major in Environmental Science, but it is “Environmental Science & Public Policy”, which is great preparation for those whose career goals is public policy. However, it does not have the same emphasis on the pure science aspect of environmental study as Barnard’s program does.

Smith does have an ABET approved major in Engineering, which is something Barnard does not offer. That’s a plus for Smith for anyone who wants to get a job as an engineer upon graduation. In fairness it should be noted that Barnard’s majors in Biophysics, Chemical Physics, and Engineering Physics are all great preparation for graduate study in engineering and offer a focus for bioengineering and chemical engineering graduate study which Smith’s engineering does not necessarily do in the same way. In some ways it’s a toss up as to which college offers a better program in engineering. They have different strengths depending on a student’s future plans.

In addition, Barnard offers both a 3+2 Engineering double major with eligibility for guaranteed admission to Columbia College of Engineering and a 4+1 bachelor’s/master’s program with Columbia in Engineering. The beauty of the 3+2 program at Barnard is that it avoids the downside of the 3+2 at other liberal arts colleges, which is that students miss senior year at their alma mater. In this case, it’s simply moving to a different part of campus for senior year while being able to maintain social and community relationships with friends at Barnard. The Barnard/Columbia partnership also offers a 4+2 program with Columbia College of Engineering for liberal arts majors who don’t decide until senior year that they want to pursue engineering.

I also think that Wellesley is underrated for STEM. Not only do they offer both Astronomy and Astrophysics as separate majors as well as majors in Biochemistry and Chemical Physics like Barnard, but they offer a 4+1 double major with Olin College of Engineering. The beauty of this program is that students spend all 4 years on their home campus before going to a second college to complete the double major unlike the 3+2 programs. It also means that courses taken at the second college during their first 4 years are just across town only 2+ miles away, avoiding a lot of the hassles of the longer Smith commute for a consortium program. Wellesley students also have the opportunity to obtain a Certificate in Engineering Studies from Olin as part of their 4 years of undergraduate study. This would be the equivalent of a minor in engineering and would strengthen any student’s preparation for graduate study in engineering after majoring in Physics or Chemical Physics. Also not to be understated is the value of the 3-2 Engineering double major with MIT. While there are a lot of 3-2 engineering programs at liberal arts colleges, we’re talking about MIT here! I don’t know of any other colleges that have such a partnership with MIT. Are there any? And Cambridge is close enough that Wellesley students don’t have to lose touch with Wellesley friends after moving to the MIT campus in their 4th year.

Frankly both Barnard and Wellesley would seem to have a little more to offer this student and she could choose based on whether she prefers the urban or suburban location. But she really can’t go wrong with any one of the three.


Scripps has great options in STEM:

Organismal Biology
Molecular Biology
Environmental Analysis
3+2 Engineering - can be completed in Claremont at Harvey Mudd

Bryan Mawr and Mount Holyoke are both well rounded in STEM offerings, each with their own strengths, e.g. Mt. Holyoke is the only one to offer a major in Computer Science. While both offer a major in Astronomy, Barnard and Wellesley seem to have the strongest programs in this field.


Wow thanks for all great info. D reluctant to consider Barnard as one older sibling went to Columbia (no I don’t know why that should matter but apparently does). Claremont schools are a great idea. She will also be applying to co-Ed schools, including likely (depending on how the junior year, tests, etc go) taking a shot at some of the Ivies, UChicago/MIT and/or top LACs, but would also like to include women’s colleges especially as those will likely be in target level, again depending on how rest of high school goes of course. We will of course do more research but based on above it seems Wellesley may be a good fit, though I understand it doesn’t have the “cute college town” vibe she really loved at Smith. Another possible factor is that she is lgbtq and has very progressive social views and (as a mom) I think she would be better off in a bit of a bubble where she isn’t being riled up all the time… shhh.

I I think everyone at Smith is riled up all the time. That was the vibe we got, and another poster on CC (years ago) whose daughter attended described the campus as ‘angry’.


I also love the vibe in Northampton and go there from time to time, so I understand. Very few places like it.

Wellesley has a beautiful campus. It may not be a “college town”, but it’s a lovely suburban town with a busy Main Street - lots of restaurants and shops, stuff to do. While it’s not a college town in the sense that Northampton or Amherst are, there are 2 other colleges right there - Babson College just 2 miles across town and Olin College of Engineering immediately adjacent to Babson - and all 3 have cross registration with each other, so there are connections that develop among the students at the 3 colleges.

Here’s the thing . . . the combined student enrollment among those 3 colleges is the same as the undergrad enrollment at the Claremont Colleges. And Wellesley, MA is a very similar affluent suburban town to Claremont, CA. The 2 towns even have similar populations.

As for being LGBTQ+, she’s not going to be the only such college student at this Wellesley 3-college consortium. And she’s not going to be the only one - student or adult - living in Wellesley. This is New England. No one is going to care. We got over that a long time ago.

What Wellesley does have going for it is that it’s on the outskirts of Boston and Boston is a great college town - with excellent public transportation to get around. Via local rail service, she can get from Wellesley to Harvard Square in 45 mins to an hour. And that will feel like Northampton once she gets there. There will be plenty of other kids to hang with in addition to new friends at Wellesley. And the kids at any one of the Boston area colleges - there are several dozen - have friends at the others, so they make connections pretty quickly. Little things like jogging build connections whether it’s the run around Lake Waban from campus or meeting friends in Cambridge to jog along the Charles River. Or go for a brookside bike ride in the town of Wellesley. Visit one of the many Boston area museums. Linger over a cup of jo in a coffee shop. She’ll never run out of things to do.

I suggest that you keep Wellesley on your list, visit, and see what you think. It has the sciences that she’s interested in, specifically astronomy and astrophysics. And what Wellesley does, it does very well. Again, I love Northampton, but Boston really has so much more. And Wellesley would give her access to all that.


That’s not the vibe I get at all, as a parent of a recent grad. There is definitely an activist bent and many students (though certainly not all, not mine) are passionate about their causes, but “angry” isn’t an adjective I would use.

I could be wrong, but I read this mom’s concern as riled up from external sources against her views. Her being LGBTQ just won’t be a factor at Smith, nor at any of the women’s colleges AFAIK.

Smith at least partially appealed to my daughter since felt she had to be actively pro-LGBTQ at her high school since she was one of a handful of kids who were out in a semi-hostile environment. She could just be a student at Smith, not a Lesbian Student. I also think it would have been fine at a co-ed college, tbh. She didn’t really need the bubble but it was a nice one to be in for a little while.

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Thanks so much. Bill Marsh, we are definitely making an immediate plan to visit Wellesley! Yes the riled up point was meant to say we want to keep her in the nice liberal lgbtq accepting bubble that she lives in now, where being lesbian is nothing anyone blinks at and her progressive views are widely shared, rather than exposing her to some of the ugly stuff out there. And yep understood that this isn’t an issue in any women’s college or for that matter in any college we are considering - we are staying in the Northeast/Cali for sure.

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Smith has a major in Computer Science as well as Data Science (along with Engineering and all the usual sciences).

My D is starting Smith in the fall. She might minor in Data Science but is generally not a STEM person. However I’ve been impressed with the STEM options at Smith and the results that recent alumnae are seeing with prestigious jobs, post graduate study, awards, etc.

It’s also easier to gain admission than Wellesley and Barnard and they offer some merit scholarships.

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That sounds like Smith to me! It’s a bit of an LGBTQ haven (and also activism). But with top notch academics.

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Be careful about lumping all of LGBTQ together in terms of social and political acceptance and such. For example, Smith College refused admission to a transgender woman in 2013; after some protests and activism, it changed its policy in 2015 to allow transgender women to enter ( Thousands calling for Smith College to stop discriminating against trans women | GLAAD ). In general, acceptance of T lags behind acceptance of LGB, so T students may need to look more closely at such issues from a quality-of-life standpoint than LGB students.

I don’t know that much about astrophysics, but I was looking at Agnes Scott yesterday for my D22 and I see that they do have an Astrophysics major so that might be one to check out: Astrophysics | Agnes Scott College

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Fwiw, one person’s “passionate” is another person’s “angry”, often depending on whether they agree.


That was years ago. Our family’s personal recent experience has been positive. Though I agree there’s a lag

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Yes, and that is a very LGBTQ+ friendly women’s college.

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You’re welcome. We’d love to hear how your visits go! :sunglasses:

Re Agnes Scott - really? It is in Georgia which I know is now sort of blue but I would be concerned about the attitudes- wouldn’t normally consider any college there…may talk to my daughter to see what she thinks. But all great to hear the views.

I guess. But how is that different from any college? Maybe I’m just sensitive to the “angry feminist” stereotype. Are the activists less angry at other schools? I don’t recall any violence or vandalism during my daughter’s time there.


Given that Georgia is a battleground state, but with the state government currently under full control of a party trying to make voting more difficult, there will be plenty of politics for her to get “riled up” about in 2022 and 2024.