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Can a "mainstream" girl find a place at Smith and/or MH?

PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
edited April 2010 in Women's Colleges
D has visited Wellesley, BM, Smith & MH (not interested in Barnard / NYC location).
D is a pretty (dare I say it?) mainstream white suburban girl with mainstream tastes, dress, etc. Her interests are in math and sciences and she has a couple of unique EC's. Varsity athlete but plans to play only intramurals in college. She's reasonably competitive for all four schools (with Wellesley being more of a reach) and the academics of all four schools are excellent, so there is really no distinguishing between them on that basis.

At both Wellesley and Bryn Mawr, there seemed to be a mix of all types, from girly-girls to emo to gender-neutral, etc. But she felt that there were enough of her type that she could "find her tribe," so to speak.

However, at both Smith & MH, there seemed to be a preponderance of what I'll term alternative girls. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. I want to make it clear that D (and we as parents) has no problems with alternate expressions of clothing, sexuality, etc. whatsoever But, by the same token -- she wants to be able to know that there's enough of a "tribe" like her that she'd find her place as well. She wants to find people who might also like more mainstream tastes in music and clothing, etc. Not everything has to push the envelope for her.

Ironically, her MH tourguide was preppier than prep - but everyone else there came across as distinctly not mainstream.

Anyway. Would it be accurate to suggest that Wellesley & BM might be a bit more mainstream than S & MH? Would it be accurate to suggest that there are enough "mainstream" women at S & MH that she could indeed find her tribe?

Again, I want to be very clear she is not making value judgments, just seeing where she thinks she might have sufficient fit for her personal tastes.
edited April 2010
23 replies
Post edited by Pizzagirl on
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Replies to: Can a "mainstream" girl find a place at Smith and/or MH?

  • SmithieandProudSmithieandProud 3012 replies26 threads Senior Member
    Speaking as a Smith alum, I can tell you that there are a LOT of "mainstream" women, and while I didn't visit Wellesley, I think it's inaccurate to say that students at Bryn Mawr are more mainstream than students at Smith. My first-year roommate looked like she stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue all the time, her favorite music was top 40, and she found plenty of girls that were similar in this respect. If anything, Smith is a huge melting pot, and like many colleges, not as socially stratified as high school, where having a tribe seems more important. You learn to mix with a lot of different people, and you'll probably also learn that words like "mainstream" can be pretty loaded terms, but also where you students who would describe themselves as "mainstream" will find people like them.
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  • PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
    I know the word "mainstream" is somewhat loaded and I don't mean it to be; I can't think of a better word, though. If someone else has a better word, I'm happy to use it instead.
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  • PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
    Smithieandproud, D appreciated your response and upon reading it, wanted to clarify (and I think had a bit of an epiphany).

    At Wellesley & Bryn Mawr, her observations of the cafeterias, student centers, etc. were that the different types of students were more integrated -- that is, a given lunch table or group of girls might include girls who on the surface appeared quite different and diverse. She liked that, as it said that students were "chill" -- just took people for who they were at face value. At Smith & Mt H, her observations were more that the black girls sat at one table, the gender-neutral-looking girls (I don't have a better way to describe this) sat at another table, the jocky-looking girls at another, etc. and she was concerned that it was, indeed, too much like high school. Now this may be a totally erroneous observation, and if so, then I'd like to hear that1 So it's both a function of "finding her tribe" but not having it be cliquey, if that makes sense.
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  • ConsolationConsolation 22898 replies184 threads Senior Member
    If anything, "mainstream" is most often used as a pejorative, as in "mainstream media."

    In any case, it is clear what you mean.

    I think that your instincts regarding the social mix are probably on target, but I'm also sure that your D would be able to find her tribe at all four.

    Wellesley has for a long time strongly appealed to energetic and serious-minded high achievers who aim at what one might call "conventional" success: doctors, lawyers, business executives, PhDs, Secretaries of State :). Nevertheless, there is some of everything and the community is definitely diverse.

    I would personally consider W a better fit for a kid like your D than for a kid with multiple piercings who wanted to hang out in her art studio.
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  • SmithieandProudSmithieandProud 3012 replies26 threads Senior Member
    ^ "A kid with multiple piercings that likes to hang out in her art studio".

    I don't know where this impression got started that Smithies seek unconventional success and Wellesley girls have conventional career paths. And frankly, I find that a little pejorative.

    But getting back to the main point, I think your D should follow her instincts, but as an alum of Smith I think she would do really well there and not have a problem finding her tribe, and also expanding her tribe. I strongly believe that Smith is a great environment for people looking to mix with a wide variety of groups, whatever their background. And it's a great place to expand horizons, where people who call themselves "mainstream" have best friends who wear capes, or who play sports, or do drama, or sit in their art studio with their piercings. It's a well mixed environment, and doesn't seem to engender cliqueiness in my experience. But my experience may not be totally universal, and again, she should go with her personal preferences. She could like Wellesley more for this, a perfectly valid reason, or for a whole host of other great reasons.
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  • PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
    Thanks to both of you for very thoughtful responses. I'd love to hear more from other women who have experience at any of these 4 places.
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  • ConsolationConsolation 22898 replies184 threads Senior Member
    ^ "A kid with multiple piercings that likes to hang out in her art studio".

    I don't know where this impression got started that Smithies seek unconventional success and Wellesley girls have conventional career paths. And frankly, I find that a little pejorative.

    If you would take off your "Smith is all things to all people" goggles for a moment you might note that the phrase you plucked out was not used in reference to Smith. I neither said nor implied that the hypothetical pierced artist--a student whom I humorously created simply as the diametric opposite of Pizzagirl's "mainstream" D-- would want to go to Smith. (As a matter of fact, I think the student would probably prefer Bard or Sarah Lawrence to ANY of the four schools Pizzagirl's D is considering!)

    I spoke specifically about the kind of student that Wellesley attracts in large numbers. It is my observation and the observation of many other people. This has nothing to do with Smith. Everything is not about Smith.

    Frankly, I was NOT one of those students strongly aimed towards conventional success at Wellesley, and that is the aspect of the school that I personally am least in synch with. What I AM in synch with is the community and strong tradition of strong, intelligent, interesting women of all types.
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  • PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
    Consolation, can you amplify what you mean by "conventional success"? Doctor-lawyer-business-person?
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  • SmithieandProudSmithieandProud 3012 replies26 threads Senior Member
    @Consolation - I'm sorry if you think I misunderstood your statement, I just find it a little strange how on the Women's College board it seems as if people have a mistaken thought that Wellesley is the place for conventional success like doctors/lawyers/business/government types and Smith is the place for NGO/Peace Corps/granola types. Whereas I think the reality is that they probably attract and produce equal numbers of both. I've seen this come up again and again on the board and I think it's a little annoying especially for those of us who have not only had conventional success but had it specifically because we went to Smith and benefited from other conventionally successful Smithies who went before us. Not that Smith doesn't produce its NGO leaders and its PCVs, of whom we are very very proud, but it has plenty of its conventional side too.

    And if it seems like I think that everything is about Smith, it's because the only experience I feel comfortable commenting on is my own. I never even considered Wellesley as a school, so I can't talk about its academics, its environment, or how well "mainstream" students will do there. I can only comment on my experiences at Smith as I lived them. And that's what I comment on. Normally with the clear caveat that when I say Smith has X,Y, and Z, it's not to say that other schools don't have them, just that I'm speaking about Smith and Smith does have them.
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  • PizzagirlPizzagirl 40174 replies320 threads Senior Member
    I'll ask the question another way and see if this helps.

    To me, there is a difference between just expressing yourself in nonconventional ways because that's who are you are, and "letting the freak flag fly" in a way that has a more confrontational, in-your-face, I'm-just-daring-you-to-challenge-me way. There's a difference between "I don't wear makeup or do anything to my hair other than wash and brush it because it's just not my thing, I'm not much of a girly girl" and "I deliberately choose clothing and hairstyles that make you look twice to see whether I'm male or female, because I want to make a statement." One is expressive, the other is political statement-making. What differences, if any, are there on these four campuses along these lines? I have my own observations, but based as they are on visits and nothing more, I'd like to hear others' observations first.
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  • ConsolationConsolation 22898 replies184 threads Senior Member
    Consolation, can you amplify what you mean by "conventional success"? Doctor-lawyer-business-person?

    Yes. To quote Wikipedia:
    For a long time, Wellesley has produced more women in top positions in Corporate America than any other college or university, according to an article in the New York Times in 1995. They included Lois Juliber, then at Colgate, Marion O. Sandler, then at Golden West Financial, Ellen Marram, then at Seagram's Beverage Group, and Donna Ecton, then at Business Mail Express. Sheila Wellington was, at the time, president of Catalyst, the women's advocacy and research group. Wellesley has also produced more female directors of Fortune 500 companies than any other college in the country.

    In addition to the businesswomen, there is a very large legal/judicial contingent.

    Of course, there are also the journalists: Diane Sawyer, Lynn Scherr, Linda Wertheimer and Cokie Roberts et al. And the academics, including Nan Keohane who was the first--and only to date, AFAIK--female president of Duke.

    And two Secretaries of State. And so forth.

    And many less well-known alums on the boards of various non-profits, chairwoman of the PTO, leading light of the League of Women Voters (in former generations, anyway), and so forth. To minister, not to be ministered unto.

    Regarding your question about letting the freak flag fly, in my experience, in-your-face-for-the-sake-of-it individuals are a minority at W. Much more common is the person who just does her own thing because it is who she is and she isn't particularly into hair and makeup at the moment. But it is important to note that my knowledge of that aspect of student life is severely out of date.
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  • ConCerndDadConCerndDad 369 replies59 threads Member
    To get a bit of a feel of what it's now like at Wellesley, check out:

    Wellesley ****

    Granted, much of what's there is probably posted to get a rise out of readers. But they do complain a lot -- too much? You be the judge. They complain a lot about academic pressure, too much work, and competition. There are about 10 new posts every day. Smith's is far less active, by an order of magnitude, which may be only a function of the moderator's interest and time commitment to the site. Other women's colleges don't have one -- does that mean anything? Are students happier elsewhere than at Wellesley? Or are Wendies simply whiners, or something else?
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  • SmithieandProudSmithieandProud 3012 replies26 threads Senior Member
    ^I don't think you can judge too much from websites like that. Smith has it's own version of a complaint website, it's called The Daily Jolt, and it can get downright cruel sometimes thanks to the anonymous posting feature. People say all kinds of things on the internet, and they usually reflect a very minority opinion. It would be a mistake to take it as a representative sample. The Smith one might be less active because Wellesley doesn't have a Jolt page.

    I don't know that you'll find siginificant differences between the campuses in terms of "in your face" vs. "doing my thing" people. Then again, I can only speak for Smith and say that people there tend to live and let live. Like any community where you're incorporating a lot of different kinds of people, there is occasionally friction. What I've appreciated about Smith is that when friction arises we deal with it in an open way, with the whole campus involved. We're nothing if not constantly self-examining, seeking to improve, evolve, and grow. Our unofficial motto might be "a perennial blessing to the country and the world," but in order to keep blooming we have to keep changing and growing.
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  • GardnaGardna 1010 replies3 threads Senior Member
    Plus, if you know what "****" stands for, you'll realize that the only things you're seeing are complaints. It's sort of like if an immigrant drove directly from the airport to the worst prison in the United States and concluded that everyone in America was a violent criminal. You can't use the repository for negative things as a good evidence for everything.
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  • ConCerndDadConCerndDad 369 replies59 threads Member
    FYI, the Daily Jolt is no more.

    Having known a number of Wellesley girls back when I was a boy, the complaints on Wellesley **** are not too far off target.

    However, I will say that even then there was no typical "Wendy Wellesley" -- all types were represented. Though I think a lot WERE pre-law and pre-med. That was then, but ...
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  • KeilexandraKeilexandra 5360 replies132 threads Senior Member
    Disclaimer: I've only visited Bryn Mawr out of the four; I know current students at Bryn Mawr and Wellesley; Mt. Holyoke and Smith only from reading CC (and arguing on CC, in Smith's case) and friends who were accepted this year.

    Based on this extremely limited sample, I would say that Smith and BM are more "alternative" than Wellesley and MH. Wellesley is probably the most "mainstream" of the four, Smith the most "outspoken" (!= political, though it has that thriving niche as well), and Bryn Mawr the most strongly "academic" (similar to Swarthmore, Reed, and UChicago, though not actually that similar to those schools' respective vibes). I don't have as good a grasp of Mt. Holyoke, because I suspect my anecdotal perspective is skewed.

    But honestly, my impression is that all of the Seven Sisters (including coed Vassar) have healthy "mainstream" niches. It's just a question of what social circle you fall into and how much you care about being part of that college's mainstream.

    I think it's also worth noting that I approach the college admissions process with the assumption that EVERY college has a distinct personality. And that "diverse" doesn't count as a personality.
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  • pbleicpbleic 140 replies24 threads Junior Member
    It is a bit silly to pick the Wellesley **** site as indicative of the school. Go to collegefml dot com and you can get a similar **** site from a long list of colleges (below), all pretty much the same. The sites are voted on and moderated - the intent is to make something humerous:

    * Amherst College
    * Babson
    * Beloit
    * Boston College
    * Boston University
    * Brown
    * Cal Poly
    * Columbia
    * Cornell
    * Dartmouth
    * Drexel
    * Evergreen
    * GWU
    * Gallaudet
    * Hartford
    * MIT
    * MIT Sloan
    * Michigan State
    * NYU
    * Nassau Community College
    * Northeastern
    * Penn State
    * Princeton
    * RISD
    * RIT
    * Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    * SUNY Albany
    * San Diego State
    * Seton Hall
    * Smith
    * Stonehill
    * Sunway University College
    * Temple University
    * Tufts
    * Tulane
    * UBC
    * UC Berkeley
    * UC Davis
    * UC Irvine
    * UC Los Angeles
    * UC Riverside
    * UC San Diego
    * UC Santa Barbara
    * UC Santa Cruz
    * UConn
    * UPenn
    * USC
    * University of Arizona
    * University of Florida
    * University of Georgia
    * University of Washington
    * Vanderbilt
    * WUSTL
    * Wellesley
    * Wheaton College in MA
    * Yale
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  • benny1benny1 197 replies4 threads Junior Member
    Precisely. [fill-in-college]**** is a franchise that exists for campuses all over the country. The content is surprising similar whether you're looking at USC **** or at Smith ****

    To the question at hand: can a self-defined (or parent-defined) "mainstream" kid find her tribe at Smith or at MHC as easily as at Wellesley and at Bryn Mawr. From what I have seen, yes. There is a very wide range of students at all four of these schools. While on the surface they have specific reputations (Wellesley=clean cut, BM=least academic, MHC=lots of international students, Smith=all lesbians and/or hippies), in reality, the students are much more diverse than this and are tied together only by the desire to have an all-women's education (or by their parent's desire for such). The one thing you increasingly find at all of these schools is a large international student population particularly students from more conservative cultures where coeducation is not accepted at all.
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  • KeilexandraKeilexandra 5360 replies132 threads Senior Member
    ^BM=most academic, you mean?
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  • ConCerndDadConCerndDad 369 replies59 threads Member
    The fact that there are **** sites for many schools does not mean that what's said there is not reflective of some of the students there. It's hard to believe that PBLEIC has followed all of the named colleges (that would be a full time job). I have followed a few **** sites, and the entries from different schools are different from one another, and do reflect some particular concerns at those schools. Sure the postings there are anonymous, but aren't they here also? Are things there less reliable than here? Anyway, there is generally a grain of truth in such things. You can be the judge. The fact the college kids have many of the same complaints at all schools, as our expert PBLEIC says, may actually show that all of these schools are equally "mainstream" or are equally not "mainstream", or are equally equal. However, MHC DOES have a large international population, larger than the others, I believe. I don't think that it is entirely because of conservative foreign parents -- MHC actually sends admissions officers abroad to recruit. The large international student population at MHC is a selling point for many US prospies.
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