Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pioneer Valley Colleges: Day 1 U Mass Amherst and Smith

Before I start up with round 2 of College Summit on Thursday, I decided to add on tours to the five colleges in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. I am joined by the college counselors from Millennium and the NYC iSchool (so you aren't confused when I keep saying "we"). The 5 College Consortium of U Mass-Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire and Amherst College offer something for almost everyone. I'll give you my impressions of the schools I've seen here on the blog.

Our first stop was the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the largest of the 5 schools with about 20,000 undergraduate students. Our fabulous tour guide Colleen did a great job of handling our large tour group---a nice parallel to how U Mass Amherst is able to work with a large number of students and still get the job done well. Highlights of this campus included the Marriott hotel located on campus that offers Hospitality and Tourism students hands on internship experience without leaving the confines of the campus. They also offer an Honors program, eligible candidates typically have an A average and above a 1300 on the first two sections of the SAT. This is just one program of many that is designed to help make this huge campus feel more personal. I was really pleased with what I saw at UMass. This is a great school for a student looking for a flagship public school with tons of different academic disciplines, division I sports, and a location that is very different from New York City but not very far in terms of distance. Plus if a student did start to feel overwhelmed or like they wanted a change of scenery they can register for a class at any of the 4 other campuses (free bus service provided among all 5 locations).

Next we headed over to Smith College, a women's college located in Northampton. I found the buildings on this campus to be absolutely stunning. The school's founder stipulated that all buildings build reflect the time period in which they were constructed so there is a nice array of both historic and more modern LEED certified buildings. The campus itself does have a bit of a condensed feel, but in a homey and welcoming way. The three unique aspects of Smith, as per the information session, are: an open curriculum, the Praxis paid internship program available to all students, and the unique housing system where students find their 'home' on campus with a lot of pride coming along with it. The dorms here more closely resemble actual homes than they do standard collegiate housing (think grand pianos, wallpaper, walk in closets, etc). Smith is very clearly a place full of very confident women. They are multi-talented, articulate, and intelligent. It seems it would be a great fit for a young woman looking to change the world. Generous financial aid, the beautiful campus, and the longstanding traditions make this school a really great opportunity for any woman looking into small liberal arts colleges. Plus the town of Northampton is a short walk away and has more diverse (and delicious) food offerings than I've ever seen in such a small area. Maybe they were inspired by Smith alumna Julia Child? (She's front and center in the picture above, a photo from the Promenade Committee at Smith in 1934).

Next up: Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire