Should I Go To Smith College?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Shana is a Denver tutor specializing in Spanish tutoring, Literature tutoring, Anthropology tutoring, and more. She graduated from Smith College in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Government. Check out her review of her alma mater:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Shana: The first thing I loved about Smith College was the campus. It has many old brick buildings with ivy and Victorian homes, a stunning lake, and the campus is a five-minute walk from Main Street. Northampton is a quintessential American college town. Students have bikes but most of them walk, as distances are not great. There is a bus that runs between Smith and the other colleges in the Pioneer Valley: Amherst, U-Mass, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire. Northampton is also connected to other towns such as Boston, Providence, and New York through the Peter Pan bus service. I loved going to school in New England because there were so many colleges within a short distance where I had friends who I could visit.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Shana: Smith College is for undergraduates. You won't be taught by TAs and you won't compete with graduate students for professors' time. Professors join the faculty at Smith because they love to teach; it doesn't mean they aren't publishing, but it does mean that students are their priority. The only time a professor was inaccessible was an instance in which he was teaching at both Smith and Harvard and spent a lot of time in Boston and on the road. Faculty members tend to be accessible for classes, but also for general advice about college and life. Students are sometimes invited to meet professors' families and are encouraged to stay in touch long after they leave Smith. My advisor was in D.C. giving a lecture while I was a grad student at Georgetown; we got a beer together and talked about our research and a fellowship I had recently won.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Shana: I don't think dorm life gets any better. The 'dorms' are called houses; most are old Victorian homes and some are larger and more modern. I was fortunate to have a single residence the whole time I was at Smith, though this is uncommon. Many houses on campus have their own kitchens. There are no freshman dorms, so right away you have access to the wisdom of upper-classmen. There is a lot of "house pride," and this helps students to feel like they are a part of something special. Different houses have different cultures and it can be disappointing to be in the wrong house, but there are opportunities to switch houses. The housing system encourages students within a house to become very close, sometimes at the expense of getting to know people campus-wide. There's a French house and a Vegan co-op house. The houses in the quad are the more social houses on campus. There's another house that's close to the Science buildings and athletic fields, so it attracts those types of students. The other thing that's really fun about the houses is tea on Friday afternoons by the fireplace in the living room. It's a great time to relax at the end of the week with your housemates. 

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Shana: My major was Government. I did a five-college certificate and was one credit short of a minor in Spanish. My major was somewhat popular and was well supported. There's a competitive semester in D.C. in a program for Government majors. Some Science majors complained that they worked much harder and had lower GPAs. I really admired the Art program and the Engineering program. From an outside perspective, these seemed to be some of the best programs Smith had to offer. There is a Portuguese requirement for the Spanish major and minor, and when I was a student, there were not enough spaces in the Portuguese class. This didn't make a lot of sense.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Shana: There is no Greek life and therefore there's no rushing or initiation, but there are houses – it feels like the community of Greek life without the competition. Smith has a real focus on academics and tries to be accepting; the Greek system doesn't really seem to fit that. I found it was really easy to get to know people in my house. People who played sports or sang in one of the many acapella groups seemed to be very well-connected.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Shana: The Career Center was a great resource for learning how to write a resume, cover letter, and nail an interview. The alumnae network is world-class and is even better than an old boys club. I don't recall going to career fairs or hearing about any. Smith is about educating students for the sake of education, not for career preparation. One really great opportunity, however, is the Praxis fund which pays students $2,000 to take an unpaid summer internship regardless of financial need. Another wonderful resource is the fellowship office. I was a finalist for the Boren and the Truman and received a tremendous amount of support. Smith is always a top recipient of Fulbright awards as well.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious? 

Shana: I usually studied in my room. There is plenty of room at the library, though it's not as beautiful as other college libraries I've visited. The library staff is extremely helpful. There is a student center where people eat, study, hang out, and it is where a lot of campus groups meet. It has really fun colors and architecture and is centrally located. This is where students get their mail, so most people pass through there at least a few times a week. The houses have living rooms and dining rooms, so students often study there. One thing I hated about Smith was the weather. I was often looking for any excuse to stay at home in slippers and avoid the snow. 

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Shana: Northampton is the best college town I've been to and it's the best town in the area, so students from the other colleges often come to hang out. There are at least three music venues, an independent movie theater, tons of restaurants, cute shops, book stores, candy stores, and a famous ice cream shop. It's all very accessible by foot and is small and sweet. Most social life happens on campus, but it's nice to have such a fun town to play in as well. There are some street musicians, hippies, aimless youth, and homeless people with mental illnesses around. I never felt unsafe, but it's worth mentioning that the town and campus are quite interconnected and that not everyone in town is involved with the university.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Shana: There were 2,600 students when I went to Smith, which was only slightly larger than my high school. Yet, Smith felt a lot bigger than my high school because everything was more spread out and there was so much more going on there. The problem was never finding something to do, but rather deciding what to do. I had classes that were as small as six students. I think my favorite class size was something like 12-16. I had some Intro classes in the large lecture halls that had as many as 100 students (Intro to Political Thinking, Intro to International Relations, Intro to Art History). I was pleased with the variety in class size. In the few instances when the class was really large, it didn't feel like I was just a number. I always received thoughtful feedback on my work and there was often a required discussion group. There would be a lecture on Monday and Wednesday and then a smaller group discussion with a professor on Friday. I once had a TA for a very popular class (Logic), who was a graduate student at U-Mass; he was the only TA I ever had at Smith. His review sessions were fantastic.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Shana: For my freshman seminar, I took an experimental class called Re-enacting the Past. We covered the French Revolution and the Independence of India. It was a history class, but was team-taught by a Psychology professor and a Math professor. I never took a math class at Smith (there are no core requirements so I avoided it altogether), so this was a great way to get to meet faculty that I otherwise would not have met. We both went to the same synagogue in town and he turned out to be a friend for all of my years at Smith. I had no talent or interest in his field and yet he took a real interest in me. I remember showing him photographs from my trip to India and he commented that my album was like a photo-journal; that was exactly what I wanted it to be and I was really happy he recognized that. He retired right after I left Smith. It wasn't just the young professors who spent time with students outside of class – the greying ones did, too. I thought that was pretty cool. 

Check out Shana’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.