On the Road with Betsy Woolf – Mount Holyoke College

If I had to name three adjectives to describe Mount Holyoke College, I would say homey, personable and confident. When I look back on my notes from the first time I was on campus, I also would add focused, determined, self-driven, open, warm, collegial and ambitious.

This year has been a momentous one in admissions at Mount Holyoke. I was on campus the day the news broke that its acceptance rate had dropped 15 points for the Class of 2023 to 36%. Applications are up. Although the #Me Too movement may be playing a part in making women’s colleges more relevant than ever, Mount Holyoke stands tall in terms of the experience.

Yes, South Hadley, Massachusetts, is a small town, and the college is right in town, but women at Holyoke benefit from the diverse and well-educated population of the Pioneer Valley, where some 40,000 student study. Mount Holyoke’s beautiful and well-maintained campus has the advantages of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a larger school. Students can easily ride the local bus system to the other campuses in what is still the 5 College Consortium (it remains to be seen whether nearby Hampshire College will survive) for extracurricular and academic life. Students throughout the Consortium, which also includes Amherst and Smith Colleges and the flagship University of Massachusetts at Amherst, can and do take classes at each other’s college. At Mount Holyoke, over 70% of women take at least one class at another school, most typically at Amherst or UMass.

Mount Holyoke itself boasts a brand new central dining hall, as well as a new Maker Space (interest in STEM studies, long a mainstay, is increasing), and a renovated campus center. Typical of a liberal arts college, classes are small with the average around 17 students. The beautiful campus is a place of traditions – like an outdoor Fall screening of the movie, Dirty Dancing, because a line in the movie mentions Mount Holyoke, and Mountain Day, when classes are cancelled and students trek to the top of Mount Holyoke for an ice cream reward. It is also a place embracing the present. Social justice is championed. In fact, the campus closes down one day in the spring for BOOM Day, as students, faculty and staff dialogue about diversity and equity on an inclusive campus that is 27% of color and 27% international.  And Mount Holyoke is also a college where students can gather in a light-filled puzzle room to work on puzzles, play board games and color in coloring books; study in a library that looks like a cathedral of learning and features the 12-foot tall Clear and Gold Tower sculpture by noted glass sculptor, Dale Chichuly; take classes in horseback riding and join the college’s riding and dressage teams; and participate in a weekly luncheon that champions a discourse among students of all faiths.