A gifted teacher and persistent trailblazer, Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College (MHC) in 1837 by seeking donations during a severe economic depression. Her famous words, “Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do,” are the cornerstone of the MoHo (as the students affectionately call their school) experience. The first college to join what was to become the Seven Sisters and a model for other women’s colleges in-the-making, MHC was and continues to be synonymous with brilliant teaching. The 2016 edition of the Princeton Review lists MHC amongst the country’s Top 25 Schools for Making an Impact.
The simple life is what South Hadley, Massachusetts (population 17,500), is all about. The MHC campus is sprawling, with two beautiful lakes. Winding roads intersect the pastoral Pioneer Valley landscape and connect old New England tobacco barns to small working farms. A touch of cosmopolitan can be found within the Village Commons: restaurants, shops, an art gallery, a luxury movie theater, a wine bar, a day spa, a yoga studio, and an independent bookstore.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching awarded MHC its Community Engagement Classification, a designation given only to institutions which demonstrate that their mission, culture, leadership, resources, and practices support “dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.” To be designated a community-engaged campus, MHC submitted a 45-page application detailing the college’s involvement in the surrounding Pioneer Valley communities.
MHC’s commitment to community involvement is further reflected in the mission statement, emphasizing “lives of thoughtful, effective, and purposeful engagement in the world.” That mission plays out through the Community-Based Learning (CBL) Program. The CBL program links Mount Holyoke students with communities through courses, independent studies, internships, and research and service projects, including a literacy program focused on East African immigrants in Springfield and a strategic partnership with the Holyoke public schools to address low academic performance and literacy rates. One specific effort, the “Spanish Corps,” allows bilingual students and Spanish language learners at MHC to enhance their education through interpretation and translation work.
The academic climate at MHC is rigorous but not cutthroat. Of the 50 or so majors, standouts include international relations, English, pre-health, and computer science. MHC recognizes that great ideas sometimes exist outside traditional boundaries. More than a dozen interdisciplinary majors, as well as the opportunity to develop customized majors, are options.
The generous Lynk program connects MHC academic work to practical applications. Each student’s Lynk experience is unique, reflecting her values and aspirations. MHC provides funding of $3,000 for domestic internships and $3,600 for international internships to every eligible student who has secured a qualified internship or research position, many of which are unpaid or low-paid.
The popular creative writing concentration at MHC includes a variety of courses in fiction, poetry, journalism, essay writing, and narrative nonfiction. The concentration also involves advanced craft workshops and seminars in poetry, short story and novel writing, journalism history and ethics, and writing for children. Students produce two annual literary magazines: Blackstick Review and Verbosity.
As a member of the Five College Consortium (in addition to Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst), students have access to 6,000 courses, eleven museums, and a library system with 11 million items. MHC students are able to take two Consortium classes per semester. The advantages of the Consortium extend beyond academics; for example, MHC students actively participate in club sailing at UMass and choir at Amherst. Ninety-seven percent of MHC students venture beyond South Hadley to enrich their undergraduate experiences.
MHC is not a “party school,” although the students lead fun, purpose-driven lives. MHC’s nickname, the Lyons, is a tribute to founder Mary Lyon. The mascot is named Paws. MHC is a member of the NCAA Division III and NEWMAC. There are thirteen varsity teams and six club teams.
MHC owns 40 horses for students to ride, and equestrians are able to bring their own horses to campus and board them at the Mount Holyoke College Equestrian Center. Its stable has over 69 rubber-matted stalls, a large outdoor all-weather footing show arena, a permanent dressage arena, two indoor arenas, all-weather turnout paddocks, hunt field, and a cross-country course through 120 acres of woods, fields, and streams.
MHC’s riding team is a regular contender at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championships, and the dressage team also holds an impressive record, with five Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) National Championships and numerous individual and regional awards. In 2008, MHC became the first small, liberal arts college in the region to host an active IHSA Western Riding Team. Like dressage, the Western team is a club sport.
Since 1923, MHC has hosted one of the nation’s well-known college poetry events, the spring Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Contest. Glascock judges, who engage students in stimulating dialogues and also read their work, have included Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, W. H. Auden, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Seamus Heaney. MHC also rotates as host of the Five College PoetryFest, a spring cross-campus literary celebration.
The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (MHCAM) will celebrate its 140th anniversary this fall. The permanent collection includes 24,000 objects from five continents and across thousands of years. Significant categories include photography, glass, ceramics, prints and drawings, and numismatics. The Louise R. Weiser Lecture in Creativity, Innovation, and Leadership Through Art was established in 2012. Mrs. Weiser was a longtime MHC employee, and her family and friends raised funds to establish an endowment. The Weiser Lecture is one part of the Museum’s “Creativity Initiative,” aimed at sharing the importance of creative thought on campus. “A Potter’s Tale” and “Comics, Innovation, and Visual Communication” were two lectures from 2015.
Also on campus is the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum. The nearly 7,000 objects represent a lifetime of collecting by Joseph Allen Skinner (1862-1946). The museum holds important collections of minerals and fossils, early lighting, rare books and documents, furniture, maritime objects, artifacts from Oceanic cultures, firearms, glass and ceramics, tools and farm implements, 19th-century souvenirs, and Native American objects. Highlights are a mid-19th century ship’s figurehead from Ipswich, Massachusetts, a 150-pound meteorite from Canyon Diablo, Arizona, and the door to the 18th-century childhood home of Mary Lyon, the founder of MHC.
Housing and Dining
In MHC’s own words, “Inclusion, compassion and authenticity are the foundations of our residential program.” Each well-maintained residence hall features a formal living room, piano, and grandfather clock. Pets on campus? Absolutely! Residence halls of all types and sizes – including those with only first year students, only upper class students, or a mixture – are available. The configurations range from apartment and suite style options to traditional singles, doubles and triples. First-year students should anticipate living with one or two roommates. Returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors participate in a housing lottery. Ninety-eight percent of students opt to live on campus for all four years. The end result is an interesting blend of experiences.
All full-time residential students are required to participate in a 21-meal board plan. MHC Dining Services is committed to sustainability and sourcing locally-grown, organic products.
Of the 2,300 MHC students, 26 percent are international, and 48 percent represent diversity. In 2015, MHC received the noteworthy Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. This award recognizes those institutions using creative approaches to well-planned, well-executed, and well-documented progress towards internationalization. Not surprising, the faculty at MHC speak a combined 50 languages!
As a test-optional institution, the personal essay is an important component of a prospective student’s application. For Minnesota students who’ve taken the ACT, keep in mind a composite score of 30 is the average at MHC. However, MHC prioritizes rigorous high school studies and upward trends over GPA. The admissions staff loves to hear from students via email and tracks “demonstrated interest” as part of the process. Alicia Lewkowicz, Assistant Director of Admission, conducts some interviews on campus, via Skype, and in the Twin Cities. No matter who conducts the admissions interview, the interviewer submits a two-page summary. In the near future, MHC will adopt the Coalition Application, a new evaluation system for college applicants spearheaded by Smith, University of Maryland and Emory University. The Coalition Application will give each applicant a “virtual locker” to highlight her holistic accomplishments during the four years of high school.
Merit scholarships are available to a select number of women who demonstrate academic excellence, co-curricular involvement, and leadership potential. Eleven incoming freshmen receive the full-tuition Trustee Scholarship, and 25 receive a $25,000 per year (renewable for four years) Twenty-First Century Scholarship. Committed to the development of female leaders, MHC also offers Leadership Awards. These scholarships range from $10,000 to $20,000.
Who Would Be Happy Here?
Smart, talented, and opinionated students from around the world, representing 46 states and nearly 80 countries, are the women of MoHo. They’re special individuals who are open-minded, socially and politically aware, and intellectually curious. They flourish in a distraction-free rural setting with an international flair. Changemaking is a way of life.
One thought on “A Visit to Mount Holyoke College”
Thank you, Sue, for this thoughtful and comprehensive write-up on my alma mater. Forty-odd years later, my experiences at Mount Holyoke still resonate with me. I’m a freelance writer and editor and have worked successfully with high school students on their application essays for over eleven years. I’ve asked to connect on LinkedIn and hope you’ll accept.