BY SARAH RACICOT '13
Though I had the grades and SAT scores to go just about wherever I wanted when I applied to college, I looked exclusively at women’s colleges: Wellesley, Mount Holyoke and Smith. I felt by far the most comfortable at Mount Holyoke and that was the main thing that influenced my decision. However, at that point Mount Holyoke was in the top 25. If Mount Holyoke had been ranked much lower, I would have likely gone elsewhere.
While I was there, the administration continually tried to ignore the rankings, and spouted that women’s colleges would always have trouble because fewer people apply to them, resulting in a higher acceptance rate — not good for rankings.
And, because men still on average make more than women, a co-ed college may have a higher endowment, which leads to higher rankings. While these things can certainly make it hard for women’s colleges in the ranking system, they do not account for Wellesley and Smith not suffering this decline, and for Smith actually improving its ranking.
I view Wellesley as being in almost its own category here. It has the most visible alumnae — Hillary Clinton, for example — which boosts prestige, applications and giving. I think the best comparison is between Mount Holyoke and Smith. I loved my time at this college, but one area I would point to that was severely lacking, at least in my time, is Career Services, or as it’s called today, the Career Development Center.
Of the 50 people from the class of 2013 that I still stalk on Facebook, only one is happily employed in her field. Everyone else is either unemployed, underemployed (lots of part time retail), has had to look for jobs in other fields, generally lower paying than what they wanted to do originally or has gone back to school. Some of those who were planning to go to grad school have not gone because they were not able to get in to highly competitive programs. Others settled for somewhat sketchy programs and are now drowning in debt.
After two years of not being able to get a job, despite internships, a 3.96 GPA, graduating Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, I went to law school. I was able to get in to Harvard, and unfortunately I think some of my success, as compared to some people who went immediately after college, is because I never had the misfortune of getting “advice” from the pre-law advisor.
Bad employment numbers are not good for a college’s ranking. Alums who are unhappy with their post-college career prospects will likely reflect unfavorably on Mount Holyoke and be less willing to give, and alums who aren’t earning much will have trouble giving even if they want to (hurting endowment and therefore hurting rankings).
I know my year graduated into a general economic mess, but I would be curious to see employment numbers for Smith’s graduating class of 2013 to see if their career services department is doing better, which could contribute to the ranking disparity.
Also, I think pervasive grade inflation could hurt Mount Holyoke’s reputation in the academic community. I’m thankful for my 3.96 because it got me into Harvard, but even having double-majored and done credit overload multiple semesters, I did not feel prepared coming into Harvard. It also didn’t prepare me for a strict curve system.
My general impression was that the administration was always kind of being an ostrich with its head in the sand and pretending the rankings don’t exist— and when you pretend something doesn’t exist, you probably aren’t going to do very well at it.