After attending an all-girl’s high school in Philadelphia, Auden Bunn wanted a college with the same supportive and welcoming feel. Bunn “fell in love” on a visit to Wellesley College, one of just a few dozen women’s colleges in the U.S. “I really love the community here, even though I identify as nonbinary,” says the sophomore, who is considering a media arts and sciences major.
Wellesley’s 8:1 student-faculty ratio creates an environment where “people care about your thoughts,” says Paige Calvert, a 2020 English graduate from Madison, Connecticut. A so-called shadow grading policy allows first-year students to ease into a challenging curriculum and explore classes outside their comfort zone; all first-semester courses are graded pass-fail.
Wellesley’s roughly 2,500 undergraduates take a first-year writing seminar, fulfill a language requirement — 10 choices are offered, including Swahili and Hebrew — and earn a range of other credits including in the natural sciences, quantitative reasoning, literature, art, history and multicultural studies.
[Read: A Guide to Women’s Colleges.]
Juniors and seniors can take one of the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing, which teach the art of writing about topics in their academic field for the general public. Lauren Luo, a 2020 computer science and American studies grad from Hong Kong, practiced writing about technology for a lay audience, for example. In one assignment, she discussed the role of artificial intelligence in spreading misinformation and disinformation that could have an impact on the 2020 elections.
The Wellesley in Washington Summer Internship Program gives stipends to 20 students from any major to intern in the nation’s capital, attending weekly seminars and receiving mentorship from Wellesley alums. Avery Restrepo, a 2020 international relations, political science and Spanish grad from Fairfield, Connecticut, spent the summer before senior year interning with the House Democratic Caucus.
The Albright Institute, named for Wellesley alum and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, funds 40 fellows every year to participate in a global internship and discussion of global issues during Wintersession, a three-week period in January when it’s possible to take a class, work on a thesis or study abroad.
Each fall, classes shut down for one day for the Tanner Conference, and students present their experiences with internships, civic engagement and study abroad. A similar event in the spring is dedicated to undergraduate research — something many students participate in at Wellesley or at several nearby schools such as Franklin W. Owen Olin College of Engineering, Babson College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A strong sense of community makes it easy to get to know professors, students say. Faculty members frequently take part in student-run events. For example, in her role as college government committee chair for political and legislative awareness, Restrepo put together a panel of political science instructors to discuss presidential impeachment hearings.
Wellesley’s picturesque campus surrounding Lake Waban is a pleasant retreat from the city, students observe, although it can feel isolating. A bus runs to Boston and Cambridge, while a Saturday-only shuttle takes students to Natick for movies, shopping and dining out.
There are no first-year-only dorms, and students say they enjoy getting to know the upperclasswomen in their residence halls.
Other popular activities include supporting Wellesley’s 13 Division III sports teams, participating in club and intramural sports including Ultimate Frisbee and Quidditch, and joining cultural organizations. There is no Greek life, but six societies centered around topics like art, history, politics and Shakespeare occupy houses throughout campus.
Favorite traditions include cheering on runners in the Boston Marathon — the campus sits at the halfway point — and “hooprolling,” when seniors compete to roll large hoops down Tupelo Lane on campus. Hoops are often decorated and passed down from so-called big sisters to little sisters. First-year “littles” are paired with upperclass students who act as their “big” during a fall ceremony.
Wellesley’s alumni network is a draw for many and includes Hillary Clinton and journalist Diane Sawyer. The Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, named for an alumna who is a Wall Street pioneer and philanthropist, is a central gathering spot. The building was supposedly designed with no right angles to represent the notion that Wellesley women can’t be put in boxes.
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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2021” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.
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