October 6, 2020
Admitted students often ask us to introduce them to current students who attended the same undergraduate institution. Last year, a few admitted students who attended women’s colleges asked to speak to current students who also attended women’s colleges. Those connections inspired this blog post. We thought we would interview a few women’s college graduates to pass on their insights more broadly.
Join our conversation with Kimberly (Mount Holyoke), Lindsey (Bryn Mawr), Rachel (Ewha Womans University), Zarinah (Spelman), Lucy (Smith), and Jordanne (Wellesley).
Tell us one thing everyone should know about your undergraduate school.
Rachel: Not everyone is familiar with Ewha Womans University. It’s in Seoul, South Korea, right in the middle of the city. There are a number of other universities nearby, so the area feels like a college town within the city.
Jordanne: Wellesley has a number of unique traditions, which create a common experience for students and alumnae. For example, hoop rolling is a senior year tradition in which students race big wooden hoops from the 1800s. The winner is designated the first to achieve success, however they define it.
Kimberly: Mount Holyoke is a historically women’s college founded in 1837. People aren’t afraid to speak up. There’s a constant dialogue, and professors encourage students to lean into uncomfortable conversations.
Lucy: Smith is very nearby Mount Holyoke, and part of the same five-college consortium. One thing everyone should know is that Smith is really loud. Every tradition involves cheering and chanting. Smithies are very vocal, and speak their minds.
Zarinah: Spelman College is a Black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia, founded in 1881. My time there allowed me to see first and foremost that Black women are not a monolith and that there is a lot of political, class, and economic diversity within the Black community. Spelman was built and continues to operate for the education of Black women, and the professors and leadership share, or have taken it upon themselves to study, experiences similar to those of its students.
Lindsey: Bryn Mawr’s traditions make it feel like a women’s college. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t feel like a women’s college because of its close connection with Haverford. You can take classes at either college, and most of our clubs are bi-college.
What motivated you to pursue undergrad at a women’s college?
Jordanne: For me, it was the community on campus at Wellesley and the network of graduates. Our alumnae network is pervasive in a good way. I actually just experienced that earlier today – another HLS student I hadn’t met stopped me in the hallway of the WCC when she saw my Wellesley sweatshirt, and we exchanged phone numbers.
Zarinah: I knew early in high school that I wanted to attend an Historically Black College or University (HBCU), but I was not necessarily looking to attend a women’s college until I learned about Spelman. After visiting Spelman during a college tour, I conducted further research and spoke regularly with a friend’s older sister who attended Spelman. I became set on attending Spelman, as I could not forego the opportunity to attend the only women’s college whose mission is tailored to supporting and educating women with my specific identity, being Black and being a woman.
Lindsey: I appreciated the sense of community and traditions, and things that I hadn’t thought about much before I arrived, like the fact that women hold all leadership positions on campus.
Lucy: I was very happy to attend an institution where all the role models are women, from the chairs of the academic departments to the student leaders.
What is one thing you really valued about your undergraduate experience?
Lucy: I loved that I could find my own voice and not have to fight against social pressure to defer.
Rachel: I definitely felt that my undergraduate institution cultivated an encouraging atmosphere. It was a place where we felt liberated to rise up against gender discrimination and bias
How did your undergraduate experience inform your decision to go to law school?
Kimberly: I wanted to keep leaning into difficult conversations. The small classroom environment at Mount Holyoke taught me how to appreciate complexities and go deep into topics. Law school seemed like a natural transition.
Zarinah: Spelman encouraged me to always bring my full self to the table, assured me that my experiences are a valid lens to see the world through, and affirmed in me the belief that I have the capacity to change the world if I choose to. Being empowered in that way encouraged me to bring my authentic self to my post-graduate work in Congress – specifically as a staffer the U.S. Senate – where I was often the only Black woman in the room, and then to my classroom experience at Harvard.
Why did you choose HLS for law school?
Lucy: Smith provided me with a lot of opportunities to engage in experiential learning and advocacy. Harvard had the strongest programming in negotiation and alternative dispute resolution, and I was interested in pursuing those paths.
Kimberly: I don’t see my career having one line, and I know a Harvard education will allow me to transition through various careers with interdisciplinary skills.
Jordanne: I did ROTC at Wellesley, and plan to pursue a career as a military lawyer. Some of Harvard’s specific offerings, such as the veterans clinic, made it a good place for me.
Lindsey: Bryn Mawr taught me the value of being in a room where you learn from your peers, sometimes even more than you learn from your professors. When I came to the HLS Admitted Students Weekend, I was just blown away with how smart and amazing everyone was, and I knew these were the peers I wanted to learn from.
How would you compare and contrast HLS to your undergraduate institution?
Kimberly: I never had more than fifteen people in a class at Mount Holyoke, so adjusting to my 1L section of eighty was a big transition. My experience at Mount Holyoke pushed me to become active about forming networks, though, which has proved helpful at Harvard.
Zarinah: We understandably focus a lot on legal doctrine in first-year courses, but do not always contextualize the real-life impacts of these doctrinal concepts. At Spelman, professors intentionally discussed the implications of what we were learning through a racial and gendered lens. That academic training has helped me to read between the lines of the cases we study in law school.
Lucy: Smith emphasized intersectionality. Every class had an element of gender theory, and most had an element of racial justice, reproductive justice, and queer theory. I’ve discovered my people at Harvard by noticing who brings these concepts to class discussions.
Lindsey: Each school is diverse, but the experience of diversity at each school differs. At my undergraduate school, there was not a wide range of political opinions, and I had looked forward to coming here and hearing a variety of viewpoints in the classroom. It has made me address my assumptions about the political beliefs of my classmates.
What is one piece of advice you have for a student at a women’s college who is applying for law school?
Rachel: I don’t think there’s any specific advice for graduates of women’s colleges. It’s just the same as people graduating from any other college.
Jordanne: Don’t discount the experiences you’ve had. They shaped you in a positive way.
Kimberly: The law school admissions process can be stressful. Lean in to the networks you have from your college.
Lucy: I found someone from Smith at every law school I visited, and it was helpful to know that there was always someone who could give me the inside view. I’m sure that’s true for all the colleges we’ve attended. Just reach out.
Filed in: Student Voices