For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Apr 18 2017
by Nancy Canevari

A Freshman's Guide to Smith College

By Nancy Canevari - Apr 18 2017

If you’ve already committed to Smith, welcome to a close-knit community of people committed to academics and social justice. If you’re still narrowing down your options, we at Fresh U hope you pick the school that’s the best fit for you. Regardless of your situation, learning a little bit more about Smith College will definitely help you, so here are a few tips for navigating life on campus.

1. Have your OneCard on you at all times.

Nancy Canevari

Your OneCard is your lifeline while you’re at Smith: you need it to get into the dining halls, your house and several other buildings on campus, and you can also use it to pay for laundry and food at the Campus Center. Either invest in a sleeve for the back of your phone (like I have) or a lanyard that you can clip your OneCard onto.

2. Explore Northampton.

Whether you’re like me and find yourself running to Acme Surplus every other week for everyday items you’ve forgotten to buy or you’re heading downtown for coffee at The Roost or ice cream at Herrill’s, take some time to explore Northampton — it’s a cute town that has a lot to offer.

3. Take advantage of your house community.

Nancy Canevari

At Smith, you won’t live in a dorm: you’ll live in a Victorian-style house. Not only does this make for a much more aesthetically pleasing experience than living in a regular dorm would, but you’ll also build close relationships with the people in your house because you spend so much time together. Try to get involved in your house community as much as possible. Attend events the house hosts, such as parties and movie nights, and if you want to, you can even run for house council. Most of the friends I’ve made this year have been in my house and getting involved in your house community is a great way to form relationships with students in multiple class years.

4. Different areas of campus are right for different types of people.

Nancy Canevari

Houses are scattered across several areas of campus and each area has a distinct environment that’s perfect for different types of students.

First up is the Quad (where I live). Quad houses tend to be larger, housing upwards of 80 students, and as a general rule tend to have more of a social atmosphere and closer-knit house communities. The Quad is located a fair distance away from center campus and the academic buildings, which is great if you want a separation between school and home, but keep that in mind if you don’t want to walk a long distance every day.

Then there’s Upper and Lower Elm Street, located on the road running parallel to Smith’s campus. Houses on Elm Street are very close to most academic buildings, the Davis ballroom, the PVTA stop and the art museum. If you live on Lower Elm, you’re a short walk from downtown Northampton. Chase House, also located on Lower Elm, is substance-free housing.

Center campus is, as the name would suggest, located in the middle of campus and is within a short walking distance of most academic buildings and the Campus Center. Center campus houses have close-knit communities and are a fairly short walk from downtown.

Green Street is located on the opposite end of campus from the entrance. People who live on Green Street tend to be quieter and more reserved, but there are definitely exceptions to this rule as there are to any. Green Street houses tend to be smaller and are located close to the gym, the music buildings and the science quad so if you’re planning on participating in music, sports or science, Green Street might be a good fit for you.

5. Not everyone who goes here is a woman.

While Smith is a women’s college, not every student is a woman. There are plenty of students who identify as nonbinary and several trans male students as well. When introducing yourself, always make sure to state the pronouns you use and ask others to state theirs as well because it’s always better to ask and be sure than assume and misgender someone.

6. Finding a study space may be tricky next year.

Nancy Canevari

A total reconstruction of Neilson Library, Smith’s main library, will begin this summer, and the project will not be finished until fall of 2017. While steps have been taken so that Young Science Library will function as the main library for the next few years, losing Neilson will definitely mean losing significant study space. Don’t panic if you have trouble finding a regular study space that isn’t always crowded. Everyone, not just the first years, is struggling with you.

7. Learn how to use the PVTA.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is your best friend. There are multiple bus lines that run to other colleges in the area, as well as the Hampshire and Holyoke malls. I recommend installing the PVTA Bus Tracker app to keep track of bus schedules and check if your bus is running on schedule. If you’re going out on a weekend and don’t know what time you’ll be home, plan on getting an Uber — the bus stops running early on weekends.

8. You have $25 in dining dollars. Use it.

Nancy Canevari

Your OneCard comes with $25 worth of dining dollars at the beginning of the year, which can be used at the Campus Center Cafe. Use these on days when the dining hall food just isn’t cutting it or when you have three classes back-to-back and desperately need caffeine.

9. Your general ed requirements are limited to one class.

Yes, you heard that right. While many colleges have significant general education requirements for freshmen, Smith first years are only required to take one class designated as a writing intensive. This can be fulfilled by taking a first-year seminar, of which there are several available in multiple different fields, or by taking an English class.

10. Mountain Day is the best.

Nancy Canevari

On a random weekday in the fall semester, the president of the college cancels classes. Some houses have traditions for what they do on Mountain Day (like apple picking and hiking), but plenty of students use the day to catch up on sleep. If your birthday is in the fall and you’re extremely lucky, Mountain Day may even fall on your birthday, like it did for me this year.

11. Take advantage of free resources.

Math, science and foreign language tutoring is available for free for students who need it and while I’ve never used it (I’m a humanities major and avoid STEM like the plague), I’ve heard from my friends who are engineering majors that it’s incredibly useful for staying motivated and getting questions answered. The Jacobson Center, located on the third floor of Seelye Hall, provides free writing help for all of your papers and lab reports. This is a service that I’ve used several times, and I can attest that it’s extremely helpful.

12. Use the trails when you can.

Nancy Canevari

There are several stretches of nature trails that are great for days when you want a more scenic walk to class, so while the weather’s still nice, take advantage of the scenery. The trails are also great for runners if you want to get out of the gym and into nature.

If you keep these tips in mind, navigating your first year as a Smithie shouldn’t be too stressful. Remember to breathe, keep your head up and remember that your grades don’t define you. Good luck!

Lead Image Credit: Nancy Canevari

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Nancy Canevari - Smith College

Nancy is a junior editor for Fresh U. She is a sophomore at Smith College and plans on double majoring in secondary education and English, with a concentration in creative writing. She's originally from New Jersey, a place she views with one part love and one part exasperated disgust. She loves dogs and young adult high fantasy novels a bit too much and spends most of her time drinking tea and yelling about politics. Follow her on Instagram @fearlesslynancelot for some solidly mediocre content.

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