Amherst, MA: In early November, I stayed for an overnight visit at Hampshire College. It is an alternative college, which has no core curriculum. Students design their own programs so your choice of majors is unlimited. Because of the open, cross-registration at the five schools, students have their choice of taking courses their school does not offer.
Hampshire has an ungraded system. Students work their way independently through three divisions, which takes three to four years. At the first division, you explore your interests in a number of areas, then in the second division, you gain mastery in one area, then finally you show a synthesis of skill and knowledge with a research paper, experiment, performance or other major piece of original work, before graduating from the third division.
I spent the night in a dorm called Dakin. The dorms at Hampshire are incredible. All are coed, even the bathrooms, although almost everyone has their own room. There are no rules in the dorms except those designed in each hall by those who live there. For example, students decide whether to let pets in their hall or whether smoking and loudness are allowed. There are also condominium-type houses where a small group of students who choose to live together because of common interests can live completely independently, cooking their own food.
Our guide was cheerful and informative, and she took us around the fairly small, well-kept campus, showing us the large academic areas, pool, and library. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and was very friendly.
Many activities were going on everywhere on the campus. There were discussion groups, musical and performing groups, and places for all to meet. A tavern is open right on the campus where students go to get together and just have fun.
Hampshire is looking for a particular type of student who is very independent, self-disciplined, and prepared to take full responsibility for his/her own education, and from what I saw, that same student knows how to have a good time. n
Reviewed in 1993