Amherst, MA: Last summer I had the opportunity to visit Hampshire College, located in Amherst. Being from the city, I was literally awestruck with the beautiful landscape. As I approached the admissions office, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was in fact a converted farmhouse. Although I was almost an hour early for the tour, the receptionist gave me some literature and had me watch the Hampshire College video, which gave me a good perspective on the college.
While there I learned what makes Hampshire College stand out from other liberal arts colleges: its distinctive approach to learning. At Hampshire College, students are in control of their own curriculum, as if you were pursuing an independent major. Although a lot of the work takes place in the classroom, much happens through completion of major projects, called “exams,” which are completed by the student at each of three divisions, and are needed to graduate.
After relaxing in the air-conditioned waiting room, I went on the tour. First I was shown around the four schools at Hampshire College: Communications and Cognitive Science, Arts and Humanities, Natural Science and Social Science. Students must complete Division I “exams” in each of these schools. The guide took me through a couple of classrooms, but because it was summer I didn’t get to see any classes in progress. They were not at all like the classrooms I was used to in high school.
We also got a tour of the two residential houses, Merrill and Dakin. We went inside Dakin House (which is shaped like an angular question mark). The dorm rooms seemed kind of small to me, but I guess I will need to get used to this. We also passed the apartments where students may live after their first year, if there is room.
I was delighted to learn that the Hampshire College Dining Commons included both vegetarian entrees and a well-stocked salad bar. This surprised me in a way, since my high school has neither, even though it has almost twice the number of students. However, after all that, I’ve discovered that nothing about Hampshire surprises me.
And, of course, I can’t leave out the Five College Exchange. Students at Hampshire may register to take courses at any of the other four local colleges (Amherst, UMass, Smith and Mount Holyoke) at no extra charge, and free buses run between the colleges. Also, students from all five colleges participate in many joint activities including dances, concerts and parties. And being located in a college town like Amherst provides Hampshire students with much in the way of social events. Thus, students at Hampshire are able to enjoy the benefits of a small college while participating in the benefits of a large university.
Overall, I was really impressed by both the friendliness of my guide and the students and faculty I met, and especially with Hampshire’s distinctive approach to education. If you are looking for a small liberal arts college, in a rural area, which gives you the freedom to express your individuality both academically and socially, you may want to look into Hampshire College. n
Reviewed in 1991