Hampshire College

Amherst, MA: A renowned liberal arts college, situated on nothing more than a sheep farm in Amherst, Massachusetts, Hampshire could probably be summed up best as the most unlikely college in America. There are no grades. No tests. One of its alumni majored in Frisbee. What sort of college is this anyway?

Well, frankly, it’s the sort of college that I found very refreshing (refreshing enough that I applied early decision). The opportunities they offer are tremendous. For one thing, they’re part of the Five-College System, which includes Hampshire, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and the University of Massachusetts, all excellent schools. Any student from these colleges may take a course at any of the other four, and free bus service is provided between schools. As you might imagine, this greatly increases the amount of knowledge and diversity students have access to.

Despite the grade-less, test-less setup, Hampshire is far from easy. In lieu of grades, students receive five-page written evaluations of their work, and complete projects or lengthy reports instead of taking an ersatz quiz every Friday. Every student’s major is co-designed by the student and the faculty, making it impossible to breeze through the system the way so many people do in high school.

Add all of that to their list of alumni, impressive for a college less than 25 years old.It includes Ken Burns (producer of the “Civil War” documentary for PBS), John Falsey (co-producer of “Northern Exposure”), and John Bechdel (keyboardist for Killing Joke). You get one impressive school. n

Reviewed in 1993