Amherst College, a private New England liberal arts school, is known for its challenging curriculum and tight-knit community of students, faculty and alumni.
With its small enrollment of fewer than 2,000 undergrads, students are able to receive more one-on-one attention from the institution’s highly regarded professors than at most other colleges, and they tend to eschew competition in favor of cooperation. Amherst is a member of the Five College Consortium, which allows students to take classes at any of the other participating area universities.
Amherst students get involved in a cornucopia of activities on what is widely regarded as an idyllic campus. Varsity and club sports are extremely popular, and many more students participate in intramurals. While there is a significant party scene at Amherst, centered mostly on dorm parties and bars in the Amherst area, incoming students shouldn’t be surprised to hear people discussing academics on a Saturday night.
With its idyllic setting and nationally-recognized academic excellence, it's fitting Amherst College students describe their experiences as being just what they imagined the perfectly balanced school would be. "I feel that Amherst provides students with the ultimate college experience," writes a freshman. "A student body full of smart kids who double as top notch athletes, singers, dancers, and artists, as well as a great deal of school unity and pride, and a fun social scene." But, as one of the top-ranked liberal arts schools in the country, Amherst is one of the few colleges that can select a student body willing to engage the school's resources fully. The aforementioned freshman continues, "The kids that go here are into having a great time, and truly love the college -- which adds to the atmosphere on campus. People want to do well in class, want to be involved in sports, shows, want to party, and want to support their peers." One thing they don't love? The frustration of being at one of the best schools in the country and yet having to explain where they go to clueless strangers. "Many people assume that I go to UMass, which, frankly, pisses me off," writes a senior. "But the people who matter in getting a job know what Amherst is and are always impressed."
It is uncommon for every student to agree about any one aspect of their school. However, it is difficult to find a student who doesn’t rave about the academics at Amherst College. “The open curriculum is great,” writes a sophomore. “You are only required to take one course, the Freshman Seminar, and the topics are always interesting. The open curriculum lets you either focus on your major right away, or experiment and take different classes.” The ambitious, open-minded students also appreciate the chance to focus on their own interests. "There are no distribution requirements, so students take classes they want to take from the very beginning," writes a student.
With its small student population (fewer than 2,000), Amherst students are able – and encouraged – to take advantage of one-on-one attention from some of the country’s most acclaimed scholars on a daily basis. “I frequently have e-mail discussions with my professors about anything and everything,” writes one freshman. “It's really amazing, the dedication professors have to the students, and the respect that everyone has for each other.” A junior anthropology major confirms that “[t]he professors are very accessible here, and relationships between professors and students are close. The campus even offers a program called TYPO (Take Your Professor Out), where they give students money to take their professors out to dinner in town with a small group.”
Of course, while students effusively praise their school’s academic offerings, some admit that there are drawbacks to the college’s intense intellectual environment. “As much as I love Amherst, the whole college set-up bothers me sometimes,” says a freshman studying biology. “First, we're worked to the bone by classes, which I guess is important because the ‘real world’ can do that, but sometimes all the busywork isn't necessary.” And students who want to get hands-on training in their professional field of choice might find Amherst's strict adherence to the liberal arts curriculum limiting--that is, unless their career goals include a Ph.D. "Although graduates do get good jobs or highly coveted spots in top grad schools, the emphasis here is on learning and applying, not on being marketable on the job market," writes a freshman majoring in economics. But since many have set their sights on grad school, "for most people, their degree from Amherst won't be the one that determines their career."
Amherst is a member of the Five College Consortium, so students reap the benefits of four other area colleges on top of their own. “Being a part of this consortium means that Amherst can retain the advantages of a small college but offer its students the course catalogue of a large university,” writes an alum with a political science degree. That includes "classes in communication, accounting, filmmaking, etc that are not offered at Amherst." Another advantage is an expanded social budget that can bring top-notch entertainment options to a school that, on its own, would never be able to support. "The 5-college area (Amherst, UMass, Hampshire, Smith, Mt. Holyoke) provides plenty of events, including some really great theatrical performances and concerts," says a freshman. And while a 2,000-person high school may have felt small, students say Amherst's position inside the five-college circle keeps the walls from closing in. "Amherst is a small school that doesn't feel like it, because of its position in the five-college area," writes another freshman.
Owing to the high concentration of college students in the area, with two other colleges in the town of Amherst alone, students find plenty to do off campus. “[T]he region is great because of the five colleges and tens of thousands of students - many bands come through, there are hundreds of good restaurants, and plenty of socialization between schools,” explains a senior from Maine. Social life is also extremely active on Amherst’s idyllic campus, where students stay busy with athletics, dorm parties, and performances. Drinking is an obviously popular past time, but no one clique or crew sets the pace for any other. "The amount of partying varies: some people go out once every weekend, others even less, but some start partying on Wednesday and go on til Sunday. There are some social circles which do not drink, and the substance free dorms form really tight communities," says one student.
One prominent stereotype that Amherst students have yet to shake is that they can be rich and snobby. Some will point out that obviously not all members of the student body fit that bill, and others worry that their school pride is mischaracterized. “While we may be elitist, we are not elitist about our background or to each other, but instead elitist about our school. We are proud that we go to Amherst, and we do not like to keep it quiet,” writes a freshman from Houston. One true characterization of Amherst students that often gets neglected is how well-rounded they are. "The best thing about Amherst is nearly everybody pulls double duty in one way or another," writes a student. It's also an especially--and unexpectedly--athletic community. "Athletics are a large part of life on campus, with about a third varsity athletes (and the majority of the rest play intramurals and/or take pride in their classmates athletic achievements)," writes one freshman.
In spite of the “country club” stereotypes, Amherst students are quick to point out the racial and economic diversity that does exist within the student body – in fact, the administration has announced its intention to replace all loans in financial aid packages with grants. Still, some argue that there should be a multicultural center on campus to enhance support for students of color, and others complain that diversity can be lacking when it comes to political views and the mixing of students from different backgrounds. “I think the only kinds of students that would really feel out of place would be a politically conservative student or a very devout religious student,” writes a freshman. “Although in class and in the dormitories students from all different groups interact, the dining hall does seem clique-ish at times.” But overall, Amherst students are too busy with their top-notch classes, beautiful surroundings, and attractive college town to find much to complain about.