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Hampshire College

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What are the academics like at your school?

Academics at Hampshire are, allegedly, not what they used to be. If you are looking for a place that puts education over the classroom, come to Hampshire 20 years ago. If you are looking for a place that puts education anywhere on its top-10 list, come to Hampshire 20 years ago. Hampshire, I've been told, started as a place where students would work on individual work, take classes that were pertinent, and come to class when issues arose that made their own work particularly difficult. With the removal of individual work by current "re-vamping" of the First Division, classes have become more mandatory. The problem is that with an attempt to maintain "discussion-based classes," a lot of teachers rely on students and do not help with discussions as well as they could. This would be great if the students themselves did not come to Hampshire looking for a way to get out of "real class work." This creates a lot of silence during classes, or dominance of discussion by one or two students. Hampshire students are very good at saying "everything's relative." And they mean it. So truth is hard to muster out of classes. With this mentality in the student body, intelligence is easy to feign on the Hampshire College Campus. Most students try to be a lot smarter than they actually are. Be careful, if you aren't paying too close of attention, you might actually believe what they are saying. As for the academic system, that deserves a say or two, seeing as it has put Hampshire on the map. Hampshire's program to graduate consists of three Divisions. The first is taken in the first three semesters (although it can be completed in two). The second covers the Sophomore and Junior years generally and the third is a Senior's thesis-like program. Div I: This Division takes up the first year of your life at Hampshire. It has been changed a lot recently (for better or, more frequently, worse). Students must complete one class from each of the five schools (Interdisciplinary arts, IA; Humanities Arts and Cultural Studies, HACU; Cognitive Science, CS; Natural Science, NS; and Social Science, SS.) and three electives of one's choice. IA classes can be fulfilled by language classes at one of the other 4 colleges in the area, but all the others must be taken at Hampshire. One class in the first semester is a tutorial class, which is exclusive to first years. The teacher of that class is your advisor, so pick it well (a ratemyprofessors search might be in hand before choosing). At the end of Div I, you have to write a retrospective outlining what you did and how it might help you in... Div II:! Division II is what some would call "the major" of Hampshire. Here you focus your studies to one self-created field. You can take whatever classes you want, but generally have to justify them with your "committee," which consists of two professors (Hampshire or otherwise) that have something to do with your field of study. Also Community Service must be completed in this time. Div II is meant to be the bulk of your studies to prepare you for... Div III: Division III is where students bunker down and create a physical manifestation of their previous three years. Generally students write long thesis-length papers, but others choose to do scientific research, large scale building and design projects etc. Basically, this is the time when you prove you've actually learned something (hopefully). You stay with your committee, who guides you through. Normally Div III students will take only one or two classes and focus on finishing their project. When they do finish, they literally ring a bell that announces to the student body (and anyone living within a mile or two) that they have graduated. To pass a course at Hampshire, a student receives an "evaluation" from a teacher, which is a paragraph or two summary of the student's progress and performance in the classroom. These are generally very honest and helpful, although often hung over the heads of students much as grades are in high school. Some teachers are hard-asses about them, some are real laid-back. To finish: Although most students come to Hampshire to get away from math and sciences, NS is really the only school that sticks to the heart of Hampshire: good project-based classes, no administrative bullshit, student-involvement, pursuit of knowledge. I have met some of the most amazing professors in that building, whereas others have been borderline-miserable.

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Hampshire has a very unique academic program consisting of three divisions. Division I, generally completed in the first year, consists of taking basic courses and fulfilling distribution requirements. In Division II, the second and third years, students develop a self-designed concentration (the closest thing Hampshire has to a "major"). During their fourth year, Division III, students undertake a major independent project. The divisions are commonly referred to as "Div I," "Div II," and "Div III." Hampshire classes have no tests, quizzes, or exams (with a few exceptions, such as some language courses). There is usually a final project or paper in place of a final exam. Instead of grades, students recieve written evaluations from professors, as well as writing self-evaluations. All classes at Hampshire are small. The biggest class I had this year was about 25-30 students, and it was my first year. Class participation is expected and encouraged. Most classes are discussion-based. Professors lecture occasionally to clarify certain points or provide background information, but rarely for an entire class period. Most courses involve a lot of reading and writing. Relationships with professors are very important. Professors have to get to know every student in each of their courses well enough to write a written evaluation of his/her work. On Advising Days, there are no classes so that every student can meet with his/her advisor. First year students have to take a tutorial course in their first semester, and the professor of the tutorial becomes their advisor for the first year. For Division II, students are advised by a committee of two professors, and students in Division III have weekly meeting with their Division III committees. Although I have never personally been invited to a professor's house, I know other students who have. Hampshire has a lot of interesting courses. Since it's a small school, you might not find every course you need or want for your specific course of study. But there is also the Five College Consortium. Hampshire students can enroll in courses at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for no additional charge. There is a free bus system that provides access to all of these other colleges, and the longest bus ride (to Smith) is only about 20-25 minutes. Most Hampshire students end up taking some classes off campus, and some students even take most of their classes off campus. Some students come to Hampshire knowing exactly what they want to study, but others, like myself, explore different areas in their first year to find out what area(s) most interest(s) them. Since the concentration is student-designed, it is possible to combine different interests in ways that wouldn't be possible at a more traditional college. Hampshire's academic program is not for everyone. Hampshire students need to be self-motivated. They must be able to deal with a relative lack of structure; no one is going to tell you exactly what classes you should take and when. Hampshire has a fairly high transfer rate. However, some students (myself included) love Hampshire. While it isn't for everyone, Hampshire is perfect for some people.

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Hampshire's application form is exemplary of (the latter parts of) its pedagogic program: the essays permit you to give detailed responses, and represent yourself in a nuanced manner, which is probably for the best. The school, at least in the admissions phase, takes a great deal of interest in the individual student, and the student as an individual. Once you're in, you begin a career in Division One (the distribution requirement section of the program; a constant work in progress and arguably the weakest link in Hampshire's curriculum), then move to Division Two (which is more like a self-desigined major. For this section you select a committee of two faculty, theoretically involved in your chosen field, who help you pick your courses and guide you career wise) and finally Division Three (a giant project of your own design. You have a committee again, and it's a lot like a senior thesis at another school, except with fewer limitations - Blades of Glory status, if you can dream it, you can do it. Hampshire is unequivocally a phenomenal research college. Our professors are, by and large, pretty good, and you cannot match us for the amount of time they spend in direct contact with the undergraduates. Independent studies and tiny, specialized classes permit a virtually one-on-one learning environement, and your professors often become more like career-mentors. There are requirements, which Hampshire will try to hide from you before you get here, but they're not hard to deal with, and once you're out of Division One (at the time of this writing anyway - June, 2008) your only real requirements are that you fulfill a certain amount of community service (easy to do by working for a Div III, or TAing, or volunteering in Amherst), do some kind of multicultural perspectives thing (which is as vague as it sounds: you could take a Spanish immersion course for a month or you could go to Papua New Guinea for a year), get twelve courses related to your subject completed during your Division II (these are more heavily regulated for our most popular majors: studio art and music) and to complete two "advanced learning activities" during Division Three (anything from mentoring a noob in your subject to taking a 300 level class). Our course catalogue is spotty and heavily politicized - we have some really strong programs in what would generally be considered fairly random subjects (we are one of the best schools in the nation for animal behavior, for example) but are almost devoid of basic curricula items (like econ courses. We have like two, and they're both about the middle east). However, the presence of the five colleges makes up for this paucity in a lot of ways. You can (relatively) easily take a course at Smith, Holyoke, Amherst or UMass, and it will count in full (we don't actually have official credits) towards your Hampshire education. At the end of the day, a Hampshire Education is what you make it. Building the right program takes endurance, initiative and some blind stumbling, but if you can figure out how to fit yourself for it, you're guaranteed a personally tailored college education, with the full faith and resources of the institution at your back.

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Academics at Hampshire are split up into three Divisions, and it's set up a lot like grad school. Division I is your first three semesters- you take about four classes a semester and take anything that interests you- there's not a set of core classes that one has to take, though there are a few requirements that one must fulfill to pass their Division I. During Div I you have to take at least one class in each of the five schools of thought (humanities/arts/cultural studies, social science, natural science, cognitive science, and interdisciplinary arts (there is also a 6th, optional outdoor/recreational school)), and you have to satisfy all 7 learning goals (reading, writing, project work, presentation, multicultural, quantitative, and creative expression) through these classes. It sounds like more of a hassle than it really is, and still allows you to take the classes that really interest you. Next, Division II is where you start focusing on a specific interest and taking the right classes for that interest, while also performing community service of some sort. There are no set majors, so this period is a little challenging, as one has to choose what he or she wants to study- for some it's easy to combine their interests, for others it's a little harder. Finally, there's Division III, where you spend your time working on your final, big independent study project (that relates to the work you did in Div II). The Div III project is much like a final thesis in that the completion of it is what allows you to receive a degree. While all this work sounds like a difficult thing to handle, there's always plenty of help available and you work with either an advisor or a committee the entire time. The professor's at Hampshire are great- they are always eager to help or provide you with extra information, and they typically try to avoid treating the class as if it was theirs or as if they are in charge. Classes at Hampshire range in size from about 13 to 25 people and professors typically know your name after about two weeks. In terms of interests, there is something for everyone and you're given plenty of opportunity to explore academically- last year I took class about aliens! Classes are typically discussion based, so participation is always a huge factor. Intellectual conversation does not end outside the classroom- with all of the activities, speakers, and conferences going on, it's hard not to find someone who wants to have a serious talk about something, and you're guaranteed to learn something new every day.

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The academics at Hampshire are all over the place. I mostly study science so that is what the following comments will be pertaining to. The professors (as stated earlier) range from awful and bitter to by far the best teacher that I have ever encountered in my life. Some of them are very bitter and refuse to fully teach science because after all it is a liberal arts education that we attend for, and so the only reason (in some of their minds) that we could be there is to be getting a requirement out of the way. The science department lacks good funding as well as instruments/materials, but the other colleges in the area are open to letting us use their state of the art equipment (most times). The class sizes are very small (especially in the science department) I have had one class with I think five students one with three, and a great deal of lab time with two to three other students. This is however not as good as it always seems. Although the upsides are a very personal relationship with your professor, which breaks down the barriers to asking questions outside of class, the downsides are sometimes catastrophic. In many instances it only takes a few bad students complaining about how quickly the professor is teaching to greatly slow down the entire class, or distract from the lecture, or ask repeated and annoying questions. The lack of tests or grades seems to often have a negative impact on students drives which in turn makes their studies plummet. Outside of class the professors are often much more engaged and energetic. It is my experience though that I have been refused help more often then I would have thought at such an independent place. Independent studies are hard to convince professors to do with you at times which is at least disheartening.

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Hampshire makes you think that your education is entirely up to you, and then you get there and realize that you've got a lot of requirements which essentially eat up at least one semester. While Hampshire has fewer requirements than most other schools, you will be stuck in at least one class that you really don't like because of the Div I distribution requriements. That is why there is a movement on campus to eliminate these requirements. Class participation is generally pretty big depending on the class itself. Obviously, literature classes are more discussion based than science classes, but the overall academic atomosphere is generally more hands-on and project oriented than most other schools. The classes teach you how to conduct your own research, complete your own independent projects, and generally will prepare you for a job more than most other schools. For example, I took a biology course called "Gene Cloning" and in one semester I got more lab experience than most undergrads, and am now going to spend my summer working at a lab conducting cancer research. The main issue with classes is that if you think about them enough, you tend to realize that a lot of what the professors teach is actually total BS. I've actually had textbooks which explain the differences between "lesions" and "pathologies" and I've met students who in their fourth year still didn't know what the sixth century was. Though at the same time I know students who have applied to grad schools only to be told that they already know enough to go straight to working on a PhD after leaving Hampshire. Really, your education is what you make of it. If you work hard, it'll pay off, but to a certain extent you can slack off for four years and still get a degree.

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My professors know my name but they don't know me. They never call on students and simply rely on the consistent two people to comment on the readings and to answer their questions. Most students never study and a few students study all the time. It depends on what kind of person you are. Personally, I rarely do the lecture readings but then spend a huge amount of time on my research projects. Hampshire is whatever you want it to be. If you want it to be a joke it is, if you want it to be an academic challenge that forces you to grow as a person it's that too. The academic divisional system is a good idea but terrible in practise. A student's experience is hugely dependant on their advisor and I had a terrible advisor. I didn't know when I was supposed to pass division I and file division II and so I was a fifth semester division I student when I talked to a different professor who immediately took me in and straightened out my divisional system. You are supposed to be in division I for one year and division II for two. Thanks to my original advisor I was in division I for two and a half years and division II for only one semester. Hampshire's learning is geared towards whatever your mind is geared towards. If you are job oriented you will reasearch and study things you need to know to be successful in that field. If you are idea and fact oriented you will spend your time learning theory and concepts. Hampshire is what you want it to be and what you make it be. The rules at Hampshire are more like guidelines than rules. If there is a rule there is an acceptable way to break it.

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Since the student is allowed more freedom, in terms of choosing classes and designing a unique concentration, he or she must also assume a lot of responsibility. The first year is a good introduction to the types of classes offered, as the student must take one course in each of the 5 "schools". All of the courses I chose were similar in that they required much reading and writing and discussion in class... even the natural science courses. I am not sure the leniency concerning the completion of assignments is necessarily beneficial in a science course. The professors are, for the most part, very helpful and always willing to chat after class or during scheduled meetings. I wish I had taken advantage more often. During the 2-4 years, students are expected to work closely with a committee of carefully chosen faculty members. It was a bit difficult to find professors that were understanding and supportive of what I wanted to do, but once I did it helped me immensely. One thing to be wary of: Hampshire students are given a lot of freedom, and rarely is a professor consistently nagging at you. You are treated as an equal, usually. As a result, a lot of the professors are just as lazy as the students, and you might end up having to nag at them. Having said that, know your teachers... know their limits... and don't just expect to slack off. There are plenty of professors who won't necessarily scold you for slacking, but will give you the surprise of your life when they write you a way critical evaluation.

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Hampshire classes tend to be discussion based, and on a very narrow topic. The brilliance of Hampshire, is that you have the 5 colleges to draw from. Generally, I take most of my courses off campus. I have had some really great Hampshire classes, and some really horrific Hampshire classes. It's a small enough campus that you can generally find out what professors are good and which are not. Hampshire professors tend to be overloaded with work, so if you don't make an effort to become acquainted with them, and you are doing well, they wont make the effort either. As far as class discussion goes, again, it depends on the class. Hampshire kids try really hard for the most part to participate in discussion and make comments that are constructive, but it doesn't always work. Generally, with first years, there is a learning curve to this. Rarely have I seen a first year come in and engage in discussion at the same level as most of the older students, but that is o.k., so long as they are able to take constructive criticism. Hampshire is set up so that if you want to better yourself, for the most part, you have the resources to do so, but you have to take the first step.

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Hampshire classes are the basic pillar which makes this school special. Hampshire classes are consistently small, most under twenty students, and almost all are structured in a class-conversation style. Professors will typically strive to learn the names of all their students early on in the semester, and with a little effort you can get to know them well. This is indispensable in progressing through Hampshire, as you will need professors for your committees, but you'll figure all that out. Class discussions frequently spill out of the classroom and into public conversations, and when students are engaged in class, discussions can be intensely rewarding. Hampshire is continuously revision their first-year requirements, as this is their most-oft attacked program, yet from all sources I have heard that after first year academics are a joy. Hampshire kids are rarely in career-oriented programs, and few are even engaged in career-friendly academics. Thats why many go on to grad school. For me, this is one of my greatest concerns at this point in time, but I'll let you know how it turns out.

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