I often get teased by my friends at other schools because I don't get grades here at Hampshire. In their minds not getting a grade must automatically equal a slacker education and a lack of serious academics. However, I can tell you that I have a significantly stronger theoretical and critical background than any other student I've meet outside of Hampshire. I also can say that I've just taken more interesting classes over all. I've taken classes as interesting and varied as "The Politics of Pop Culture", "Sex on the Brain", "Politics, News, and Irony", and "Psychoanalytic Approaches to Psychotherapy with Children". Classes at Hampshire are almost always fascinating and often the readings in the classes are worth the class alone, although overall the professors are some of the most brilliant and fascinating people I've ever met. If you don't like reading or discussion, Hampshire is definitely not the place for you, but if you do than its a paradise.
Hampshire is not a very competitive school. This has pros and cons. Outside of class, Hampshire students definitely have intellectual conversations. Its great to just discuss real issues with your friends or learn something new just by listening to student outside of class. I always feel like there are smarter, more informed people than myself at Hampshire. This makes me happy because it makes me want to strive and work harder at what I'm doing. Classes at Hampshire are really small. Usually a lot of participation is required. Professors know most people's names, especially if you are proactive and speak to them after class or if you participate in class. Students call professors by their first names always. Hampshire has very unique classes. There is a class offered called kitchen ecology where you learn everything about cheese and the making and tasting of cheese.
Class size is small, and intro level courses are normally really terrible. Some of the more advanced classes are good. Students in these classes are normally self motivated and already knowledgeable on the subject. Students are not competitive at all. It's a very friendly learning environment. On the other hand you would be a fool to take all your classes at Hampshire. Any student worth his salt in any field takes classes off campus to supplement Hampshire's limited course selection. Hampshire probably won't get you a job, but it's fairly well looked upon by graduate schools. I came here because you can study for the sake of learning. Relationships with professors are normally friendly and informal. I have had more than one professor ask to be called by their first name. Students have been known to grab a beer with favorite professors.
Classes are small, and discussion based. In order to get a really great evaluation, you have to do all the reading, which there is plenty of, and participate a lot. A lot of times, students will be debating teachers and students, and there is a lot of critical thought involved. However, some students don't take their classes seriously, and that thought and dialogue doesn't happen. Philosophy classes tend to be very strong, as well as the arts program. Another great thing about the college is the consortium, where one can take classes at Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Amherst, and UMASS. In my experience, classes tend to be easier at the other colleges in terms of reading and discussion, but you still have to take mid-terms and finals, unlike at Hampshire, where you write 15 page research papers as your final.
I rarely miss class or even want to miss class, because I'm very involved with my studies and committed to my learning. You don't go to a $45,000/year school if you want to slack off. And don't, if that's your plan, because you're taking away a spot for someone who is really excited about the academic opportunities that Hampshire has to offer. My favorite classes have been my writing classes. Though I don't recommend taking two writing courses in one semester, and neither do advisers, I've done it. Will Ryan is incredible, and Will Ryan with Bob Rakoff is even better. Also, Michael Lesy, though a little crazy and harsh at times, presented me with some of my most challenging courses and helped me develop some of my strongest pieces of writing.
You call the professors by their first name. You email them weekly. They have you over for dinner at their house. Because of our division and committee system, you spend a LOT of one on one time with the teachers. It couldn't be better in that sense. There is no such thing as class ending. Most of the classes are discussion based and usually intense, so there is little chance that you are going to leave class and stop talking about the discussion. The requirements are interesting. The division system where you design your own major is incredible, but if you do not make it a point to badger anyone who can help you, you are going to be in the dark.
All my professors know my name. My favorite classes are art and writing class because I actually get to do tons of art and writing. I hate the occasional lecture class, that is why I came to Hampshire! Students are very laid back...too laid back, you can get away with murder here. My major is Studio art and Creative Writing, the requirments for the creative writing department are take whatever the hell you want, the requirements for the art department are take only art classes...therefore i am a creative writing concentor taking half and half.
Every professor I've ever had at Hampshire has been brilliant, helpful, and flexible. The Five Colleges also have a wealth of amazing, world-renowned professor. That said, classes can get bogged down by flaky, metaphysical discussions on the students' part, and some students get by only doing the bare minimum. There is always that one kid in your class who never does the reading yet still insists on ruining really great discussions by veering off into incomprehensible weirdness. Plenty of intelligent, hard-working students exist, though.
Classes are intimate and fascinating. You'll call professors by their first name, and generally you'll find an easy time forming relationships with them. There are no grades, only evaluations. Although this gives you more room to screw up, it also gives you a lot more room to learn. Hampshire courses are VERY challenging; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's only a question of whether you can motivate yourself to learn. If you can, the end result will be an absolute wealth of knowledge. If you can't, you'll have a lot of free time.
Hampshire academics are amazing!!!! small classes, discussion based. no tests. no grades, just evaluations. professors are almost always available to help you outside of class. I have been invited over with my whole class to my professors house.