Your academics are what you make of it. You can easily get by and not do much, but that would be a waste.
At Hampshire, all of the professors know your name two weeks into the class tops. In terms of
First off, Hampshire has a very different educational structure from most other schools. There are no grades- instead, professors write evaluations of student progress at the end of the semester- usually one to three paragraphs' worth, detailing the work you've completed, your progress on course objectives, and the like. There are also no pre-planned concentrations or majors: every student is required to assemble a faculty committee and create his/her own program, with the committee's advice and approval. Progression towards graduation goes in 3 Divisions- Div I usually lasts the first 2 or 3 semesters, and simply requires that a student take 8 classes across the 5 schools of thought (we also have no departments- all classes are sorted only into "Cognitive Science," "Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies," "Interdisciplinary Arts," "Natural Science," or "Social Science." This leads to a lot of great interdisciplinary classes, and many classes are even cross-listed over 2 or 3 schools.) and get to know the Hampshire system, with an assigned advisor. Sometime in the second year, a student begins Div II, which requires pulling together a committee of 2 or 3 faculty members and setting up a plan to complete 12 learning activities- usually classes, but also independent studies, internships, community service projects, and the like- anything that relates to the concentration you've designed and that your committee approves of. Div II usually lasts through the second and third years, and then comes Div III, which is a lot like a thesis- you assemble a committee, which may or may not include the same people as your Div II committee, and plan and carry out a very substantial year-long project. Div IIIs complete 2 learning activities- usually an upper-level class or seminar and a TAship. The Div III is almost the defining feature of the Hampshire education- it is a capstone of everything the student has done before. Because Hampshire requires faculty committees for every student, student-faculty relationships are usually very good. Students have to get to know faculty well enough to know if they'll be able to work together, and, once they've entered Div II, need to meet with their committees to make sure that their education is proceeding in a way that makes sense. Professors have to know students well enough to be able to write an evaluation about them at the end of the semester, although some are quite guilty of relying very heavily on student self-evaluations. I've had great relationships with most of my professors, and usually take advantage of opportunities to go to office hours and talk about my final projects/papers- because we don't take tests, we usually do significant projects at the end of each class, often relating the class to our own concentration and interests, and these projects can sometimes require a lot of consultation. I've also taken quite a few 5 College classes, and find that I also spend a lot of time talking to 5 College professors, trying to tailor their class to my personal needs- something most of them aren't expecting, but something Hampshire professors encourage. I've had really amazing classes with less than 10 students- classes where a reading assignment is given, and the class time is spent discussing it. These classes have really expanded my critical and analytical abilities, and probably encourage the level of discussion that spills outside of class- I've been known to linger over dinner for hours, debating gender theory or talking about history with my friends. Hampshire students are very intellectual, often pretentiously so, and love to talk about the things they're passionate about. When Hampshire students slack off, it's obvious, and there are definitely times when class discussion suffers for it. When the class is really into the topic, though, fascinating discussion can result, and most professors don't spend the whole class time lecturing- they want to hear what students have to say. Without grades, there's no such thing as GPA or rank at Hampshire, and it makes the atmosphere delightfully non-competitive. Hampshire students rise and fall by their own willingness to do the work- if someone's doing "better" in a class than you, it's likely because you aren't really putting as much effort out. Hampshire professors tend to be pretty understanding about things like deadlines and attendance, and will almost never make you write a paper on something you don't want to write about- there is always a way to tailor an assignment so that you're actually interested in it. Because everyone is so busy doing their own thing, looking for something that they really love and want to do, the atmosphere is pretty supportive- I love hearing opinions from other disciplines on the topics I'm interested in. Hampshire is definitely not for everyone, academically. You have to be pretty self-motivated: because Hampshire professors are often pretty lax on deadlines, you have to be able to force yourself to complete your work on time- people have failed out because they just aren't motivated to ever finish their final projects. You have to be willing to go out and get what you want- Hampshire is small and doesn't offer that many classes, and, because we hate prerequisites, it's very easy to get caught in a loop of very similar near-introductory classes. A Hampshire student has to be motivated enough to make his/her work for a class be at the right level, and most Hampshire students are going to have to design some sort of independent study. Div III is obviously also a very daunting task, and not for the weak of heart or will. Those skills- the skills in self-motivation and making the world work the way you want it to- are pretty useful in the Real World, I've been told. As for the actual topics you study at Hampshire- probably not. Most Hampshire students get pretty esoteric with their concentrations, which is great for Academia, less for "real jobs."
I absolutely love Hampshire's academic system. We use a different system than most colleges, called the Divisional system. As a Division I student (during your first year), you take courses in each of the five schools of thought at Hampshire (Natural Science, Cognitive Science, Social Science, Interdisciplinary Arts , and Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies). As a Division II student (during your second and third year), you take courses that relate directly to your interests, and your completed coursework creates a concentration. As a Division III student (your final year), you do a year long project (often of completely original work) that explores an aspect of your concentration. Hampshire professors are amazing. The entire college is on a first named basis, and I have actually seen professors get angry when referred to as "Professor" instead of by their first name. Because of the Divisional system, students really have to work closely with professors and interact with them, in terms of both finding professors to agree to be on their committee for Div II or Div III, and working with the professors who are on their committees. Professors make themselves available to students all the time, both in and out of the classroom, and act as both resources and friends to the students. And professors can be a large presence outside of class, as well: I attended an end-of-semester party for a class once, and the professor for that was there, with his students and the other party goers, sitting on a couch with a beverage in hand, telling his life story and giving career advice to his students. Students are supportive of each other because everyone's doing something different. Class discussions can be heated and professors almost never lecture. And if Hampshire doesn't have a class you're looking for, one of the other colleges in the Five College Consortium will.
My favorite Hampshire classes have been creative writing classes--Intro to Writing and Intermediate Poetry Writing. These were both basically writing workshops, so you could get feedback from your classmates and give them feedback on their work. Also, both professors for these classes, Will Ryan and Paul Jenkins, had some helpful, insightful things to say. My least favorite Hampshire class was probably Western and Alternative Medicine, not because the professors were bad, but because in that class I was required to dissect empirical scientific articles and summarize them. I was reading about specific experiments and looking up complex scientific terms, but I had little to no understanding of the basic scientific concepts behind the experiments. This is a downside at Hampshire--professors will throw you into the water whether you can swim or not. They will not guide you along too much....so, if you're already talented at something, then it's great, because you can go full speed ahead. For instance, since writing is one of my strengths, I enjoyed my writing classes. Therefore, I would suggest focusing in on your strengths as soon as possible once you come to Hampshire. Two more important aspects of Hampshire academics: Hampsters do not take tests, and they do not get grades. Not gonna lie--I have had to take some quizzes, but only in areas like Spanish and Music Theory, where there is really no other way you could display your knowledge without taking a quiz. And these are not heavy-duty tests; they are just quizzes. For the most part, Hampsters do big projects and write papers. This is a lot of work, but it's definitely rewarding. Also, getting evaluations is rewarding because you can see what specifically you should be proud of and what you need to improve on.
Professors here for the most part, are fantastic. Almost every teacher I've had has been very personable and interested in YOUR work and how you're doing in classes. I refer to all of my teachers by first name and it's easy to get close with them. Most classes are generall 10-15 students in size, but rarely you'll find a class with (at MOST) 35-40 people. My smallest class had 6 students in it and it was a theatre design class so the small size made our discussions great and indepth. Hampshire doesn't really have generic classes. Because we don't have to fulfill things like "psych 101" or "writing 101" we have really odd classes to fulfill requirements. In the first year 8 classes need to be taken. 3 can be extracurriculars, but the other 5 need to be one social science, one cognitive science, one natural science, one interdisciplinary art, and one humanities arts and culture course. So we have weird classes like "Little Course of Horrors; The Psychology of Humor and Horror in Theatre." The requirements can be a big pain. Some of them are without a doubt a GIANT waste of time, but they're not going to change too soon so it all depends on how dedicated you are. One of the biggest issues people have with Hampshire is Division I. That's your first year where your education (and 5 requirements) are meant to let you explore so you can really narrow down what you want to do. First years have the highest drop out rate because of the set up. Personally I feel like it's really been worth it. I'll be starting my Division III project next semester and I'm really excited to be doing MY own work without classes in the way.
One of the great things about Hampshire is the individual attention you get from teachers. Everyone has office hours and they are very willing to go the extra mile to help you. Classes are small - usually around 15 students, so you will not get lost in the crowd. My favorite class, On Terror, was wonderful in that the texts we read for each class were wonderfully diverse: an article about postmodern poetry, the movie "Brazil," a scholarly article on the conflict in Israel, a series of articles written for magazines about 9/11. All building a picture of the many meanings of "terror," but an incredibly diverse and multidisciplinary one. A multidisciplinary approach to education represents the best of the Hampshire education. There aren't really tests at Hampshire, so people don't "study" very often unless they have classes off campus, which they do with some frequency. However, Hampshire is very writing intensive, so people are always working on essays or projects, if they're into the sciences or arts. How much work you have to do depends heavily on which courses you take. Even some 100 level courses can spawn hours of reading every week, but some of them are barely any work at all. There are no grades at Hampshire, so people aren't very competitive. There's simply no way to compare when everyone is doing there own self-designed major. Most classes have significant discussion elements if they are not completely discussion based, so class participation is very common. People do continue discussions outside of class, though abstract discussions tend to morph into political ones.
At Hampshire, let me tell you that yes, there are no grades. However, this can work with you, or against you. If your the type of person who needs motivation, and needs to see a letter grade to indicate just how you are doing, this isn't the place for you. Get ready for a million red marks on your paper, which, isn't a bad thing at all. The professors here just want you to progress as the semester goes by. Also, just because there are no grades, don't think that you can slack off. Professors do give extensions, but that better be one hell of a paper that you are writing. Get ready to work hard on the four papers you will have in one class, and to do intensive research. About the classes, they have very unique names, and so far, I have enjoyed every single one of my classes. When looking at classes, keep an open mind about what they are, since the names are anything but typical college class names. For some people this works, for others, it doesn't. About the professors, they know your name. Every single class I have gone to, they knew my name within a week. Which means, if you want to skip class, bad idea. If you like to skip, this is reflected in your final evaluation, which looks, well, bad. But the classes are all engaging, there is no real lecturing, although I heard that some professors do, it just really depends on who you choose. In terms of meeting with you, the professors are great with talking to you in person, but, sometimes e-mail isn't the best way of communication with some.
Hampshire academics - Five College Consortium: Hampshire courses are highly specific, thus Hampshire would not exist without the Five College Consortium, which includes Hampshire, Mt.Holyoke College, Smith College, University of Massachussets, and Amherst College. You can take classes at any of the five schools! Buses run every 10 minutes, thus it is very easy to take 1 or 2 classes off-campus. The five college consortium is the most amazing feature, for it allows students to supplement their designed curriculum with courses from the five college consortium. For example, even though I am a Hampshire student, I am recieving my Teacher's License from Mt. Holyoke College. Class size: ranges from 10-24 depending on the nature of the course Requirements: In your first year ("Div I"), you must take 1 course in each of the 5 schools of thought (Humanities & Arts, Natural Science, Social Science, Cognitive Science, IA (language). After "Div I," Curriculum: Design your own curriculum in 3 stages, called Divisions. "Div I" is completed in your first year, "Div II" is competed in your second and third years, and "Div III" is completed in your fourth year. Class participation: students are loud, ask questions, argue, talk about themselves, ect. Competetiveness: non-existent because there are no grades In essence: You are learning to learn, not to set yourself up for a high powered job. However, with the DIY, you can make your academics whatever you want them to be!
Student and professor relationships are very intimate and on a first name basis. Because class sizes are small and it's easy to request one on one face time with a professor, it is nearly impossible to hide in the back of the class, mainly because their is no back. Most Hampshire classes take place in seminar form, seating situated in a circle, encouraging the exchange of ideas. Most of the classes at Hampshire deal with topics that are very sensitive and/or controversial leading toward polar views on the issues discussed. This creates heated but constructive debate in classrooms that then make their way to the library lawn and dining commons. Many don't understand how a college or academic environment works without grades or tests, but Hampshire students flourish in the educational setting that forces you to present yourself, your thoughts, your work. Hampshire college students are competitive in a more well rounded sense then those students who are simply competing for the best grade. Even though Hampshire students are evaluated on paper by their professors, students most constructive and passionate critiques come from their peers. This respectful peer to peer critique enables students to encourage only the best work from each other.