Hampshire is going through a very transitional time. It boasts small class size, and the flexibility to do independent work, but these factors don't always turn into fact for every student. Every year Hampshire is accepting more and more first year students, but they are not increasing the faculty size. This means, more students per class, and less opportunity (especially in the first 2 years) for independent studies. In my opinion, this also means less student support, and a high first year drop out rate. I don't actually know the numbers, but I can tell you that at least 4 people left school during the first semester off my 10 person hall, my first year. That is a pretty huge number. On the flip side, many students choose to look at this as the weeding out process. My advice...If you are coming to Hampshire because you think it sounds easy, look else where. Just because there are no grades and tests, doesn't mean there is no work. In the average semester, I probably write over 100 pages. But, a Hampshire education is only as good as what you put into it.
The best thing about Hampshire is definitely the eclectic, tight-knit community. The small student population (around 1500) in conjunction with the fact that upperclassman live in the mods (on-campus apartment-style housing) rather than off campus, leads to a very close community of students that aids in both meeting people, making friends, and getting help. There are so many interesting people with great stories to hear, and there's always something going on, ranging from circus practice to social justice conferences. If that wasn't enough, the campus is absolutely gorgeous- all the empty space makes for great places to picnic, read outside, or play a game of frisbee- whether it's the Yiddish Book Center garden or the library lawn, it is very easy to find a beautiful place to hang out. The best way to summarize Hampshire in a nutshell would be to say that it is a thriving environment that is so full of life, care, and fun. Overall, I think it's safe to say that both students and faculty alike love being a part of the school.
I love that I can do what I want, without having to go through general education. When I tell people that I go to Hampshire, they usually don't know what it is or they write it off as a hippie school. It is nothing of the sort. I work really hard there, and get the profits from it as a result. The area around it is really nice, there are 4 college in 10 miles and everything is connected, so even though its a small town, there is plenty to do. One thing I would change is the fact that if you are not sure of yourself when you begin school there, you get very lost. The kids are a little too convinced that their way is the only way. Being liberal does not always mean open minded. Everything is unusual about Hampshire. We are constantly looking at each other and laughing about the fact that we found a utopia, and whereas all of our friends from high school are working to pass English 101, we are taking trips to Peru to study shamanism.
The best thing about Hampshire is the classes- they are small, personal and directed towards topics that really interest me. I would change the organization here. All the campus offices are disorganized and everyone is on a different page, students are virtually on their own to figure out their schedule, education and ciriculum, if you dont pay attention you could kiss key things that will really screw you over later. The school is the perfect size for me, I always see the same people everywhere, easy to make friends. When I tell people I go to Hampshire, they say, "oh, reefer madness school,eh?" I spend most of my time in my room, in the art barn, in the airport lounge and in the dining hall. Northampton and Amherst are close but not very entertaining. School pride is non-exsistent. Students most often complain about being confused and alone in their academic pursuits.
Hampshire is one of those places that is either your Nirvana or your own personal hell. There is very little gray area. Why? Hampsters can be very intolerant of political ideas that diverge from their own. There are a lot of ueber-politically correct anarchists who hate white privilege. Then again, if that's your jam, you'll fit in perfectly. I think the most common misconception about Hampshire is that you can do whatever you want. I mean, sure, you can practically take a hit in the quad and blow it in Pub Safety's face with no repercussions. However, Hampshire has way more academic structure than they originally let on, and you have to file for every next step you take as well as forming a committee. Don't expect to come to Hampshire and major in hacky sack, because that BS will not fly.
Hampshire has created its own little left-wing commune in the middle of nowhere. The majority of the student body is incredibly radical, and life at Hampshire doesn't even come close to reflecting life in the real world. The majority of the students stay in the area even after graduation. A big issue with Hampshire is the lack of money. The Smith College greenhouse has a bigger endowment than all of Hampshire College, and so Hampshire has had to resort to cutting back on staff and student activities, and they send out letters not only asking alumni for donations, but also current students. At the same time, Hampshire wastes the money that it does have on things that are unnecessary like the building of a new pavillion, the addition of a large screen television to the cafeteria, etc.
Hampshire is small, but there are definitely some people you will never meet. Hampshire has no grades, so your education is what you make of it, some people take this and do really amazing things, others just fuck around for four years and smoke a lot of weed. Pretty much every one is left-leaning, it just depends how far left. Recently the administration was attacked for issues of institutional racism, because the campus is almost entirely white, and the curriculum is inherently geared towards white upper class students. However, more of an effort is being made to be actively anti-racist. People spend a lot of time hating on Hampshire, and if you don't like it, you don't like it, but if you make it work for you, it is an amazing experience or self-growth and learning.
So basically Hampshire was designed to give students more freedom concerning their area of study, and to allow them to work (kind of) at their own pace. At first I guess there was a lot more wiggle room, but Hampshire is expanding at a pretty good rate. By good I mean fast. Most of the classes are discussion based so it's important that the class sizes remain small. Last year people had to stay at hotels. The campus needs a lot more funding... some of the mods (on campus houses) are being renovated each year, but others havent been touched since the 70s and are pretty much falling apart. Lots of school pride... and people lovvve Amherst. It's a pretty cute town, and Northampton is right next to it.
Hampshire is a giant farm that happens to be close to the two most amazing towns in Western Mass - Northampton and Amherst. It's fantastically small in that you know everyone. Bad in that you see everyone. It seems to me like everyone makes a big deal out of nothing, primarily because there's very little to worry about (e.g. Div I, race). There also seems to be this ridiculous feeling that "radical" and "open-minded" are synonyms. That said, Hampshire is an awesome school with a LOT to offer.
Hampshire has a lot of hidden gems within it. The OPRA (Outdoor Programs and Recreational Athletics) Department is wonderful with amazing teachers and people who run it. Take at least one of these classes your first year so that you get hooked because most students don't take advantage of it. The writing department is incredible, though very very small. But the professors and teachers are some of the best writing mentors I've had.