It gets really annoying explaining Hampshire to people, especially because the academic experience is so personal and people have a tendency to not care to listen to long descriptions unless it is indicative of the money you could potentially make in the future. It's in a good college area, the administration has things to work out. Racism is an issue, as it is everywhere. I don't feel like writing in this box anymore.
Hampshire is a nice community. It is very expensive which sucks. And the school has like no $ to spend because it is a brand new college with no endowments. But, basically you are paying to be who you want to be and do what you want. There is no one telling you what to do, the education is self guided. When i tell people i go to hampshire, they immediatly want to talk about hampshire halloween or easter keg hunt.
When I tell people I go to Hampshire College, I am first asked if I smoke pot. The next question is "are there really no grades? so, you can't fail?" to which I then have to explain how while there are no letter grades, I can still pass or fail and that I do at least as much work as any other college student. Overall, the reactions vary from pomp, subtle disgust or complete awe.
First off, I am madly in love with Hampshire, so be aware that I'm pretty biased. No other school would allow me to do what I'm doing (my course of study resembles a lot of my friends' grad school plans, and I'm only two years into my undergrad), and I am incredibly grateful for that. That's not to say the school doesn't have its problems- it is frequently highly bureaucratic, and many levels of that bureaucracy border on the tyrannic. I've been lucky in avoiding most of that (having a Dean as my first-year advisor definitely assisted too), but a lot of my friends have been burned by that difficult bureaucracy. If you're willing to dig through the red tape, though, you can get just about anything you want from Hampshire, especially if you have a faculty member on your side (and most Hampshire profs are genuinely excited about student work, and really eager to help you). Hampshire's got just shy of 1500 students, and, in my opinion, that is a perfect size. It's a lot smaller than my high school was, so that worried me a bit at first, but I've come to really appreciate being able to at least recognize a large proportion of the campus on sight. Classes are really small (I've had multiple classes with only 5 or 6 people, and they've been the best- my biggest Hampshire class had just over 30 people), which means you get a lot of chance to engage in discussion, which most professors encourage. The small size is also pretty great socially, especially in those first few weeks of college when everyone is so eager to get to know everyone else- you don't have to worry that you'll never see the person you had that great conversation on the bus with again, because they will definitely pass you at the dining hall or post office later. If you get stifled by Hampshire (and some people do), you still have the rest of the 5 colleges- together, over 30000 other college students to hang out with. I've found that Smith and Hampshire are particularly inclined to hang out together, but I've got friends at all 4 other colleges, and there's usually at least one 5 college student in all of my Hampshire classes. Because there are so many colleges around, "college town" seems almost too weak a word to describe the Valley community. Amherst and Northampton are the two towns that are the center of off-campus life, and they both definitely have their own non-college vibe (Northampton more so), but 30000 college students are bound to make an impact on the area. There are a ton of great concerts and restaurants and bars to be enjoyed, plus amazing indie shopping and lots of pretty cool cultural events. Amherst and Northampton are pretty unique places- there are barely any chains to be found (there is a mall with all your national chain-store/fast food needs that's pretty accessible by bus, though) and lots of great local flavor. The best part, in my opinion, is the fact that there's a really good bus service running throughout the whole area that is 100% free to 5 college students. Once you learn how the buses work, you can get almost anywhere you want to be (and Hampshire's a very rural campus) with a minimum of trouble. Hampshire has a very politically aware student body, and the only real difference is in how far left the students are- a conservative on this campus would probably be considered a left-moderate anywhere else. This doesn't mean that Hampshire students agree with each other, and there are definitely frequent controversies on campus over touchy issues. This past year, there was a lot of heated discussion over Israel/Palestine issues- Hampshire has a very vocal pro-Palestine (and anti-Israel) group, and a rather large Jewish population, and the debate got very tense for a month or so, focusing especially on issues of Hampshire investment in Israel. That debate got lost in a much larger action, however, when a group organized a week of protests to make Hampshire become actively anti-racist. Race and racism are problems that Hampshire has to deal with every few years as a new crop of students comes through and needs new education- unfortunately, because Hampshire is a small and expensive school, the student body is predominantly white, and usually upper-middle-class, and various student groups are constantly working to address the problems associated with that privilege. Hampshire probably doesn't do enough to address bringing race and diversity into the classroom, and, with its small endowment, isn't able to attract many faculty of color, or award very much financial aid to students of lower class backgrounds. Hampshire has been working to increase diversity on campus, and has programs in place to try to bring students of many backgrounds together and make them all feel comfortable, but there is a lot of work to be done, and Hampshire students and administrators have been engaged in a very intense dialog about the way that should proceed.
Best Things About Hampshire - The open curriculum, accessible professors, The Lemelson Center for Design, narrative evaluations Worst Things - Food (SAGA is terrible, but you only have to put up with it for a year or two), ugly buildings Amherst and Northampton are both close by, so when campus gets boring, or you need to eat something other than SAGA food, they're just a short bus ride away. Professors and the administration are easily accessible. Most professors are happy to talk after class or during office hours and students are encouraged to regularly check in with their advisors. The president of Hampshire holds regular meetings with the students, including a weekly breakfast and other scheduled events. The Lemelson Center is great for developing real-world skills. With a variety of machine tools, experienced instructors, and innovative classes, students are given a chance to make things, from swords to electric cars. As an industrial design concentrator, I spend a lot of time here, between classes and student groups, which include the Design Conspiracy and the Blacksmiths' Guild. People (especially parents) tend to worry about Hampshire's lack of grades and majors. Instead of grades, students are given narrative evaluations, which seem to work out pretty well. They allow professors to explain exactly what students did in their courses and to explain the quality of the student's work. Instead of majors, Hampshire has concentrations and contracts, drawn up with a panel of advisors. After Division I (first year), students select an advisory committee for their Division II (second and third years), during which they pursue their selected concentration. After Division II, students start their Division III, which is a yearlong project that represents the capstone of their academic work. This all adds up to a strong educational program that gives students a path to do what they care about and a way to measure their progress towards that goal.
The best thing about Hampshire is the people. In general, they're smart, fun, and very creative. You will most likely not get bored talking to a Hampshire kid. The worst thing about Hampshire is the ambiguity: since there is a lot of freedom in the curriculum, faculty will tell you to do one thing, while people in the advising office will tell you to do another, while your individual advisor will tell you to do another! That can be pretty frustrating. BUT, since it's Hampshire, if you argue hard enough, you can convince all of the adults guiding you to let you do whatever you want :). Hampshire is a pretty small place. You get to know most people pretty quickly. However, a very high percentage of Hampsters transfer out of Hampshire after their first year, so I have gotten to know some people only to find that they're leaving :(. The reason many people transfer out is not because Hampshire is a bad school--it's because many people can't handle all the freedom and ambiguity. We have some guidelines at Hampshire: for instance, in your freshman year, you are required to take 1 course in each of Hampshire's five "schools of thought." But within those schools of thought, you can choose whatever courses you want: this is the freedom that many people can't handle. They want someone telling them what to do, but this hardly happens at Hampshire. Hampshire isn't in a "college town," but buses come right to campus and take you to other "college towns," Amherst and Northampton, where Amherst College and Smith College are. Amherst and Smith, along with Mt. Holyoke, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire, are part of the Five College Consortium, so as a Hampshire student you can take classes at any one of these five schools. This has been a lifesaver for me, since, for example, Hampshire currently offers no Music Composition classes, so I took Music Comp. at Amherst.
My favorite thing about Hampshire is the lack of tests and grades and the freedom of educational choices. I am a terrible test taker. I just don't do well and I freeze up, thus having classes that are evaluated instead of tested and then stamped with a letter grade works really well for me. Evals can tell you and the real world full of careers just where weak or really strong points are unlike one single B or D etc. I get really frustrated with some of the requirements and the lack of communication here however. One of Hampshire's biggest selling points is the "create your own major" idea. THAT part is completely true. You can basically do whatever you want, but what they don't tell you is that you have to take a LOT of classes that can frequently feel like a waste of time. There's a lot of red-tape and bureaucracy at this school that can be easy to work with as long as you ask a LOT of questions. Even if you don't know what to ask, just talk to your adviser or the people in Central Records about requirements and what needs to be done when. With this self-motivating school comes a lot of responsibility. I really enjoy the size of the school. There are approx. 1,300 students which for me is perfect. I came from a 500 student high school so this is great. Amherst and North Hampton are nice towns, but there isn't always a lot to do... You kind of have to do some searching and find out what you enjoy in the area. There's a mall and some plazas, some parks, out door mini-golf and driving range (but that's seasonal) and North Hampton has a nice feel with a lot of fun, trendy stores. There's also different stuff in the surrounding areas (the Holyoke Mall, for example, is massive).
Hampshire has money issues. We are a tiny new school with no dead alumni (yet) and have a 39 million dollar endowment (read: no endowment). This creates many problems - we can never get enough faculty, we don't have a student center, and the administration raises tuition at least 5% a year. The school also has problems keeping up the financial aid it gives to students. I have heard too many stories of a student who got a great package first year, then got increasingly more screwed over in years following. BUT if you can hang onto those scholarships and loans, Hampshire can be cheaper than a state school. The school has issues with race, with class, with sexuality, with identity, and with funding important things on campus. Basically all the issues that every college and university faces all the time. But at Hampshire, nothing ever seems to get done about these issues. Maybe it's because we are less than forty years old, perhaps it's because the school is desperately trying to reform itself every four years. Whatever it is, there is always A LOT of talk and not much action. But hey, at least we talk about this stuff. At Princeton, shit just doesn't get said and those disenfranchised groups just keep getting screwed because it is all written in stone (literally). Little Hampshire was forged in some brick and vinyl siding that gets rebuilt every couple years because it's falling apart...better to be locked into hundreds of years of tradition and be at a standstill or to be in a constant cycle of rotting and rebuilding? I don't know.
I believe Hampshire College is the most unusual, interesting, wacky, suprising, evolving college in the country. The most unique component to Hampshire is the educational pedagogy - as a Hampshire student, you design your own curriculum and indepenently complete a final project (thesis, documentary, performance, traditional, non-traditional) in your fourth year that is the culmination of your studies. I believe "DYI" (Do It Yourself) is the mantra at Hampshire - students live in single dorm rooms, do independent studies, design their own curriculum. Hampshire is TINY - 1,400 students - and although the college over enrolls each year, the size remains a constant because the drop-out/transfer/field study/defer/travel/ect. rate is very high. The reason for this overturn is because of the aforementioned "DYI" mantra - most 18 year olds are not ready to be self-motivated, driven, living on their own, choosing what courses they need to take to develop their studies, ect. At Hampshire, the quality and the rigour of the education you recieve correlates to the amount of effort and heart you put into your studies. Advice to prospective students: critically examine your study habits, self-efficacy, self- motivation, and relationships with teachers - if you are organized, know how to manage time effectively, are highly motivated to learn and know what you want to study, and are comfortable expressing your needs and goals with teachers - you can succeed at Hampshire.
best thing about hampshire is the well-rounded education you get in each class, which usually does not bias a certain political or social perspective. through the community here most students get exposure to sensitive subjects such as sexual and gender-based identity, class issues, and race politics. hampshire requires students to be self motivated and committed to finding the answers through their own resourcefulness. good training for the real world. amherst is a great little college town with an interesting subculture for almost everyone. good coffee, good food, good wilderness to explore, and other outside activities. excellent community within hampshire as well, with the only down side being the slight isolation from the other 4 schools within the 5 college consortium. which is actually another great benefit of going here- you can take classes at any of the other 4 schools, use their libraries, eat at their dining commons, participate in their student groups. the biggest controversy as of late was the movement to make hampshire an antiracist institution. hampshire is mostly white, and has not shown a huge effort to support students of color. students of color represented by the source group and cultural center drafted up a list of demands and have been negotiating the progress with the administration.