First Impressions: Hamilton College (NY)
Hamilton College was the first school that I visited during my more recent trip to Central New York. Named for Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers, this ultra-selective liberal arts college has 1,900 undergrads. My pre-visit impressions were that Hamilton was much like Kenyon College, which I recently visited. However, Hamilton’s location is actually more isolated from major cities, in my opinion, and it has an open curriculum. Once all-male with a coordinate relationship with the former Kirkland College, Hamilton has been a female-majority school since 1978. I’ve gathered a few photos of Hamilton’s beautiful campus on Pinterest for you.
Hamilton College is a NESCAC school.
NESCAC is the New England Small College Athletic Conference, though Hamilton is the only conference member that is not located in New England. However, NESCAC membership probably helps the perception that Hamilton is a “great liberal arts school.” NESCAC rivals include Amherst, Williams Wesleyan and Bowdoin which “rank higher” among National Liberal Arts Colleges in US News.
Hamilton’s acceptance rate for the class of 2024 was 18 percent. However, it really paid for those who fell in love to apply Early Decision. Forty-six percent of those applicants were accepted. They made up 58 percent of the class. Seventy-three percent of the student body comes from outside New York State, though I have to believe that New Englanders, among others, are cross-shopping Hamilton against the other NESCAC schools. Hamilton is also unique about selective liberal arts schools in that it takes January admits. These students enter Hamilton after pursing other experiences in what would be the fall of a freshman year.
NESCAC matters for sports.
Hamilton College competes in 27 sports, including football. As a result over a third of Hamilton’s student body are also student-athletes. Basketball and hockey are the major draws, though the college’s first national championship came in women’s lacrosse in 2008. Hamilton calls its teams the Continentals as a tribute to Alexander Hamilton and the victorious Continental Army of the Revolutionary War. Alex is appropriately the name of the team’s mascot. Middlebury College (VT) is the main football rival. Their annual game is called the Rocking Chair Classic.
Hamilton has a very isolated campus like some other NESCAC schools.
Hamilton is located in a village, Clinton, and the downtown is not within easy walking distance of campus. It’s also not within easy biking distance of campus in cold weather, because you must go down a steep hill. There was a farmer’s market downtown on the day that I came to campus, and there are some interesting places to eat, but they cater to residents more than college students. It took about a half hour to drive between Hamilton’s campus and Colgate University. But I have the sense that Hamilton students don’t make that trip, or take a drive to Syracuse. They take more advantage of the outdoor recreational opportunities on or near campus. This school also attracts nationally renown speakers through its Common Ground Forum, among other events. I was told that recently inducted Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter had spoken on campus.
Hamilton has Greek life. However, the social fraternities and sororities do not have their own houses. They did in the past, and now those houses are residence halls. Kirkland Hall is more interesting. Popular with upper-class students, this residence option has loft-style apartments. My tour guide introduced me to his friends on my tour. I did not have a feeling that there was a “typical Hamilton student,” though I was working with a very small sample size. A gregarious person with a collaborative attitude will be more successful here than someone who seeks individual glory in terms of their grades.
But not all of the NESCAC schools have the open curriculum.
Amherst and Wesleyan also have variations of an open curriculum. But there’s open, meaning no required courses at all, versus a choice of courses to fulfill a math or writing requirement. Hamilton is one of those schools. The college has a set of Foundations requirements.You will also find this information on the curriculum page:
As a liberal arts college, Hamilton expects students to undertake coursework in a wide variety of disciplines, to explore areas unfamiliar to them, and to make connections across courses and disciplines. A liberally educated person studies in the traditional academic divisions of the arts, foreign languages, the humanities, mathematics, the sciences, and the social sciences. Hamilton also emphasizes cultural analysis, including the study of non-Western traditions and of diversity in the United States. Students will work with their advisors to determine how best to achieve this intellectual balance.
This being stated, it still appears easy for Hamilton students to tackle two concentrations, the college’s term for majors, and a fifth of the students do. There are numerous writing courses in every major, including mathematics and music. Hamilton has 44 concentrations as well as 57 areas of study. Unlike Kenyon, you can earn a degree in Computer Science at Hamilton. Public Policy and Chemical Physics are offerings outside of the traditional liberal arts majors. So are minors in Digital Arts and Jurisprudence, Justice and Law. The latter minor dates back to the 1830s. Hamilton also offers study abroad as well as study away programs in Boston, New York and Washington DC.
The academic advising might be more impressive than the curriculum.
Hamilton assigns each incoming student an ‘Alex Advisor’ who helps to identify and navigate the most useful resources towards course selection and student success. Each student also has a Faculty Advisor, who will likely be a freshman seminar instructor as well as a Career and Outcomes Advisor who will help in building the resume for internships and full-time jobs after graduation.
Hamilton College is test optional.
Due to COVID most colleges have shifted to test-optional admissions policies. However, when I check Common Date Sets, they might still place importance on test scores, for those who submit them. Hamilton reports that scores are Considered. But for those who submitted SAT scores, the middle 50 percent scored between 1410 and 1500. For the ACT this range was 32 to 34.
Obviously, if your scores are in the middle of the range, submit them. If you have special talents in the visual and performing arts, submit a portfolio, too. But realize that people who get into schools like this typically write and interview well and have excellent grades in every subject, even those that they don’t like. Hamilton, like most liberal arts colleges, admits to a college, not a major. Academic expectations will be very high when you get here. Seventy-six percent of all class taught last fall had fewer than 20 students. Only 11 courses had more than 40 and none were the 100+ student lectures you might have elsewhere. You will not be able to hide from a demanding or caring teacher at this school.
Don’t let the sticker price discourage you.
Hamilton meets full need, and appears to mean it. Nearly 60 percent of graduates had no student loan debt. Those who borrowed owed an average of just over $20,000. That’s just about $7,000 less than the maximum they could borrow under the Federal Student Loan Program. It’s possible that Hamilton could be less expensive than any public options as well as larger schools with more famous names. But you must complete the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA to find out. At the end of the 2020 fiscal year, Hamilton had an endowment in excess of $1 billion, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. It ranked 12th among all National Liberal Arts Colleges. Hamilton’s endowment was also larger than Colgate’s, which has over 3,000 undergrads.
Hamilton’s alumni base is impressive, but more regional than one might think.
Looking at data in LinkedIn.com, Hamilton has over 5,000 alumni based in the New York City metro area as well as nearly 2,500 based in or around Boston. There are also more than 1,000 alumni in and around Washington DC. But the college has alumni clubs in only 14 states plus the nation’s capital as well as Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom. There are actually 100 more alumni (800 vs. 700) in London vs. San Francisco. Hamilton and Kenyon actually have about the same number of alumni around the Golden Gate Bridge.
Like Oberlin and Kenyon, which I recently visited, Hamilton has every possible resource to help its students succeed, and they do. Eighty-six percent of the students who entered in 2014 finished their degrees. The previous class did even better. Eighty-nine percent finished on time. That tells me those who chose Hamilton knew what they were getting when they came. They knew about the education, but also the location. It’s really tough to go wrong in terms of a liberal arts education at Hamilton or any other NESCAC school. They are amply resourced and look the way a college is expected to look in a fantasy setting of ivy covered buildings and tree-laden quads. The differences will be in the people and location.
If you are looking for a school that will care about you while you are there and after you finish, Hamilton is probably one of the best colleges around, presuming that you like the people and the location. If you can get in, make friends, and learn to love the snow, you will love Hamilton College,
Report Card: Hamilton College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: A
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B+ only because it’s far from any city and airport
- Comforts: A
- Connections: A (Northeast and London)/B (elsewhere)
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