Amherst College was the third New England school that I visited, though I spent only three hours there, mainly taking the campus tour and sitting in a crowded information session in a conference room. Amherst is one of the most selective (less than 15 percent of those who applied for the Class of 2020) were accepted as well as one of the best-endowed (over $2 billion) liberal arts colleges in the United States. Amherst considers applicants much like the Ivies do. Students must not only submit standardized test scores; they must also submit results from SAT Subject Tests if they take the SAT.
Like Hampshire College, which I previously reported, Amherst has an open curriculum, though it has no distribution requirements at all. Hampshire’s, by comparison, requires courses from each of four “schools of thought” during the first year. Open the Amherst College catalog and you pretty much choose any course you want as long as there is room, especially if the course has no prerequisites. The only requirement is to have a declared major or self design a major.
Amherst is strictly a liberal arts college. You do not go here to take business courses, for example, though you can graduate from here into a job in investment banking or consulting as you would from an Ivy League school. Amherst is also one of the few colleges where students will not need to take out student loans. Only Harvard, Yale and Princeton can make this commitment among the Ivies. No student with an excellent academic record and some outstanding “hook” should be discouraged to apply to Amherst, unless s/he wants to compete in athletics at a higher level at a school such as Colgate, Lafayette or Holy Cross or an Ivy.
Amherst College is everything that one seeking a traditional liberal arts education in New England could expect to find. It is a “spirit and sports” school, mainly because it competes successfully in 27 sports against other exceptionally selective liberal arts colleges, and over a third of the students, 1,800 total, are also varsity athletes. Amherst has the architecture common to older colleges in the region, often called “New England style.” It has very nice residence halls, including some new suite-style housing that will replace halls that have been taken down to make room for a new science center. The libraries and laboratory facilities are impressive, better than a liberal arts major is likely to find at a larger school where graduate students get priority. And you also have the option to take courses at four other colleges: Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Only Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore and Wellesley offer similar consortial relationships.
My visit to Amherst College confirmed one thing: if you truly want a liberal arts education, go to a liberal arts college. You’ll get to know the faculty from the freshman year forward and be throughly challenged in the classroom. There’s nothing like rigor to prepare a college student for further education or working long hours in real life. And, if you want a liberal arts college, combined with the alumni network that you are most likely to find through an Ivy, Amherst will deliver. In fact, Amherst does better at graduating its students than the Ivies do, mainly because it has only undergraduates to care for.
It is always hard for me to do report cards for schools such as Amherst. They are so selective, yet so deep in resources. I have to give them straight A’s, even though acceptance rates are so low. The only downside to Amherst College, in opinion, is that all of the residence life is in residence halls. There are neither fraternities or sororities nor apartments. Nor do students live off campus. If you want apartment living in your junior and senior year to go along with the liberal arts education you might have to go to Wesleyan.
I found numerous photographs to make an Amherst College Pinterest page. Check them out!
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