campus encounters

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Hampshire College

HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE (visited 10/16/12)

~Hampshire swingI had no notion of what the Hampshire campus might look like. Our schedule said that we were going to arrive at and have lunch at the Red Barn – and we actually pulled into a small lot next to a red barn with organic farm stands not too far away. It feels remote, yet is only about 15 minutes out of Northampton, and with the shuttles running to the other campuses, it’s not at all removed.


A unit of dorms on the Hampshire campus.

Hampshire is unique in a lot of ways. Everything is interdisciplinary, and there are no pre-set majors. Students complete concentrations which are self-designed with the guidance of at least two faculty members. The program is flexible enough for students to study what they’re interested in, but structured enough to give them a lot of support to figure it out, too. They’re given skills to be life-long learners. They’re expected to have excitement and curiosity. Learning takes place in and out of the classroom – projects, labs, on the farm, etc. They collaborate with each other and with faculty in addition to completing independent work. Students jump into hands-on work from the beginning whether it’s in the lab, the art studio, or someplace else. They design their own projects, labs, experiments, questions to pursue. They don’t just do the professor’s work. People say that this is one of the major reasons why Hampshire has been named in the Top 30 Most Entrepreneurial Colleges, which also includes Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Students look for real-world solutions to problems and can figure out how to accomplish them. Stonyfield Yogurt, 7th Generation Cleaning Supplies, and other big-name companies were started by Hampshire grads.

~Hampshire arts villageThe college divides work up into the Division System:

  • DI: tutorials. Students who come here generally know what they THINK they want to do. They take several required courses across the curriculum, some social engagement, and some electives. The point here is to make sure they’ve acquired the required skills to be successful. They must present a portfolio at the end of DI to show how they’ve mastered these skills, and write a reflective essay about their work.
  • DII: concentration. What are the questions that matter to you? Can you develop questions that will take you across several areas? What areas are within the questions, and how will you develop a plan to answer them? It could be an internship, study abroad, community engagement. This often changes as it develops.
  • DIII: Capstone projects. This is a major, sustained, original work, like a master’s thesis/project. They meet with advisors/ committees once a week (no less frequently than every other week). One kid did a psychoanalytical analysis of jazz aesthetics. He was the only undergraduate to present at a major conference.

The outside of the library building.

~Hampshire Yurt

The campus yurt

Students also don’t get grades; they receive written evaluations at the end of the semester detailing their work, strengths, and areas for growth. Some people are concerned with accessibility of graduate programs and admissions, but Hampshire is 30th in the country for students who go on to get PhDs. The students tend to get MORE looked at by grad schools because they aren’t just numbers. They are not nervous wrecks when they start grad school. They have ownership of the process and that gives them a leg-up. Some of the students will recruit younger students to help with experiments. They had lab meetings, compared data, etc.

~Hampshire drafting room

An art studio

After lunch and a presentation by the admissions people, we went out on a tour, starting on a dirt track across a field to the main part of campus. The first area we walked through were a collection of town-house type buildings which were apartments for upperclassmen. At this point, the tour guide told us that something like 83% of all students have single rooms; this number is closer to 75% for first-years, but overall, about 7/8 of students get singles, which is really amazing. After leaving this residential area, we entered more of the main part of campus which was an odd collection of brick, glass, and modernish buildings spread out around a large, very green campus.

The campus is very much about sustainability. They have 15 acres of organic farming. They host a “Food for Farms” gala event with people coming from all over. Students tend to be hugely active in Social Justice causes, and students tend to be “practical idealists.” Because of their innovative programs and resources, they’re seeing record numbers of applications. They’re in the process of adding six new faculty positions in creative writing, math, and African studies. Film, acting, and directing are big here, as is the tech side of theater and film production. One of the bigwigs from Pixar works here. They’re committed to helping students meet need. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the James Baldwin scholarship program to serve underserved communities. The first year total fees are totally covered. After the first year, the students apply for financial aid like everyone else, but Hampshire will meet 100% of need.

(c) 2012


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One thought on “Hampshire College

  1. Proud Hampster grad here. Nice to see such a favorable review of the college. It’s a very unique place to learn and grow as a person. And, you’re absolutely right about it preparing you for grad school, I already knew how to write a Master’s thesis because I had already written two of them at the Div II and Div III levels at Hampshire.

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