campus encounters

"Get the first-hand scoop about colleges and universities"

Search Results for: “u mass amherst

UMass Amherst

U Mass Amherst (visited 10/15/12)

UMass Amherst stud unionUMass Amherst 2I’m not sure that I know much more about UMass now than I knew before I went. The people were extremely nice; breakfast was tasty; the morning was well organized. However, I didn’t learn much about the school. Case in point: The tour guide was giving us an introductory spiel as we stood in the Union. As he described the campus, he said that it was like a bulls-eye. The Union was the center (and is one of the most used buildings); buildings that are used a lot but not consistently through the course of the day like dorms or academic buildings were surrounding the union. The outskirts were specialized buildings or programs “like the equestrian program. You don’t really need to see the horses on the way to class.” After an extensive presentation by the admissions staff (including how many millions of dollars are being poured into construction), we hadn’t heard anything about the equestrian program; if the tour guide hadn’t mentioned it in the layout of the campus, we would have left not even knowing it existed!

P1000950

The view from the library

UMass Amherst campus 2There are a few things that people at UMass seem particularly proud of. First, they got full DI status for their football team this year. Because they don’t have a stadium on campus yet, they’re playing at Gillette in Foxboro (where the Patriots play). They’re offering buses for students for the games, and they filled 35 for the opening game. Second, they like to talk about the variety of clubs and activities available on campus, including the Goat-herding club, quidditch team, and a humans vs. zombie club. This must be the “go-to” selling point, because three different people told us about these 3 specific clubs. Finally, their Student Rec Center has just gotten renovated; it’s 3 floors and beautiful. 500,000 people used it last year.

Umass Amherst courtyardUMass Amherst 1This is the largest public university in New England with about 22,000 undergrads. The university prides itself on its diversity in every context: racial, religious, geographic, socio-economic. “Students will find people who are just like them, and people completely different. They’ll find people with similar interests, and students with interests that will leave them shaking their heads.” The admissions team talked comprehensively about the student experience in which the university provides a series of smaller communities within the context of a major, national, research university. They do this through Residence Halls; groups arranged around majors, community service, or other topics of interest; and good advising and orientation programs. New students work with faculty from the department to help select classes, a task which can be daunting, especially for freshmen. They also have a program called First Year Intelligence which introduces new students to campus, help them adjust, and strengthen their chances for collegiate success. This starts with both a summer and a fall Orientation, and then continues through the year. Students can opt to live in a Residential Academic Program (RAP) where they can take classes in the hall, among other things. There are a variety of RAPs: Topic RAP for students with a particular (not necessarily related to major); Foundation RAP (in which they take a class in common with people they live with); Focus Rap (for undeclared majors to help them explore options); Honors RAP; and Majors RAP.

UMass Amherst dorms

Dorms

contrast

The campus has an interesting mixture of old and new buildings.

Not surprisingly, there’s a wide variety of academic choices for students with 90+ majors to choose from. Some of the programs have special admissions procedures or information:

  • Engineering: just under 1700 students are enrolled in this college. They come in as undeclared engineers, and then decide at the end of first year which of the 6 specialties they want to do.
  • Management: all business programs, including sports management, hotel management, resource economics.
  • Natural Sciences: this is largest college in terms of majors, students, and grant funding. Integrated and collaborative 40year science program that immerses students in the hands-on process of engaging some of the most pressing global challenges like biomedicine and renewable energy.
  • Public Health and Health Sciences: Public health, nutrition, etc
  • The Honors College enrolls 600 first year students every year. These students have an average of a 4.2 GPA, and SAT of 1345. In the program, classes capped at 24. The university is building a new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Complex which will add 1,500 beds and 9 new classrooms.
  • Nursing is a popular major, but there’s a limit of 84 students in the 1st year class; students can ONLY be admitted as freshmen. There’s no internal application once they’re on campus or transferring from outside the university.
  • UMass Amherst hotelHospitality Management students get hands-on experience working at the Hotel on campus.
  • Students in the Journalism and communications departments have access to studios and specialized rooms for TV broadcasting and production, editing, etc.

UMass Amherst coffeeAcross the disciplines, the university sponsors $180million in research. One of the geology professors takes 8-10 students every year in February to northern Siberia to drill for ice and rock samples. There’s a waiting list . . . to go to northern Siberia in February. That says a lot. UMass ranks 3rd in the country for internship completion: 57% of students completed some sort of placement.

(c) 2012

Amherst College

AMHERST COLLEGE (Visited 10/15/12)

chairs and field

One of the best views on campus!

I don’t know of any other college that lets the winners of a lip-sync contest get first dibs on housing. Most students live on campus, and like many campuses, there are plenty of options for living arrangements. After the first year, housing is done on the lottery system; each person is given points based on GPA, seniority, etc. Groups of people wanting to live together have their points averaged for their place in the lottery. However, one of the big traditions on campus is the lip-sync contest in which groups can compete to move up in the lottery. The winners of the contest actually get moved to the front of the line. Amherst is a bit quirky like that.

Amherst 5Coming onto this campus was a much different experience than going onto the UMass campus! This felt like the traditional campus that people come to expect from New England colleges. There was quite a bit of green, and the buildings were well maintained. The campus was also much more sedate as we were driving through; fewer students were walking around, but that might have been a result that classes were in session.

Amherst interiorA recent graduate sat with us at lunch and answered a lot of questions; she came from Buffalo, NY and applied here Early Decision because she just knew this was the place. As a history major, she got to do some great things. Her senior thesis was an analysis of Holocaust photos in context of victimization and retaking of power. She did a great deal of this at Hampshire because they have a theoretical photography department. Most of her books were used from the other libraries, so she said that the 5CC affected her academically. She also loved the social “expansion” including “Concert hopping” in the spring.

bulletin board

Lots of activities to choose from!

Amherst has a true open curriculum meaning that the students will fulfill the requirements for a major but have no distribution requirements. One student on the panel said, “It’s what drew me here. I like to dabble. I’ve taken classes in 10 departments, and I like to stretch myself.” One of the panelists decided not to double major because he was having so much fun taking a lot of different types of classes. The open curriculum is great in many ways and makes Amherst a match for different types of people – those who have no idea what they want to do all the way up to those who want to really focus in one area. The admissions person said that in some ways, having this open curriculum defines a true “liberal arts” curriculum since students are taking so many different types of classes that they probably would not have otherwise.

Amhest statueAdmission decisions are made by committee so it’s “about as fair as this can be.” Applications are read by two people and then taken to committee; those that don’t get sent to committee are clearly not admissible, and that’s agreed upon by both readers. Everyone comes in thinking everyone is more amazing and that they haven’t done anything. “Even if you ARE the 5th in the world at chess and won the debate championship and cured cancer, you feel it.” That being said, it’s not a competitive environment. People collaborate all the time and will not sabotage each other because they’re looking for that one A – “if people deserve an A, they’ll all get it.” That being said, there are a couple departments that will grade on a curve, like Econ. But even in a situation where people should be fending for themselves, they still help out. You have to want to come here and be competitive. You have to want to learn. But once you’re here, it’s not like that. It’s competition with yourself and be the best you can be. Once admitted, Amherst will meet demonstrated need without loans; students graduate debt-free unless the family took out an outside loan.

Amherst 4Currently, the student-faculty ratio is 8:1, but with 18 new faculty members being added, this will change. Introductory classes might have 80 or 90 students but this is far from the norm. One panelist has a class with 4 people in it. The faculty teaches the students how to do scholarly research and expect that sort of research to be produced. “Professors guide us, but not to hold our hands. They let us stumble and then will help to pick us up and get us back on track.” Professors are willing to spend as much time as it takes in class, and out – they teach very few sections each term so they have time to devote to the students. One of the panelists was in a music seminar class, and each class meeting “took as long as it took. The students and the prof would stay until we were done.”

Amherst 3Students are knowledgeable about the world and current events, and they like talking about what’s going on in the world and on campus. Students have a voice, and they regularly bring up issues and work with the powers-that-be to improve campus. “They actually care about student opinions. People are shocked when they sit in on meetings and see that our voices matter.” Women’s rights tend to be a big topic on campus; the students think this is because Amherst had been an all-male school for a long time. The night before we talked to the student panel, a group talked about the topic of sexual misconduct with the president. The college provides free copies of the NYT in the dining hall, and they’re widely read. “Things change in the world. We’re ready and willing to change with it.”

Amherst 5We asked the student panel the following questions and got some great answers from them:

What has Amherst done for you to prepare you for whatever you want to do next?

  • “Confidence!”
  • “Science. It’s so not true that you can’t do science at a LA school. I did an internship at the flagship UT campus but was more prepared than their students.” She learned to integrate information, to think outside the box, to think critically. “It’s allowed me to realize what’s important in the questions I’m asking and to synthesis important information.”
  • “There’s a reason why Bain and JPMorgan and others recruit here. Students here take the time to learn on their own. We’re some of the best thinkers they have because we challenge the information.”
  • “Time management. I could stop doing all the extras and concentrate on classes; I’d do marginally better grades, but that wouldn’t be a good use of my time. We get as much flexibility to organize our time, but it’s on us to prioritize.”

What do you wish you had known before you came to college that we can share with our students?

  • Try lots of new things.
  • Don’t go in thinking you know exactly what you want to do. Be open minded.
  • Look at LA schools because you’re here to challenge your ideas rather than listening to lectures.

What traditions are your favorites?

  • “The rivalry between Williams and Amherst is HUGE. Homecoming is a big deal here. Alums will get together and watch the games and there’s a bonfire on campus. A blog on ESPN listed us as one of the top places to tailgate in the US because you can tailgate 6 feet from the endzone.”
  • “We have things going on about every 2 weeks, so I can’t really talk about just one. Of course, it’s hard from me b/c I perform [in the a cappella group] about a dozen times at each of these weekends”

(c) 2013

Five College Consortium (Massachusetts)

Five College Consortium (Visited 10/15-16; see individual write-ups about each specific college)

Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and UMass Amherst bound together in 1965 to form a Consortium in Western Massachusetts after about a decade of collaboration between the campuses. Their partnership resulted in the creation of Hampshire College in 1970, and the 5 College Consortium became official.

The consortium is meant to create a social exchange as well as an academic one. In addition to being able to cross-register for classes, students can participate in theatrical or musical groups, play on intramural or club teams, join clubs, and take advantage of any event hosted on any campus (speakers, concerts, movies, etc). We asked a couple tour guides on different campuses how they find out about things, and they both said that things were well advertised with fliers around campus, or friends who were taking classes on other campuses would find out and spread the word. We found out later that there’s a calendar online: http://calendar.fivecolleges.edu/FiveCol/calendrome.cgi

Once a student is enrolled in their home college, they can take classes at other campuses for free, and the credits transfer over; their degree is conferred by their home institution. There are some multi-campus certificate programs (similar to a minor) which necessitate cross-over. One panelist at Amherst is completing an African Studies Certificate, and he’s already taken “Intro to African Studies” at UMass and “African Cities” and MHC.

Busses run frequently between campuses so there’s no need for cars. Three of the colleges are less than a 10 minute drive apart, right around the town of Amherst. Smith and Mount Holyoke are a bit further, but are about a 20 minute drive.

Williams College

~Williams sign 2Williams College (visited 7/29/15)

This is one of the few information sessions I’ve attended where the presenter gave more than just lip-service to the concept of fit. For example, she asked if classes of 13 seemed too big (no one) or too small (1 student) – and then told him that this might not be the right place for him.

~Williams env cntr

Williams’ entirely sustainable Environmental Center

Williams provides a great deal of opportunity for students to pursue what they’re curious about. Students must take 3 classes in each of 3 divisions but what they take is up within those areas is up to them. Majors are mostly fairly straightforward, but Concentrations (minors) are more interdisciplinary such as Justice and Law, Cognitive Science, and Public Health.

~Williams 2This is one of a few places that offers Oxford-like Tutorials: students are initially placed in groups of 10 then split into pairs. Students alternate between writing a 5-7 page paper (sent to the professor and partner 24 hours in advance) and responding to the peer’s paper (with a 24 hour turnaround). At Tutorial, they discuss it, usually with the professor simply observing. Students get really good at developing and defending a point of view. Half the students take at least 1 Tutorial (which are offered in all subject areas); most will take more than one.

~Williams 4Williams operates on a 4-1-4 schedule: 4 classes in fall and spring and 1 class in January (yes, it’s required every year). All freshmen stay on campus; after that, students can stay, do an internship, or study-away. Class offerings range from academic to experiential; all are Pass/Fail to encourage students to try something new or focus on a passion.

For the same reason, Study Abroad classes also come back as pass/fail with the exception of 3 Williams-specific programs that are graded:

  • Oxford where they’re considered full Oxford students and participate in tutorials
  • Mystic Seaport, CT focusing on oceanography. Part of the experience includes 10 days at sea on a tall ship.
  • South Africa: students study at the University of Cape Town and complete an internship.

~Williams sci cntr int

Intro science lectures can have up to 100 students (but smaller labs). One student’s largest class was “Chemistry of AIDS” with 75. Another student’s biggest class had 30 (Intro to Econ) and smallest was 7 (an English Seminar). APs can’t replace credits (ie, they must still earn a certain number of credits at Williams), but the scores can place students into a higher level and out of some of the biggest classes.

Most research funding (including Room and Board during the summer) goes to science and math but students can research anywhere. Our tour guide did research on Bilateral Relations with Russia and China. One math professor is a leading researcher on knots of all things. He took on 14 students to research knots. About 40% of those doing research will co-author a paper by graduation.

~Williams theater

The campus theater building

Williamstown is small (population: 7,000), nestled squarely in the northwestern Massachusetts Arts “corridor” with MASS MoCA just down the street. Arts are a huge deal here. The local theater is nationally known and draws big-name actors like Kyra Sedgewick, Kevin Bacon, and Bradley Cooper. “Here we are in this little town bumping into the Hollywood people.” William’s music, fine arts, theater, and art history programs are all excellent. The directors of MOMA, the National Gallery, the Gugenheim, and more are Williams grads: “It’s like we’re producing the Art History Mafia here.”

If small-town New England starts feeling too isolated, students can hop on a regional bus that stops on campus and head to Albany or Boston. The school runs shuttles to Albany and Grand Central (which may be subsidized for students on financial aid) at breaks.

~Williams Hillel

The Hillel building

There is lots of schools spirit here. About 1/3 of students play varsity sports, and stands fill up at games. Amherst is their big rival and has been since 1820 when Williams’ president took half of everything – faculty, library books, the money – and started Amherst. Several years ago, Amherst pulled a prank on Williams by carving an A into one of their fields. Williams retaliated by carving a B+ on theirs.

Most students (85%) live on campus. Up to 125 seniors can move off campus, but they didn’t have that many petition to do so this year.

~Williams dorm quad

Freshman quad

Entry Program groups together 25ish first-year students and 2 Junior Advisors to give them a “home base” and a family-feel to what is otherwise a fairly typical dorm situation. For example, they’ll do Entry Snacks on Sunday night for a “catch-up.” It is unique that they freshmen have 2 JAs grouped with them – but the tour guide bragged incessantly about how Williams mixes dorm-mates so they get to meet a variety of people – without realizing that many other places do this, too!

~Williams student cntr int

The “Main Living Room” in the Student Center

The main dining hall in the student center can get busy; at peak rush, “the wait can be 10 or 15 minutes, but there are other places to eat if you’re in a hurry.” Sunday “Kids Night” dinner (mac and cheese, chicken fingers, etc.) gets rave reviews, but the food is good overall. “This place has the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had,” said the tour guide.

The Outdoor Club is one of the biggest clubs; a $10 fee gets students access to everything they offer. Mountain Day (a surprise day-off from classes with picnics, hiking, etc) is a huge deal like at many other colleges. There’s also a day in the winter when classes are canceled for a day of skiing, sledding, and more, but students know about that in advance.

Admissions is highly selective, but they do accept about 40% of ED applicants “because it’s self-selecting and they often have a previous relationship with the college.” Applicants need 2 subject tests on addition to the SAT or ACT. “Don’t take both math tests, but other than that, choose whatever you want.” The Optional Supplement “really is optional. Use it if you feel like there’s something you need to add to the application.” Admissions is need-blind, and students need to submit both the FAFSA and CSS Profile. They do not offer merit scholarships; average debt at graduation is $13,000.

(c) 2015

Post Navigation