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Hampshire College is an "alternative" school. Unfortunately, most of the student body seems to think that this means the Hampshire College is politically or socially "alternative." With that said, the school is often the home of loud political/social "protests" (which are rarely well thought out, almost always rash and reactionary and often leave as soon as they come). Hampshire College was designed to be a school where things were taught differently. It has become a place where different things are taught. These "different subjects" occasionally turn out to be taught and executed exceptionally well. Often, though, they are unbacked, subjective nonsense that students take to be 100% true. Some basics: Hampshire College exists on a good amount of land, most of which is undeveloped. There are two dormitories, Dakin and Merrill, which houses most of the first years and a sizable number of the second years (although with a little luck, a second year can move up to the mods). These mods are on-campus apartments and are named Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich. The former of the three is often thought to be the place to go for parties, and while this was true at the beginning of the semester, it became less so as the year moved on. Enfield is generally more suburban-looking, with buildings designed to form very open communal areas. The social life of Enfield takes advantage of these areas, and is often the home to more environmentally-conscious and socially-active folk. There's even a Greenhouse mod. Greenwich, originally designed to be temporary housing, is made of relatively isolated "pods," and is the physical counterthesis to Enfield. The people in Greenwich are, from what I've experienced, less loud than the other two communities, both physically and figuratively. Currently, renovations are taking place for Greenwich. The architecture of Hampshire College is in the late '60s Brutalist style, which some view as prison-like, but I found to be rather nice. Not all of the buildings are well-designed, none are very inviting to students (classrooms are hard to find sometimes), but you live with what you can. The student body of Hampshire College is medium size, about 1400 kids. There is considerable separation, not by grade but by living area. People in the dorms tend to hang out exclusively with others in the dorms, and the same goes for the mods. Nonetheless, it is easy to have everyone caught up in everyone else's business. Hampshire is definitely more difficult to handle for those with a misanthropic or introverted bend. With that said, most people spend their time anywhere where other (preferably intoxicated) people are. And those locations are easy to trace.
To quote Ricky Bobby, if you ain't first, you're last. Hampshire is a binary place - either you're one of the motivated, passionate autodidacts who came here seeking a new world free from the persecution of a core curriculum...or you're here for an easy ride, and the chance to get a degree for sitting in your incense-laden dorm and smoking ganja. Hampshire's biggest weakness is our consummate lack of school spirit. Little to no investment in the school is manifest by the students, and many community institutions are brittle or simply non-existant. We have a fragile student government, no year book and only one athletic team to speak of (Red Scare, our Ultimate Frisbee team) although we actually have other athletic teams, and could easily form more. The trouble lies in the students, many of whom preach "community involvement" by touting hurricane relief programs or attempting to support local farming efforts, but won't do more than charge a Hampshire College Hoodie at the store to rep their own college. We have a ton of beurocratic red tape, but at times that can be a boon - if you can get your stuff together, and are relatively persistant, you can get what you want from the school, putting your 40,000 dollar education back in your hands. The little blurb at the top here says I should comment on the college town: Amherst rocks. It totally pwns. The food is awesome (Fresh Side, what!) and the town itself is cute. It's a fantastic nexus for the five colleges, and there's a comic book store. The only drawback is that everything closes pretty early - you're hard pressed to find anything open after ten - but I'm told this is somewhat typical of rural life.
Hampshire is not a place to attend if you want a great deal of people to know what school you go to. Very often you will hear "you go to school in New Hampshire?" However I think that the number of people who have not heard of Hampshire is dwindling due in part to the great success of its alumni. I have a very love-hate relationship with this institution. It has almost infinite potential, and yet so often it makes almost unforgivable mistakes. It has a struggling first year program that distracts many students from what they really want to do, delays any independent work and often causes a great deal of disenchantment with education at large. However this is also something that the administration says that they are working hard to change. Despite sometimes being weak the academic advantages often outweigh the disadvantages. One such instance is the opportunities that I have had to work with two or three other students and a professor for an extended period of time on research projects. As far as I can tell such an experience is almost unheard of for a second year undergraduate outside of Hampshire. The professors though range from absolutely excellent to poor at best, as some of them seem themselves to have lost faith in the program of teaching at Hampshire, and with the administration taking the school in directions that they believe (possibly very rightly so) are incorrect. The area is beautiful my favorite that I have seen so far, especially in the fall. Two great college towns are a short free bus ride away, as well as four other college campuses. Also it is in a great location for road trips as well, Vermont is very close, Montreal a little further, Boston only a couple of hours and New York City about 3 or four. It is a great area to go camping or hiking rock climbing and biking. All of this though can be very distracting from academics. The social life is great although often very clickey and somewhat incestuous. I once read a quote from a previous student that it was the worst place to go if you wanted to be able to avoid embarrassing ex's and that is incredibly true. There are however a lot of great people on campus, and their is always a very open air about it, I have never seen someone openly rejected. It is a great place to dress however you want, and not be harshly judged. Cologne make-up fancy jewelry and hair are comfortingly rare at Hampshire. The biggest complaints on campus are in order of frequency heard: 1) The cost of attending 2) The quality of everything versus the cost of attending 3) The buildings are in terrible shape I don't think that I know enough to have a knowledgeable comment on the first two but the buildings are often in terrible shape. For only having I think 11 buildings on campus there is around a 30 million dollar backlog in maintenance. I find that amazing. There is no student union on campus, and the area that is the closest, leaks water frequently. The dorm buildings are ok, but the "Mods" (student apartments on campus) are often disgusting, usually with mold, and insects, as well as other general issues. And for a large part these issues are not the fault of the occasionally uncleanly student that inhabits them.
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.
The best thing about Hampshire? The students, the atmosphere of enthusiastic scholastic enquiry, the professors. Everyone here is allowed to study what they want to study and so they tend to be interested in what they're doing and thus interesting themselves. If I could, I would give Hampshire a huge wad of money. We need better facilities and more teachers. Most student complaints, about the scarcity of scholarships, the decrepitude of the dorms, and the small size of some departments, are linked to the problem of funding. One of the things I love about Hampshire is the lack of overt school pride. There are no rallies here for the Ultimate Frisbee team and God willing there never will be. That said, there is a very strong sense of Hampshire community and a powerful campus ethos, probably because the school is so small and everyone there makes a deliberate choice to seek a different kind of education.
MH FreshmanReviews provided by: Unigo