Hampshire College - Comments and Student Experiences|
A Hampshire education is great IF you put the time into it, and if you plan to go to graduate school, work in media (film), or become an entrepreneur. The natural sciences courses are very, very strong also. Unfortunately, what you don't learn:
1) Due to Hampshire's course system and idiosyncratic classes, it is much more difficult to transfer out without having to double-back and take an extra year or two of courses to finish your major
2) Unless you are very committed to a particular focus, and start taking internships and gaining experience early on, your seemingly vague degree in this and that (dance and biology, philosophy and physiology, etc., etc.) may look flaky to prospective employers. It's actually a wonderful opportunity to develop a number of interests, but don't ignore the bottom line -- you will want to do something after college.
3) This is only a touchy-feely, supportive school IF you make friends who want that kind of support, and IF you search for advisors and professors, and staff members, who want to give that kind of support. Most of the time, no one will motivate you BUT YOU.
I am sorry to say that my instructors in high school were, generally, much better than those at Hampshire. I hate to sound like such sour grapes, but I went to Hampshire thinking I'd be around motivated, intellectually curious people who were both independent and interested in working jointly on projects. You definitely do find people of that caliber at Hampshire, but the majority are not that motivated, and might be bright if they put the pipe down long enough to let the brain cells cool. There is a reason why Hampshire has one of the lower retention rates among similar colleges, why some students become so unhappy and are dissatisfied with their social life. Drug and alcohol abuse is a real problem for the same reason -- many students simply don't feel comfortable in their own skin, don't feel supported and are socially isolated. At Hampshire, very few students have roommates. For every student who loves the place -- and I knew many kids who had a ball attending Hampshire -- there are those who spend hours complaining. I was in the middle, I had some great classes that made me feel glad to be alive, but I also had big disappointments.
I had chosen Hampshire over schools with "bigger names", including one that gave me a full scholarship, because I didn't think grades and reputation were everything (and I still don't), and I had the wrong idea about its atmosphere. I hate to sound like a snotball, but I was appalled to find out that there were a lot of people who got in with much lower grades (Cs), poor test scores (although, SATs REALLY don't prove shit about your intelligence, just how much you're willing to study for the test), and who really didn't give a shit about school. Such as one guy who turned his hall's lounge into a role-playing/gaming room, and blew off his classes for four semesters before Hampshire booted him out, as well as pissing off all of his hallmates (who couldn't use the lounge!) We all know that Albert Einstein failed math, and obviously grades have no bearing on your intelligence, but the number of people who plain didn't care about their education was a real insult to those of us who were there because we were passionate about our education, and were working two or three work-study jobs to attend Hampshire. And no, I was hardly your average grind. I sometimes skipped class, I spent time partying and travelling while I was in college. But, let me say this. I went to a semi-alternative (which does not mean "juvie" in the East, but instead experiential) high school that was really proud of its National Merit Scholars. I was a classic underachiever. I could have had all As, but I pushed the envelope a lot, asking controversial questions in class and being very opinionated. My principal (it was a small school, just over 300) felt I was a real pain in the ass. I loved learning but I didn't always like school. I ended up graduating a year early with something like five senior awards (which I never bothered to pick up). Yeah, I was silly back then, I thought I was James Dean or something. I'd do my homework at the last minute. At Hampshire, my first two years, I still did a lot of my homework at the last minute... but to my shock, many of my classmates and friends wouldn't even finish work for their classes at the end of the semester. Students would carry Div I papers (needed to graduate into the Div II process) for several semesters, sometimes waiting until graduation to finish writing them. A number of students would wait until the end of the semester to do their work in class, sometimes finishing work from the Fall over the following summer. And the professors put up with this shit!
Both my closest friend and I (we met as first-years at Hampshire) regret that we didn't transfer to Mount Holyoke.
Most classes, outside of the strong media curriculum, I didn't feel either challenged or enlightened. I was one of those girls who insisted she'd never go to an "all-woman" school, because I couldn't imagine not having male buddies to hang out with. To my surprise, Mount Holyoke offered a more supportive, social atmosphere, and Smith offered a more competitive atmosphere, where you felt driven to do your best. I ended up taking a third of my classes at these two schools. Both of them were much more challenging academically than Hampshire, although, hands down, the people at Mount Holyoke and UMASS are much nicer people to hang with. Not that Smithies and Amherst students deserve their bad rep, but socially they tend to hang out with other students from their schools, and are less interested in knowing students from the other 5C schools.
But, that's one thing that's really sad about Hampshire. Among the five schools, Hampshire is the smallest and least diverse (in terms of class and ethnicity), and the most rural of the 5Cs. Yet so few students take full advantage of the 5Cs, and limit themselves. UMASS students in particular are referred to as "baseball caps," ignoring the sheer variety of people who attend such a large school. I had several friends at UMASS who were really smart and fascinating people, but were from Massachusetts and opted to attend school there to save money. Some Hampshire students would bitch about being portrayed as smelly hippies and then rant about UMASS being a bastion of fraternity rapists. These morons obviously had never made it to any of the student coops at UMASS, including the excellent student-run store at the Campus Center. (And doesn't it do a future Hampshire grad good to be exposed to a variety of people -- including those who are more traditional in their thinking and education?)
Political correctness is another problem. And yet the number of minority students, especially when you don't count local students enrolled in the James Baldwin Scholar program, could usually be counted on two or three hands. A black student I was friendly with once lost his temper in class, noting that he was sick of professors mentioning the "black viewpoint" and having all the white students turn to look at him as if he was speaking for the African race. There are mods focused on people of color. When one of my close friends moved into one of these mods, it was controversial amongst our close-knit group of friends, which was mostly white. As I got to know some of her roommates, I learned about some of the subtle and not-so subtle snubs they got in class. A white professor read an article about inner-city kids and their lack of education, then said, "And aren't we lucky we don't have problems like that," seemingly oblivious to my friend, a working class Puerto Rican. This same professor refused to put books on reserve at the library, apparently believing that all students can afford to blow $150 a class on books they may read only once. My friend's Asian roommate arrived at the mod one day, furious -- a wealthy white student had approached her at a party and complimented her on her excellent English, apparently believing that it is impossible for an Asian to be a native born American. Another student I respected a great deal, one of my work-study coworkers and well-liked within Hampshire, co-founded a queer students of color group, finding that the core group of lesbians on campus was very unfriendly to non-whites. I think it is a sad commentary on Hampshire (and on the US) that a mod devoted to "people of color" was necessary. Maybe if Hampshire had a truly diversified population it wouldn't be the case. As a white, I never experienced racism at Hampshire, but I was a scholarship student, work-study, and in the minority in that respect.
The positives --
A strong natural science program, with caring professors interested as much in teaching as in research (and no, I didn't major in NS)
Some very good professors sprinkled throughout.
A writing center for students who need help improving their papers
Some wonderfully motivated students, such as a team of students who created the Frogbook (an online yearbook) and a guide to classes and professors.
Access to the Five College system
The mod system allows you to live in your own apartment with roommates, although this does cause social problems for a lot of students - i.e. you will tend to lose touch with friends in the dorms, and vice versa
Some of the negatives --
A computer science program plagued with MAJOR cliquishness, turf battles, including with other departments. One of my hallmates was a student member of the CCS (then Communications and Cognitive Science) school in the late 90s and told me about school meetings where the professors literally screamed at each other.
Some mediocre professors. I took one literature course with a guy who remains as an associate professor, and remember one of the older students asking the rest of us, before he arrived for class, "Does anyone know what the hell he's talking about?" By the third week, half the class had dropped... but despite his reputation for being incomprehensible, he's still at Hampshire.
The worst professors are those -- as at any school -- who try to shove their ego down students' throats. I was assigned a second-semester Div III who told me every meeting that I wouldn't graduate. She loved to insult students in her lecture class when they disagreed with her politically correct point of view. Another student I know had an affair with her Div III advisor, and they broke up before she finished, and he made it very difficult for her to graduate. (OK, simple advice ... DON'T HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH YOUR ADVISOR!!!)
The advisory system is very uneven. I knew people who loved their advisors, and just as many who hated, or barely saw their advisors.
And there's no nice way to say this, but Hampshire attracts more than its fair share of troubled, wealthy kids who are confused, and not really ready for the college experience. If you're picking Hampshire, because you feel you "must" go to college, and this seems like a good alternative, take time off. You'd be wasting your money otherwise.
My friends at Hampshire were in a lot of different cliques -- feministas, geeks, party girls, grinds. A minority loved the school, but most of them complained about the same things. The happiest, by far, were those in the Natural Science and Social Science schools, with the Natural Science people tending to be more connected to their advisors.
The most important advice I can give is that, don't even consider Hampshire unless you are a very motivated, very independent person with a clear idea of what you want. If you have a number of interests, you need to be extra focused. You have to work extra hard to find an advisor who cares about your interests and who can relate to you. Many professors are great academics but not trained to work closely with undergraduate students -- even in the graduate world, it's difficult to find a good mentor. Your choice of an advisor will have a HUGE impact on your happiness, growth, and opportunities at Hampshire.
One other thing. If you are interested in film and video, there are two people you need to know. Abraham Ravett and John Gunther. Neither one of these guys will bullshit you, they will be upfront about just how hard you have to work in order to succeed.My advice? Think seriously about other schools -- Evergreen State, Earlham and strong, more traditional four years like Reed and Pomona.
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