Hampshire College

From Hampedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hampshire College is a private liberal arts college located in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1965 as an experiment in alternative education, to be in association with four other colleges in the Pioneer Valley: Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Together they are now known as the Five College Consortium.

The College is widely known for its alternative curriculum, its focus on portfolios rather than distribution requirements, and its reliance on narrative evaluations instead of grades and GPAs. In some fields it is among the top undergraduate institutions in graduate-school enrollment: fifty-six percent of its alumni have at least one graduate degree and it is ranked 30th among all US colleges in the percentage of its graduates who go on to attain a doctorate degree (notably first among history doctorates), when adjusted for institutional size.<ref>Outcomes</ref> Its School of Cognitive Science was the first interdisciplinary undergraduate program in cognitive science and still has few peers.

Hampshire is also part of the SAT optional movement for undergraduate admission.



Hampshire's mission is as follows (source): "Education at Hampshire College prepares students to understand and participate responsibly in a complex world. Through its actions and policies, the college sets an example of the responsible and creative behavior it expects of its students.

As a liberal arts college, Hampshire helps students develop confidence in their intellect, creativity, and values. It encourages their desire to be lifelong learners and their capacity to advance the cause of social justice and the well-being of others.

The college fosters these attitudes through a multidisciplinary, multicultural curriculum; self-initiated, individual programs of study negotiated with faculty mentors; students' active participation in original research; and the diverse communities, on campus and off, in which learning takes place. Within the college's residential community, students encounter and learn to respect difference and appreciate diversity, thereby enhancing their capacity to live together well.

Through commitment to testing and evaluating new ideas and new approaches to learning; national efforts to promote inquiry-based learning and teaching; and constructive civic and social engagement, Hampshire's actions serve as models for those of its students."

Academic Program

Main article: Academic Program

Hampshire College describes itself as "experimenting" rather than "experimental" in order to emphasize the continually changing nature of its curriculum. However, from its inception the curriculum has generally had certain non-traditional features:

  • An emphasis on project work as well as, or instead of, courses.
  • Detailed written evaluations (as well as portfolio evaluations) for completed courses and projects, rather than letter or number grades.
  • A curriculum centered on student interests, with students taking an active role in designing their own concentrations and projects.
  • An emphasis on independent motivation and student organization, both within and without the college's formal curriculum.

The curriculum is divided into three "Divisions" rather than four years, and students complete these Divisions in varying amounts of time. The administration has recently made efforts to encourage students to stick more closely to the traditional 4 year model by requiring three semesters be spent in Division I, three semesters be spent in Division II, and that Division III be completed in a year. There is at present a student enrolled at Hampshire who has been Division III for four semesters, and is returning for a fifth, which shall make him a 7th Year student.

  • Division I, the distribution stage, requires students to complete one course in each of the five Schools of Thought and three other courses, either on or off campus. (Until fall 2002, Division I required student-directed independent projects; the new system, designed with the goal of quicker and smoother student progress, has caused a great deal of controversy on campus.)
  • Division II requires students to complete academic work in their selected area(s) of study (which may or may not be traditional academic fields.) Most students combine related subject matter to form an interdisciplinary concentration such as "The chemistry of oil painting." Still, some choose to concentrate in multiple areas without drawing such connections, instead simply concentrating in "Both Chemistry and Oil Painting." Some students complete an in depth concentration in one field only. Each student is responsible for designing their own Division II in cooperation with a committee of at least two faculty members (who must give their approval). Many students choose a faculty committee whose members represent their own interdisciplinary interests. The Division II requirements also include a community service project and a Multiple Cultural Perspectives]] requirement.
  • Division III, the advanced project, requires students to complete an in-depth project in their field of choice (which is generally related to the Division II field). Division III usually lasts one year and is completed while taking few or no courses, but two advanced learning activities, which might be courses, internships or specific independent studies, and may or may not be related to the Division III, are required. A Division III topic can be a long written academic paper (in which case it is best considered as something between a traditional college's "bachelor's" or "honors" thesis and a Master's or other graduate thesis), but it can also be a collection of creative work (writing, painting, photography, and film are popular choices) or a hands-on engineering, invention, or social organizing project.

The Hampshire College faculty are organized not in traditional departments but in broadly defined Schools - though these Schools function much as Departments do at a traditional liberal arts college. The Schools' names and definitions have varied over the College's history, but there have always been between three and five of them. As of 2005, the Schools are:

  • Cognitive Science (CS): includes linguistics, most psychology, some philosophy, neuroscience, and computer science.
  • Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies (HACU): includes film, some studio arts, music, literature, media studies, and most philosophy.
  • Social Science (SS): includes most sociology and anthropology, economics, history, politics, and some psychology.
  • Natural Science (NS): includes most traditional sciences, mathematics, and biological anthropology.
  • Interdisciplinary Arts (IA): includes performing arts, some studio arts, and creative writing.
Cole science 01.jpg


Main article: History of Hampshire College

Though the college opened to students in 1970, its history dates to the immediate aftermath of World War II. The first The New College Plan was drafted in 1958 by the presidents of the then-Four Colleges; it was revised several times as the serious planning for the College began in the 1960s. Many original ideas for non-traditional ways of arranging the College's curriculum, campus, and life were discarded along the way, but many new ideas generated during the planning process were not described in the original documents.

For several years in the early 1970s, directly after its founding, Hampshire College was among the most selective undergraduate programs in the United States (Making of a College 307-310). Its selectivity declined thereafter, but the school's applications increased in the late 1990s, making admissions more difficult. The College's selectivity in admissions is now comparable to that of many other small liberal arts colleges.

The school has struggled with financial difficulties since its founding, and ceasing operations or folding into the University of Massachusetts Amherst were seriously considered at various points. Today the school is on more solid financial footing (though still without a sizable endowment), a condition often credited to the fundraising efforts of its most recent past presidents, Adele Simmons and Gregory S. Prince, Jr. The College has also distinguished itself recently with plans for the future including a "sustainable campus plan" and a "cultural village" through which organizations not directly affiliated with the school are located on its campus. Currently this "cultural village" includes the National Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Hampshire Logo.jpg

On April 1, 2004, Prince announced his retirement, effective at the end of 2004-05 academic year. On April 5, 2005, the Board of Trustees named Ralph Hexter, formerly a dean at University of California, Berkeley's College of Letters and Science, as the college's next president, effective August 1, 2005. President Hexter was officially inaugurated in a ceremony on October 15, 2005. This appointment made Hampshire one of a small number of colleges and universities in the United States to have an openly gay president.

Some of the most important founding documents of Hampshire College are collected in the book The Making of a College [1].

In recent years, the school has taken several steps in an effort to expand the school and attract more academically conventional students. The most significant change was a revision of the Division I program for first year students. Before the fall of 2002, Division I traditionally consisted of four major exams, one in each of the academic departments and/or quantitative analysis. These exams took one of three forms: a "two-course option", where a student could take two sequential courses; a "one-plus-one", where a Hampshire course supplements an outside course (AP score of a four or five, or a summer college class); or a project, which usually consists of a primary or significant secondary research paper, or an art production (a short film, a sculpture, etc.), and which stems from previous coursework. Students were required to complete at least two project-based exams, while transfer students were usually waived one project requirement. In fall of 2002, the new first-year program was started in response to high numbers of second and third year students who had not completed Division I. The new program mandates eight courses in the first year, at least one in each of the five schools. This reduces the required work for passing Division I significantly, as up to 10 courses could be required under the older system. This program was again revised in 2004, when the present system was put into place.

For Prospective Students

According to Hampshire's official website, "Hampshire students come from diverse backgrounds and have wide-ranging academic interests, yet they share some important commonalities. Hampshire students have curious minds. They are passionate about learning and, most importantly, Hampshire students love their work.

Hampshire is a one-of-a-kind experience for students with the imagination and self-direction to work closely with faculty in shaping their own educations. The freedom to design academic concentrations and combine interests, the opportunity to engage in substantial independent work, and the resources available within the Five College consortium are reasons current students repeatedly cite when sharing why they chose Hampshire."

When you look at the institutional data, the Admissions Office ranks the Application Essay and "Character/personal qualities" as the only factors that are "Very Important" in admissions decisions, which makes it sound as if choosing students is more of an art than a science. While there is a handy Clues You Are a Future Hampshire Student list, it may seem difficult, when choosing a college, to decide whether or not Hampshire is Right For You. Hopefully, by wandering Hampedia and gaining a deeper understanding of how Hampshire works (and all of the amazing projects Hampshire students undertake), you may feel more ready to make the decision. Hampshire is a great place for students who love challenging themselves, learning new things, and undertaking self-initiated projects. It is extremely unique in its academic program, which allows for an indescribable amount of freedom in crafting one's course of study. Hampshire students create and undertake scientific experiments normally only permitted at the graduate school level, write and direct their own plays and movies, coauthor books with professors, and do anything else they have the willingness and ability to undertake. It is extremely exciting to be part of this vibrant intellectual community.

Symbols of Hampshire College

Main article: Symbols of Hampshire College

Governance System

Main article: Governance System

Hampshire College has a unique governance system. When Hampshire was founded, it was meant to be experimental not only in its academic program, but in many other aspects as well. The governance system has evolved and gone through many different iterations over the years. In its most ideal form, it is meant to be a system that gives all members of the Hampshire community proper representation and decision-making power concerning issues that matter to them. However, this idealism precariously balances itself with the administrative need for a streamlined system where decisions can be made quickly. Hampshire does have a student, a staff member, and a faculty member sitting on its Board of Trustees, and Community Council, as it is described in the Hampshire College Constitution, is a body, made up largely of students, with the power to change policies having to do with community life. In addition, there are student members on the Educational Policy Committee, which discusses and crafts new educational policies, as well as on many other committees. 


Main article: Financial Situation

Hampshire suffers from its relatively small endowment, due to its youth as an educational institution. Its history is fraught with worrisome financial situations, ever since it came into existence. Although the large majority of its operating budget on a given year comes straight out of student tuition, it still works to ensure that students receive enough financial aid. To learn more about paying for Hampshire, see the Finance page of the Guerilla Guide.


A Division III project involved making 3-d models of the campus buildings: Explorable Hampshire. There is also a list of all the buildings on the Digitising Hampshire Structure page, which is part of the work being done by the Digitising Hampshire group independent study EPEC course. An interactive map is in the process of being developed.

Student Life

The Hampshire student activities fee goes into a fund managed by a subcommittee of Community Council, FiCom, which is a group composed mainly of students. This fund contains a considerable amount of money which is earmarked solely for student activities. Thus, Hampshire has an extremely wide variety of student groups, all of whom receive funding for almost any project they can imagine. It is possible to bring together students with any imaginable shared interest, form a group, and receive funding.

As for student life in a broader sense, Hampshire's biggest school-wide events include Hampshire Halloween, Deathfest, Local Foods Feast, and Spring Jam. On any given weekend, there are live bands playing at the Tavern and SAGA, random student groups getting together, parties, and more - all without even leaving Hampshire campus, to say nothing of the Five College community.

Learn more about Hampshire Traditions.

In the media

Despite its small size and short history, Hampshire has made its own mark on pop culture and political activism. Its annual Hampshire Halloween party, referred to by some as "Trip or Treat" for its historically widespread use of psychedelic drugs, was once profiled by Rolling Stone magazine. <ref>Roth, Melissa, "Party Mix", Rolling Stone 719 (October 19, 1995).</ref>

Hampshire was the first college in the nation to decide to divest from apartheid South Africa in 1979 (with the nearby University of Massachusetts Amherst rapidly coming second). Legal and Financial research undertaken by student Michael Current and faculty member Kurtis Gordon was promoted nationally by business activists Douglas Tooley [1] and Debbie Knight.

In November 2001, a controversial All-Community Vote at Hampshire declared the school opposed to the recently-launched War on Terrorism, another national first which drew national media attention, including scathing reports from Rupert Murdoch's FOX News Channel and the New York Post ("Kooky College Condemns War"). Saturday Night Live had a regular sketch, "Jarrett's Room", starring Jimmy Fallon which purports to take place at Hampshire College but is grossly inaccurate, referring to non-existent buildings ("McGuin Hall") and featuring yearbooks, tests, seniors, fraternities, 3-person dorm rooms, and a football team, none of which have ever existed at the school (although as of late, the college has experienced a higher than expected number of freshmen and temporarily has had to convert some of the common spaces into 3-person dorms). The sketch further seemed to think that the college was actually in New Hampshire (a common mistake).

Alumnus Ken Burns wrote of the college: "Hampshire College is a perfect American place. If we look back at the history of our country, the things we celebrate were outside of the mainstream. Much of the world operated under a tyrannical model, but Americans said, 'We will govern ourselves.' So, too, Hampshire asked, at its founding, the difficult questions of how we might educate ourselves... When I entered Hampshire, I found it to be the most exciting place on earth." Loren Pope wrote of Hampshire in the college guide Colleges That Change Lives: "Today no college has students whose intellectual thyroids are more active or whose minds are more compassionately engaged." In 2006, the Princeton Review named Hampshire College one of the nation’s "best value" undergraduate institutions in its book "America’s Best Value Colleges".

Alumni and faculty

Notable alumni

Fictional alumni

Notable past and present faculty

Presidents of the college

See also




  • Alpert, Richard M. "Professionalism and Educational Reform: The Case of Hampshire College." Journal of Higher Education 51:5 (Sept.-Oct. 1980), pp. 497-518.
  • Dressel, Paul L. Review of The Making of a College: Plans for a New Departure in Higher Education. Journal of Higher Education 38:7 (Oct. 1967), pp. 413-416.
  • Kegan, Daniel L. "Contradictions in the Design and Practice of an Alternative Organization: The Case of Hampshire College." Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 17:1 (1987), pp. 79-97.
  • Pope, Loren. "Hampshire College." In Colleges That Change Lives. New York: Penguin, 2006.

External links

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found
Personal tools

Hampedia Help