A Visit to UMass Amherst

After my stop at Mount Holyoke, my spring New England visit next took me to an entirely different institution, MHC’s nearby neighbor, the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  As I drove in to campus, I first found myself passing through quiet, hilly forests and then – seemingly out of nowhere – I found myself in the middle of a bustling campus, where I encountered throngs of students headed to and from their morning classes, a busy bus schedule, and a ton of traffic.

The UMass Amherst library is also a skyscraper and can be seen from anywhere on campus.

Despite the hustle and bustle, however, finding the visitors’ center at UMass and obtaining a parking place are very easy – even with the renovation that’s currently underway.  Tours are all in group format and our guide, an enthusiastic young woman from Connecticut, led us across the street and into the fine arts center to kick things off.  There, she explained that the campus is easy to navigate because it’s essentially shaped like a bulls-eye.  (I love imagery and that particular description instantly made sense to me in terms of understanding the campus layout.)

Directly in the center of campus is the skyscraper (!) that is the UMass library.  (Our guide said that the library can be seen from anywhere on campus – and I believe her!)  While we were headed over (and throughout the entire tour), I chuckled a little at the make up of the campus buildings – they seem to me to be an interesting mixture of the very old (the stone chapel located near the library), the very new (the library itself, as well as the science complex), and a middle mixture of 1960s and 1970s blocky, angular architecture.

The very same “little bit of everything” approach to the campus facilities seems to translate into the makeup of the student body itself as well.  With just over 21,000 undergraduate students and around 6,000 graduate students, the university has a small city feel with a lot of diversity in its makeup.  The students I encountered all had a laid back, casual sense about them – a sense that was tempered with the sort of tension that begins to creep in as the end of semester and final exams approach, of course.

There are four main residential areas on campus and all of them feature traditional dorm-style living.  Despite what I continue to hear and read about schools that have put a great deal of capital into building cutting edge apartments that they can offer to entice first-year students to attend their institutions, long-established campuses like UMass and like MHC haven’t eschewed their dormitories and that was refreshing for me to see.  There is something about living in the dorm for at least a year as a college student that teaches you a great deal about life and about yourself and I would hate for future generations of students to miss the experience.

View from inside the UMass Amherst science center, which is quite impressive and is currently being expanded (if the jackhammers outside were any indication).

Like Mount Holyoke, UMass is part of the Five Colleges consortium, which means that students can take courses at other member schools, as well as putting it conveniently along the PVTA bus line.  The sciences and the school of business are among the university’s strongest and best-known programs and athletic pride in the NCAA DI athletic teams (as well as the famous Minute Man marching band!) is clear.

For equestrians, the school’s well-known Hadley Farm is a bit of a drive off-campus, but still close enough to be convenient.  I confess, another appointment later in the day prevented me from taking a full tour there, but the program is long-established and currently in transition with the hiring of a new director and several new staff at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.  Often, transition like that can breathe new life and bring good things to an equestrian program so I can assure you that UMass Amherst is one I’ll be paying close attention to in the next few years.

Could UMass Amherst be a good school for you?  Or is another one a better fit?  Only one way to find out!  Contact me and we can discuss your best options.

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