Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts has long ranked among the best and most selective liberal arts colleges in the United States. A member of the noted Five Colleges Consortium and neighbor to a host of other well-known and highly regarded liberal arts schools and powerhouse universities, I honestly had no idea what to expect when I visited on a beautiful April day – but I was eager to see what makes this school so special.
I knew things were getting off on the right foot when our tour guide introduced herself and mentioned that, among her many campus activities, she was also a member of the Amherst hunt seat team. (A native New Yorker, she took her first riding lessons at the famed Claremont Riding Academy before it closed in 2007.) She joined the team because riding was always something she had enjoyed and the environment at Amherst strongly encourages all students to participate in a myriad of activities – including those that may initially appear to be out of their comfort zone. And as our tour progressed, it became abundantly clear that Amherst students seize upon that mindset with total commitment and seize upon a great many opportunities during their four years there.
This exploration carries over into the curriculum at Amherst as well. The school is well-known for its open curriculum, which allows students to study across subjects and disciplines without having to worry about the liberal arts distribution requirements that other colleges build into their students’ four year plans. With over 800 course options available at Amherst alone, not only do students study often and broadly, but the majority wind up taking no more than two classes off campus as part of the consortium’s exchange agreement because so much is offered right at their doorstep. (With the other colleges so close and even the farthest of the consortium members located just a short – free – bus ride away, however, students do have the opportunity to widen their social circle by attending events like speakers, parties, and concerts on the other four campuses.)
With approximately 1,800 students (all undergraduate), the campus community is close-knit and has a slightly insular feel; indeed, I don’t think we passed a single student on campus that our guide didn’t know by name. It was a Friday afternoon – a very telling time of day for most campuses in terms of the social scene – and most students were out and about enjoying the sunshine. One of the big Amherst-organized parties was scheduled for that evening and the tent was being set up for the festivities when we passed. (The campus is 99 percent residential for all four years and freshman are all placed together in what’s known as the freshman quad so that they can become acquainted with all of their classmates.) With no Greek life at Amherst, the college is very conscious of providing a wide variety of events for students to participate in outside of the classroom.
The admission office’s information session was very clear about the selectivity level that the college employs in their admission process. (Their acceptance rate is right around twelve percent.) All applications go through a committee evaluation before admission decisions are made, a process that’s known as “competing against the pool.” Each student has an equal chance against the other students who have applied and the committee seeks to enroll the most diverse and highest achieving students they can in an effort to expose students to as many different backgrounds and ideas as possible during their undergraduate years. (Indeed, the college encourages this mixing when assigning first-year roommates as well; our guide described it as “putting together people with the most differences who have the same living expectations.”)
Most notable for students who gain admission to Amherst is the fact that the college is a no loan institution. This means that any student who is admitted to Amherst (which admits students on a need blind basis without taking their family’s financial situation into consideration) will be granted all of the financial aid they will require to attend withoutbeing given any loans that will need to be repaid after they graduate. With nearly 85 percent of Amherst graduates moving on to graduate school, this financial leg up can be a substantial boost to their futures right from the moment they enroll.
For equestrians, the team has been based out of nearby Biscuit Hill Farm since 2001 and so has a longstanding relationship with the trainers there. The team has established traditions – like a special dinner before the home show that they host annually – and the variation of students within the roster mirrors that of the campus itself, exposing equestrians to teammates who share the common love of horses but have come from different parts of the equestrian world. Indeed – one glance at the roster indicates that Amherst fields one of the most diverse college equestrian teams competing in the IHSA.
Could you be the right student for a selective school like Amherst College – and is Amherst the right fit for your academic and riding goals? Contact me and let’s find out!