Amherst College


Within the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts sits the 1,000-acre campus of Amherst College.According to the school’s mission statement:

Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence. Amherst brings together the most promising students, whatever their financial need, in order to promote diversity of experience and ideas within a purposefully small residential community. Working with faculty, staff, and administrators dedicated to intellectual freedom and the highest standards of instruction in the liberal arts, Amherst undergraduates assume substantial responsibility for undertaking inquiry and for shaping their education within and beyond the curriculum.

The college is committed to learning through close colloquy and to expanding the realm of knowledge through scholarly research and artistic creation at the highest level. Its graduates link learning with leadership—in service to the college, to their communities, and to the world beyond.

Of those who come in as first-year students, ninety-seven percent remain to graduate. Many graduates stay to work here, and some even come back as professors. Each year, more than sixty percent of alumni donate to their college, and hundreds return to campus for Homecoming and Reunion.

Information Summary

Ranks 3rd in Massachusetts and 11th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.0
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $73,966
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 34 / 1530
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 7 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 96% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 1,855


Academics are challenging here. Each class requires hours of reading, writing, problem-solving, and conversation—and discussions often spill over from the classroom into the professors’ offices, dining hall, and dorms. Help is available from Academic Peer Mentors, The Writing Center, and the Moss Quantitative Center. There is a two-week Add/Drop period at the start of each semester, so students can shop around for the right courses before committing.

Professors and the Advisor System

The average class size is seventeen students. Every professor holds regularoffice hours so that students may come in to get clarification on ideas and assignments. Many professors hire student research assistants. A program called TYPO (Take Your Professor Out) lets students invite favorite professors to dinner at local restaurants. Some students suggest choosing courses based not on their topics, but on their teachers.

Each incoming student is assigned a faculty advisor—a particular professor who helps him or her choose each semester’s course load based on interests, goals, and the ideal of a well-rounded liberal arts education. Once a student declares a major, he or she gets an advisor in that department. A student who chooses to do a senior honors project gets at least one special thesis advisor whose area of expertise most closely reflects the topic of the project.


To graduate, a student must complete four courses per semester over eight semesters—thirty-two courses in all. Unlike most colleges, Amherst has no core curriculum. Other than the courses necessary for one’s major, the only required course is a First-Year Seminar, and there are dozens of these to choose from.


Students may major in any of thirty-two different subjects or design an interdisciplinary major. Many choose to double-major in combinations of any two subjects. The most popular majors (in varying order) are economics, English, psychology, and political science.Depending on the department, a major will involve anywhere from eight to fourteen required courses and perhaps a comprehensive final exam or a senior project. It’s not only allowed but common for a student to change majors once or twice over four years.


Interterm is the three-week period in January, between the fall and spring semesters. Students may stay home for Interterm, or they may return to campus to take noncredit courses or do research. Some also do urban education “Winternships” or other volunteer work. And every Interterm includes at least one colloquium in the new Amherst College Colloquium Series, in which well-known experts are invited to teach classes and debate divergent viewpoints on important and controversial topics. Past colloquium guests (for Interterm and during the spring and fall semesters) have included columnists David Brooks and E. J. Dionne, General Wesley Clark,and former New Jersey GovernorChristine Todd Whitman.

Senior Honors

Roughly half of all students take on ambitious thesis projects—usually research papers; reports on lab experiments; or original works of art, literature, music, or drama—to serve as capstones for their college careers and earn them Latin honors. Any student who completes a thesis of acceptable quality may graduate cum laude; thesis writers whose GPAs are in the top twenty-five percent of the class might graduate magna or summa cum laude. All whose grades are in the top quarter, with or without a thesis, get English honors—they graduate “With Distinction.” Amherst also has chapters of the national honors societies Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi.

The Five College Consortium

Amherst works in partnership with the nearby University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College. Students can go to any of the other four campuses to take courses for credit; complete certificate programs in, for example, logic or international relations; audition for performances; or attend sporting events and concerts. There is a free bus connecting the campuses.

Most Popular Fields of Study


Campus Building :: Amherst College Campus Center :: Amherst College
New Life Sciences Building :: Amherst College Williston Hall :: Amherst College


Amherst is one of the most competitive liberal arts colleges in America. While academic achievement is the most important factor for admission, it is not the only one. Nor is there any set formula—staffers do not sit around plugging your test scores, extracurriculars, or class rank into a computer to determine a winning applicant. Instead, they read through each application looking at the whole profile.

Of course there are some general requirements: the SAT and SAT Subject tests or the ACT. There are also some recommendations: four years of English, math through precalculus, three or four years of a foreign language, two years of history and social science, at least two years of natural science (including a laboratory science).

Realizing that students bring to the table different backgrounds and experiences, and that each student has been presented with various opportunities that others haven’t, admissions officers look at how students made use of where they were and what they were offered. The college seeks multifaceted students who will not only give their intellects, energies, and talents to the school, but who will also gain the most from their education and experience.

Financial Aid

Insufficient family income will never be an impediment to a qualified student, as the college maintains a need blind admissions policy. In fact, Amherst is now one of very few schools to be need-blind for international students as well as Americans. The college has also replaced all loans with scholarships in its financial aid packages, so that no student need ever graduate with debt. If a student is on financial aid, that aid also applies to studying abroad as well.

More than half of students take part-time jobs on campus, whether or not work-study is part of their financial aid packages. Jobs are available in Valentine Dining Hall, Frost Library, Keefe Campus Center, the Physical Plant, and elsewhere. Many students spend at least one summer working on campus in an office internship or a research fellowship. The Center for Community Engagement also offers Fellowships for Action to support students who wish to spend the summer doing community outreach work, domestically or abroad.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 4885th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Massachusetts.


The campus boasts more than 100 student organizations and a rich calendar of popular entertainers. Every weekend,a student group called FLICS screens a different film free in Keefe Campus Center. Frost Library hosts a weekly Community Tea, Valentine Dining Hall periodically puts on a festive Luau, and every year, there’s a Casino night to raise money for local charities. There is a rich social life on campus and no Greek system.

There’s plenty of fun and enrichment off-campus, too. The New York Times has called The Pioneer Valley “arguably the most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place in the nation.” Community theater, amateur and professional music, and social dancing all thrive in the area.

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


Amherst is an NCAA Division III school and a charter member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), with thirteen varsity sports teams for women and fourteen for men. There are also six intramural sports for women and six for men, including rugby and Ultimate Frisbee. About one-third of the student body are varsity athletes, and as many as eighty percent play on the intramural teams. Athletic facilities include Pratt Pool, Orr Rink, indoor and outdoor tracks, thirty-three tennis courts, baseball and softball diamonds, and a nine-hole golf course. More casual fitness buffs can simply work out in the Wolff Fitness Center, go for a walk in the bird sanctuary, or take any of several free, noncredit physical education classes.


Amherst has a long roster of well-known alumni, including:

  • Henry Ward Beecher, 1834, preacher and abolitionist
  • Joseph Hardy Neesima, 1870, first Japanese graduate of a Western college and founder of Doshisha University
  • Melvil Dewey, 1874, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System
  • Calvin Coolidge, 1895, thirtieth President of the United States
  • Charles Drew, 1926, surgeon and inventor of blood banking
  • Richard Wilbur, 1942, U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes
  • Joseph Stiglitz, 1964, Nobel Prizewinning economist
  • Teller, 1969, illusionist (of Penn & Teller)
  • Patrick Fitzgerald, 1982, U.S. District Attorney
  • David Foster Wallace, 1985, author
  • Jeffrey Wright, 1987, stage and screen actor
  • Debby Applegate, 1989, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer
  • Lauren Groff, 2001, bestselling author
  • Kimmie Weeks, 2005, founder of Youth Action International

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