Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 5 and the 7: “Prime” New England Liberal Arts Schools

We have spent the past two days in Amherst, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston—and quite rural.  Lily and Abby stayed with their cousin Joely, who is a sophomore at Amherst College, one of the five schools in a consortium that combines over 30,000 students and a library of 9 million volumes.  What distinguishes Amherst, with an enrollment of 1800 students, from other small liberal arts colleges in New England is its participation in this consortium, which allows students to take classes and use the resources of all the other colleges, and its open curriculum.  Like Brown, Amherst has no general education or distribution requirements for academic study; students choose all their own courses in addition to their major.
Robert Frost Library at Amherst

Amherst Green--before spring leaves
The other schools in this consortium are the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (a public school and by far the largest—about 28,000 undergraduates and graduates combined), Hampshire College (a more “alternative” or ecologically focused liberal arts college of about 1,500 students), Smith and Mt. Holyoke (both liberal arts colleges that admit only women, comparable to Amherst in academic reputation).

I visited Mt. Holyoke while my daughters spent time with their cousin.  It is part of another consortium as well, the “Seven Sisters.”  This is a group of women’s colleges in New England joined together in the early 20th century as a kind of female equivalent to the then all male “Ivy League.” 

*Do you know the names of the five other colleges in the consortium besides Mt. Holyoke and Smith?  I’ll give the answer in a later post.  (See "Back to Boston: Tufts and Harvard.")

Founded in 1837, Mt. Holyoke is the oldest of the Seven Sisters, and it has both a gorgeous campus and impressive programs.  25% of its students are international.  The curriculum does include distribution requirements but they are quite broad and my tour guide explained how taking a physics course in alternative energy really sparked her interest in a new field.  She even became the TA for the course the next term. She would never have taken the course without the distribution requirement.  With charming rituals like milk and cookies study breaks, Mt. Holyoke is certainly not a choice for every female student.  But I found its academic offerings intriguing and extra curricular opportunities as fantastic as Amherst’s.  Rachel Maddow was slated to visit Amherst later this week and the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, had just visited Mt. Holyoke.
Mt. Holyoke

Any student interested in small liberal arts colleges should check out the Five College Consortium.

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