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The Reputation of the University of Massachusetts Amherst

kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
edited April 2013 in Massachusetts Colleges
Hello everyone!

It has been quite awhile since I browsed the CC forums (mostly because I see myself in these stressed, overworked high schoolers and it depresses me). Anyway, I thought I'd quickly pop in to vouch for my experience at UMass Amherst.

I'll be perfectly honest: when I ended up at UMass, I had every intention of leaving the school after a year for some other, "more prestigious" institution. I was crushed that I didn't get into any of my top choices, and UMass was honestly my last-ditch effort. I was wait listed at Vanderbilt, and that school was constantly on my mind.

But I didn't leave UMass, and I very quickly realized that my perceptions of the school couldn't have been more wrong. As a Connecticut resident, I actually didn't know about the party reputation of the school - but I was sure that my efforts in high school had been wasted because UMass was not up-to-snuff academically. To reiterate, my preconceptions were extremely off-base.

For reference, I think it is important to note that I am a microbiology major in the Commonwealth Honors College, and that I am also working on a certificate in film studies. I have been involved in many different campus student groups (the Hillel House, Pre-Medical Society, The Daily Collegian) as well as community-based activities (volunteer educator at the local cinema, co-host of a radio show at Hampshire College). I have been involved in research on-campus as a student since I arrived, and have happily remained in my most recent lab for over a year.

My professors, particularly in my upper-level microbiology and film courses, have been nothing short of spectacular. From a History of Animation professor who worked with Alan Moore on editing From Hell, to an Immunology Laboratory professor who was a chief medical technician in Jamaica, to my PI in my biophysics research lab who has won award after award for her work on cytoskeleton and molecular motor studies, the faculty at this school is absolutely stunning. The work they assign is very challenging, but our professors encourage us to think on a much higher level than I think many other undergraduates in comparable programs, giving us applicable skills and problem-solving tools that we can bring into jobs or different academic setting in the future.

So yes, the school is big on partying - that is true. But that rowdy group represents a small (albeit loud) subsection of the student population. For the most part, students here (particularly in my circles and programs) all seem to be very, very bright and capable students.

In sum, I encourage anyone considering UMass to really think hard before writing it off; all-star faculty and an ever-improving student body are really putting our school on the map. If anyone has any questions or doubts whatsoever, please don't hesitate to ask.
Post edited by kimonoko on

Replies to: The Reputation of the University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • Iris2694Iris2694 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    Hi! So I'm still waiting to hear back from all of my more "prestigious" colleges that I really want to be accepted to (pipedream-Yale) and I've already been accepted to UMass Amherst's Honors College as a political science major. They're offering me a Dean's Scholarship, and I have another scholarship that would waive my tuition for the next four years. Apparently there's money set aside for me for college that I just found out about, so if I went to UMass I could probably graduate with little to no debt. The thing is, I have a lot of reservations about it like you did, and I'm really conflicted. Everyone at school is widely split on it, with some basically dismissing it as "it's UMASS, need I say more?" while others view it as more of a mid-rank school, not the best, but not something to be looked down on either. My mother's friend said that employers now view a UMass degree fairly highly, but then I heard someone the other day say something about how UMass is essentially getting worse and employers will no longer employ UMass grads. I guess my question is, should the money be a large factor in Umass's favor for me? and how much of what I hear about UMass should I actually believe?
  • kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
    Hey Iris2694 - great questions! First of all, congratulations on those scholarships - they aren't easy to get. Financially, I would say that UMass makes a lot of sense, particularly for in-state students (I'm actually from Connecticut myself), especially with those academic awards (and there are many more to apply for once you're in if need be).

    The truth about UMass is that there is partying, of course - as there is almost any big university - and mostly on Friday/Saturday nights. However, educating yourself about how the campus is laid out can help you totally bypass that experience if that's what you'd like.

    I personally have no time for drinking or partying (I know, hard to believe), as do many other students at this school. As such, I made sure I was in Orchard Hill, as far away as possible from the notoriously rowdy Southwest, for both of my first semesters. That was before moving off-campus to a very nice (and reasonable price-wise) apartment complex (complete with a pool!) just 8 minutes from campus, where nary a peep is heard from my neighbors.

    Long story short, the partying is there if you seek it out, but something like less than 10% of the student population are involved in Greek life; I've never had any direct interactions with a fraternity or sorority myself. And despite all of that, the folks who make an effort to stay away from those areas of campus (and indeed some who choose to brave the party scene, including some of my close, successful science major friends) are some excellent, hard-working students.

    UMass is a mid-ranked school, whatever that means in the context of college reputations. However, depending on the program you're looking into, it may be very near the top of the pile for its quality of education and the opportunities it offers thereof. Prestige has its merits, but don't get roped in by a fancier name if the program isn't as good or if it's going to put you into debt. Word is that our school is getting harder and harder to get into, the Commonwealth Honors College is rising in renown around the country, and folks are really taking UMass seriously - it's been hard work shedding the spectre of years past.

    As for employers, I can only speak for my major (microbiology). I can say that as an undergraduate I am on my second graduate (500) level laboratory course where I am learning skills used all the time in industry and academia. In fact, my professor in Immunology is often asked by companies for a list of students from his class who he feels have mastered the requisite techniques and consider them for hire.

    I have found that employers seem to be very open to applicants from our school *who distinguish themselves.* There are many, many awards, scholarships, and opportunities with which to make yourself stand out, but it is left to the students to pursue them. You will quickly find that there is that top-tier selection of students who will go after those awards, but I have a feeling you'll fit right in where that's concerned. And then once you have that experience/internship/etc., you should be fine applying to jobs afterward (or medical/graduate/professional school). The career center is very good at supporting and advocating for our students, and the advisors that I've worked with in my department have all been stellar.

    Sorry for the long, rather unfocused reply - if you need me to elaborate or clear anything up, just let me know. May I ask what you're interested in studying?
  • Iris2694Iris2694 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    Firstly thank you so much for all of that info, it really helps :)
    Secondly I have been accepted as a political science major, but I'm also interested in engineering, so I don't know if that will possibly lead to my changing my major or if I will just pursue it as a minor.
    Out of curiosity, what is your opinion on the new honors housing? I feel like it could be a good thing because living there you may have more in common with people etc, but on the other hand would people not in the honors college view it as sort of elitist? (Not that that would change my mind about applying there for housing if I do choose UMass, I'm just curious to hear your take on it)
  • kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
    From the majors you described, it sounds like you might be interested in going into patent law...? If so, majoring in engineering while taking the pre-law requirements is a great way to familiarize yourself with your clientele/industry (don't quote me, but that's what I've heard).

    Anyway, you don't have to know what you want to do for a career right now. But you should really consider that the engineering program is *very* competitive, and *very* tough at UMass (as it is at most schools), and that there are myriad programs you might enroll in (mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc.). Also note that there are no minors in engineering - only related fields like "engineering management" (and I don't know what that is). I assume this is because it's a very, very rigid and rigorous program from which it is difficult to cherry pick enough classes to fulfill a meaningful minor.

    My roommate is a mechanical engineering major, actually - smart, smart guy but the work load is unbelievable. Having said that, he's learning some really cool stuff that will set him up nicely for a career post-college. But if you're not interested in being a straight-up engineer, perhaps you would be better suited to just majoring in political science while taking as many engineering courses as they'll allow (you're offered a surprising amount of wiggle-room at UMass if you ask the professors nicely!).

    As for living on campus, I would highly, highly recommend you check out the RAP/TAP programs at UMass. They are excellent academic initiatives where you live with a bunch of folks for your freshmen year that are all interested in studying the same thing. You have to apply, but I'm sure you'll get in - there are honors RAPs and TAPs, too, and those will be housed in the honors complex from now on. I was in BioTAP (Biology Talent Advancement Program) which is now an honors TAP (although it wasn't then, despite the fact that we had to take honors courses as a part of the program). It was an... interesting experience residentially, but academically it opened up many, many doors for me.

    And finally, here are my feelings on the new Honors complex:

    Pros

    - When UMass builds new buildings, they're awesome; the ISB was brand new when I arrived at the school and I still think it's my favorite building on campus. This principle will undoubtedly transfer over to the new complex.
    - You'll be surrounded by kids just like you who strove for other universities, but chose UMass for various reasons. I can absolutely confirm this based on my experience in BioTAP freshmen year.
    - It's a multi-year complex. You might not want to hear this, but freshmen are pretty immature and don't know what to do with themselves in college. Thankfully, because people from all of the classes will be living together, you can always look to or go hang out with the (usually) more level-headed juniors and seniors if need be.
    - It's multi-disciplinary. Students from every area of study will be there, living together in a reasonably closed-off community, and that's how great ideas are formed.
    - It's close to Southwest, so you'll have much easier access than I ever did to Berkshire Dining Commons (redone a year or so ago, considered the best dining hall on campus - although I definitely disagree) and Hampshire Dining Commons (being redone right now, and easily my pick for the best dining hall on campus). Plus, I hear they'll have their own dining hall - sweet!

    Cons

    - It's located right next to Southwest, which is unfortunate both because it's not near anything science/engineering-related (although it might be closer to political science classes) and because Friday/Saturday nights might be crazy. It's kind of too early to tell if it's closed off-enough not to be influenced by its neighbors, but I think it's a fair bet that the freshmen will think it's "super cool" to be near the crazy folks and then act accordingly.
    - It is more expensive than regular dorms, although I'm not sure why.
  • Iris2694Iris2694 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    Actually I'd never even thought of patent law, but now that you mention it it's interesting to consider, my plan right now actually is to work for the UN (if I stick with political science). If I head towards engineering instead I'd like to do work with Solidworks (basically 3D modeling/design) and things like that. Do you know if your roommate gets to use solidworks in mechanical engineering, or would that probably be in a different major?
  • LilylightLilylight Posts: 5Registered User New Member
    I graduated from UMass many moons ago (early 2000's) but I will definitely agree with Kimonoko. I too had applied and was accepted to other schools considered more prestigious but after receiving a scholarship which covered almost the entire cost of my tuition and housing my parents basically told me I had no other choice. I ended up absolutely loving it! And graduating debt free was something I wish every student had the opportunity to do...if only I had that chance in grad school! lol. While yes, it did have a party reputation I honestly did not find it any wilder than any other large university. During my undergrad days I took a couple road trips to visit high school friends at their colleges and found the weekend party scene to be similar. Being such a large campus with so many different areas to live in and places to hang out on the weekends, you can go big or be low key and still have a great college experience. Honestly, there was something to do for everyone. As mentioned, Southwest was always known for being louder on weekends but the other areas were pretty low key from my experience.

    As for the reputation and employers hiring UMass grads, I have seen no issue with this at all. Again, I am a older, but I currently live in NYC and I know of several alumni who work at top firms in the Wall street area including my husband who is also a UMass grad. I also have some friends in the Boston area, a couple being engineering grads, who also have been very successful in their respective areas. I think it's also worth mentioning that in terms of being accepted to top graduate schools I never saw an issue. I worked for two years after graduation and then went to Columbia for my Masters.

    When I was a student the Honors College had not started yet or special housing for that program so I can't speak on that. However, I know for a fact that UMass has gotten much more competitive since I was an undergrad. Since graduating I know 4 high school students personally who, during my years would have probably been a shoo-in for admission, but were denied. The reason I am even on these message boards is b/c my little sister is currently awaiting a decision. And even in her case, we are by no means even close to sure she will get accepted. I believe that because of the economic situation you will see MANY students who are among the top graduates at their high schools who, although accepted to very "prestigious" colleges, have found that financially UMass is what they can afford. Also, as already mentioned, UMass has some programs within the university which are very competitive and sought after even over what many would consider "better" schools. So you will see a lot of top students who chose UMass over a bigger name/reputation school. So please don't feel that if you end up going to UMass that you will not be among some of the best and brightest...you will.

    So after all of that rambling: I firmly believe that UMass is what you make of it. The tools are all there. There is something for everyone. You will find many challenging classes with professors who are passionate about there work and who love teaching the next generation. There are a ton of clubs and activities. I personally found the campus to be beautiful and the town of Amherst quite cute. My husband and I have even traveled back on occasion just for lunch at Antonio's pizza in town and a walk around campus to reminisce. If I could rewind the clock I would go back in a heartbeat I loved it so much! A little fun fact for current UMass students: back when I was an undergrad Antonio's had a little satellite shop set up in the Southwest Munchy store! Perfect for late night cravings. There was also a place called Sugar Jones that delivered fresh baked cookies and milk right to your dorm in the middle of the night. I wonder if that is still around?
  • kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
    First of all, a big thumbs up to what Lilylight said - we're definitely on the same page! Although while a satellite front for Antonio's on-campus and a milk/cookie delivery service sound awesome, I don't think those are still things at UMass. However, Antonio's does deliver!

    Anyway, for Iris2694's question on SolidWorks: to be honest, I'm not sure if you'll be working with SolidWorks. But if I remember correctly, my roommate said that you do begin to start working with AutoDesk and programs like that as an upperclassman.

    As for which kind of engineering would mean you get to work with those programs, I can only draw on my own experiences. I went to a science and engineering high school in Hartford, CT, where we were required to take a certain number of classes in both subjects - these included a few engineering design courses where we learned AutoCAD 3D modeling and 2D drawing. I think that based on the projects our teachers (many of whom used to be engineers themselves) had us doing, mechanical engineering is a very good bet if you're eager to start working with 3D modeling programs.

    But don't take it from me - check out the curricula for the different majors online! All of the majors on our campus should have their full course requirements list posted online, which might help you figure out what it is you will have to take as an engineering major.
  • Iris2694Iris2694 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    Thank you for the advice, and thank you both Lilylight and kimonoko for all the information!!
    I feel a lot better informed moving forward, and once I have heard from all of my schools I think I will feel much more prepared to make a decision. Thank you both so much!!
  • kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
    No problem, Iris2694 - best of luck with all of your college decisions!
  • Iris2694Iris2694 Posts: 8Registered User New Member
    Not sure if this will get seen, but I've actually enrolled at UMass and I have more questions, I've heard there's a roommate survey you can do in May, how does that work/how comprehensive is it? would it be better to just look for a roommate through my class's facebook page? also, after freshman year, is there a large price difference between living on campus vs living in an off-campus apartment? I know this is kind of belated in this thread (sorry!!) any info you can give me would be hugely appreciated :)
  • kimonokokimonoko Posts: 14Registered User New Member
    Hello Iris2694,

    I saw your post awhile back but it's been pretty busy here as we reach the end of the semester. Anyway, congratulations on choosing UMass - I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself out here!

    As for the roommate survey, I would suggest taking it (it's on SPIRE) and answering as honestly as possible. I don't know how comprehensive or useful it is in choosing a roommate beyond basic things (smoking/non-smoking roommates, for example), but it's short and it can't hurt. Looking for a roommate on Facebook is also an excellent choice if you're willing to spend the time looking around, as it's a more personal way of finding someone you can connect with.

    Living off-campus is a sort of complicated issue. The university does a great job of providing resources to learn about those options, but I can tell you from experience that there are significant advantages and disadvantages to not living in a dorm (I can get into that in more detail if you'd like, but they're fairly obvious - convenience, for example). Price varies depending on if your in-state/out-of-state because while it's about the same for me living off-campus, I'm also used to paying more than the average student because I'm from Connecticut. Price also varies depending on what apartment complex you choose to live in.

    Also note that living off-campus one semester eliminates your eligibility to live on-campus the following semester. Take that into serious consideration when thinking about living off-campus so in your UMass career!
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