I have the good (and bad) fortune to be choosing between Amherst and Williams. I recently visited both schools, spent a night in a dorm, went to classes, talked to lots of students, etc. However, I am still pretty torn as to where I should go. Basically, I would like to hear people's opinions on the two schools on anything and everything.
Because it seemed like a good idea, I made a pro/con list:
Amherst Pros: 1. The location is not quite as remote. It is easier to get to (and to get out of) and is in a town that has more than one street.
2. It has a completely open curriculum (although it seems the distribution requirements at Williams aren't all that painful to fulfill)
3. It is more diverse. Depending on who you ask, it has about 50% "white Americans", whereas Williams is 64%.
4. The five colleges surrounding it allow for a little more interaction with surrounding schools, as well as more classes and resources.
1. The entry system and the ability to get singles if you want them. It seems like the entry system does a really good job of creating bonded communities of first years.
2. It has the Oxford-style tutorials which allow for 2 on 1 interaction with a professor.
3. I may be wrong, but it seems like the alumni at Williams are more involved, and do a better job of getting jobs and internships for students. It also seems like Williams grads have better chances at getting into grad schools.
Could someone maybe comment on what Amherst's version of the entry system is? I got the feeling that there was less of a "community" feel at Amherst, especially in the freshman dorms.
I also got the feeling that Williams students seemed more passionate about their school and were overall more excited to be there, whereas Amherst students liked their school, but weren't ecstatic about it.
I also got the feeling that Amherst students were 1. More diverse and 2. slightly more intellectual/focused on academics whereas Williams students were 1. More homogeneous (well-off, white, athletic kids) and 2. Focused on academics, but also focused on having a good time and playing sports.
Lastly, could someone comment on whether the following sentiment seems true: I am from a public school with lots of well-off, white, athletic kids who lean slightly to the left politically and are driven to do well in school but also to have fun and play sports. Would it be incorrect to assume that Williams would be more of a "safe" choice because the kids are similar to my high school, whereas I might get to "broaden my horizons" at Amherst where kids are more diverse socially/economically? Because that is the feeling that I got.
AvsW, I think in a lot of instances you're splitting straws here. To me the biggest difference between Amherst and Williams is the small town atmosphere of Amherst -- and the surrounding five college consortium -- vs the mountain village of Williamstown. The other points, while valid, could go either way. Amherst has its share of WASP athletes, Williams has liberals, intellectuals and all kinds of diversity.
Be wary of over analyzing percentages: in schools of this size 3 or 4 students can move the needle on paper, but not make a big impact on culture, especially since Amherst, without the consortium, is 25% smaller than Williams so in sheer numbers Williams has more.
My son had a great experience at Williams. He loved the entry system (and in fact became a junior advisor) and benefited from Williams in internships, jobs and graduate school admissions. He wasn't that keen on the tutorials, though he admired the concept.
For him, Williams' insular isolated community was a pro and Amherst's consortium a con. He enjoyed Winter Study (January term) and the active, outdoorsy environment, even though he was not a team athlete. Williams has a major edge in the arts -- studio art, theater, music -- but it doesn't seem that that's a deal breaker for you.
You'll get an excellent eduation and go on to be healthy, wealthy and wise from either one.
It really is splitting hairs. There is no difference at all in terms of job or grad school placement; both fare equally well and, really, are as good as any place in each regard. The academic and social experience is very similar at both as well. In terms of reputation, overall academic excellence, and post-grad opportunities, they are dead even. The diversity is closer than you think, even if Amherst has a SLIGHT edge; in the most recent class, Williams was 40 percent non-American-whites, and I am fairly certain Amherst was actually lower than 50, so not much of a difference there. Plus, Williams is a bit larger, so there are actually more black and latino students overall on campus at Williams (I believe) (Amherst does have a few more asian-Americans however, and Amherst as a town is more diverse than Williamstown). Although Williams has more of a jock reputation, they each have the same number of highly recruited varsity athletes, and Amherst has amped up its varsity athletic program to the point where it is basically even with Williams in most sports (especially in sports like football, hockey, soccer, basketball that require the most recruiting); however, the average NON-athlete on campus is likely a bit more outdoorsy / sporty at Williams, a bit more urban / cosmopolitan at Amherst, but the difference is pretty much negligible.
In terms of differences, Williams offers Winter Study (Amherst winter term is attended by relatively few students, I think Winter Study is one of the best aspects of Williams, but some might prefer the, essentially, five plus week vacation offered by Amherst), Williams has the Oxford abroad program plus tutorials which are certainly a difference, Williams has more spectacular natural offerings (hiking, skiing, amazing golf, Hopkins Forest, etc.) in the immediate area, the entry / JA system as you note, better academic and social life facilities overall (brand new theater, science center, two new humanities buildings, two new or newish student centers, five dining halls vs. one etc., Amherst has wonderful new dorms but otherwise its facilities are seriously lagging), a slightly larger student body, tremendous school spirit with great attendance at student sporting events, concerts, and the like, more insular student community.
Amherst offers the five college consortium, a much more vibrant town with more dining and drinking options, and plenty of other things that Amherst folks are better equipped to discuss and am sure will on the Amherst forum.
Pretty perceptive rundown. But the schools are very alike.
It might be useful for you to consider that every entry is different. Some are great successes and others are, well, not. And some people react negatively to the setup, nice as it sounds. My entry experience was negative, on the whole. My JAs basically fit the bill of the negative stereotypes about Williams you encounter. So it wasn't pleasant.
BTW, there's a big difference between being intellectual and being focused on academics. Don't put a '/' between them...
Another factor worth considering is that the town of Amherst is dominated (some would say overwhelmed) by the U Mass students. Amherst students and Alums who we spoke with said that they had little to do with the town.