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Comparing Amherst with Williams

gagilordgagilord 55 replies3 threads Junior Member
edited October 2007 in Amherst College
Hey everyone!

Im a prospective student to both colleges (Williams and Amherst) and im trying to decide where to apply ED. Could people who are more familiar with either one of the colleges please outline its benefits and drawbacks.

For instance, Williams is number one on USnews and has been that way for quite a while. Does that mean Amherst is less academically intense and the quality of education is somewhat not as good? Or is the difference in the rankings caused merely by some triviality?

Also, Williams is known as the 'jock' LAC. What about amherst, does athletics play such an important part?

Finally, williams college has ''ephblog.com'' and swartmore has its ''live journal'' where people outside (prospective students like me) can interact with current students of both colleges and ask questions. I was wondering whether amherst has a website/blog/forum where the same can be done.

Please post any impressions (good and bad) of both colleges

Thank you
edited October 2007
31 replies
Post edited by gagilord on
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Replies to: Comparing Amherst with Williams

  • rl.hillrl.hill 192 replies26 threads Junior Member
    I attend Williams College.

    The fact that williams is ranked number one doesn't mean much. Both schools are incredible, williams is just slightly bigger and has a larger endowment than amherst. Triviality is definitely a factor, though there are very real differences between the two schools. Williams's culture is a lot more seclusive to Williams students, and parties/get-togethers, etc. are held and generally attended by only students of williams college. Drinking is a very big element of the williams social scene, though there are things to do besides drink. Williams (in general) seems to me to be the more traditional school, where mostly future wall-streeters, doctors, lawyers, etc. attend. It may just be my perception, but it seems like amherst is the more non-traditional school.

    With that said, the math and sciences department at williams are much stronger than at amherst, although the arts at amherst are much stronger than at williams. Both schools are equal in terms of academics, but seem very much like two sides of the same coin in terms of culture, atmosphere, students, etc. Both schools have amazing power strongholds in every part of the country, so you wold not lose by attending either.

    I will say, however, that the social scene at amherst is much better than at williams. Amherst has an actual town, with the five-college consortium, whereas williams just has Williamstown. At times, williams can feel very secluded. However, my perception of the amherst student body left me feeling as if amherst is more uptight and artsy (no offense) than williams.

    You should visit each. prefrosh tend to use the visit to filter the two. Amherst has no student loans, but i'm sure williams will implement the same policy soon.
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  • unregisteredunregistered 1177 replies3 threads Senior Member
    Arguably, the most academically intense is actually #3.
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  • rl.hillrl.hill 192 replies26 threads Junior Member
    oops, found a typo. narcistic = nihilistic. sorry
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  • unregisteredunregistered 1177 replies3 threads Senior Member
    I think Williams is stronger in the arts, too, though Amherst may have an edge in the humanities. Their per student endowments are roughly equal, so that's not really an issue.

    I don't think most Amherst students are particularly uptight, but we may be a bit quirkier than Williams students? I think a bit more liberal, I don't know...the student bodies are very similar. Williams is much more insular. Academically, they are really very identical.
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    You just have to see where you feel more inspired. My son was much more inspired by Williams' campus: the proximity of the mountains and the layout of the campus. It's true that Williamstown is more secluded, but the campus itself, running along Rte. 7, has a more expansive feel.

    He chose Williams because the music program is much more extensive, as is the art program. Amherst's strength is in social sciences, philosophy, American Studies and legal studies.

    People seem to fall in love with one school or the other. I think they're both incredible. I don't think Amherst is more quirky than Williams, however. Lord Jeff vs. a Eph, a purple spotted cow? Now which is sillier?

    BTW: My son is definitely the "quirky" type. He does want to eventually do medicine, after he majors in music, but for him medicine means Doctors Without Borders. He found Amherst more pretentious. I did not. Amherst is extremely dedicated to recruiting URM's and takes its educational philosophy, i.e. no requirements, seriously.

    Both are great, as are Wesleyan, Vassar, Swarthmore, Haverford, etc.... There are many choices.
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  • momrathmomrath 5986 replies39 threads Senior Member
    gagilord, My son just graduated from Williams. He considered Amherst but as mythmom says, he was "inspired" Williams. The reaction is often visceral and immediate. The fact that you are posting your question on the Amherst board instead of the Williams board, leads me to suspect that you already have a preference. Amherst is a fine school; under no circumstances should you let USNWR the rating influence you.

    I would take exception, however, that Williams kids are more athletic, drink more or are any more professional or less quirky than Amherst kids. On these points-- and academics in general -- the schools are absolutely equal.

    I would give Williams a strong first in the Arts -- museums, theater. Amherst does have the consortium to draw on, however, which evens things out.

    The town of Amherst is one of the great college towns in America. Williamstown has profoundly beautiful natural surroundings. So, again, it's a personal decision.
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  • toraseetorasee 568 replies11 threads Member
    although the arts at amherst are much stronger than at williams.

    I don't believe that this is correct. Williams is known for its strong art department and has produced curators for many of the major museums in the US. Further, Amherst is not known for strength in the arts at all. Rl.Hill may be assuming that Amherst emphasizes the arts simply because of his sense that Amherst students are more "artsy" than Williams students. The latter may be true but that does not necessarily mean that Amherst's strength is in the arts . .
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  • unregisteredunregistered 1177 replies3 threads Senior Member
    Perhaps he meant the humanities?
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  • CatfishCatfish 717 replies8 threads Member
    For your purposes, the most important thing you can do is visit both, hopefully overnight. Do try to avoid parent's weekend, because that won't give you a true sense of the school. Pick up a paper copy of both school's catalogs and flip through them, see what courses interest you. The level of academic quality at both is so high and so similar, that personal preference is easily the most important factor.

    As far as athletics, Williams has a slightly higher percentage of varsity athletes (40% vs. 1/3) and has ranked as the number one D3 athletics program for almost a decade (though Amherst was 4th this year). Athletics at both are very big, but moreso at Williams.
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  • tetrisfantetrisfan 11647 replies144 threads Senior Member
    If you're undecided, don't do ED. Seriously, if you ED one and get in, you'll be left lamenting 'What if...'. I'd say apply RD to both. Be happy if you get into one (they aren't easy to get into!), be ecstatic if you get into both, and choose only then. ED is not meant for people in your situation.
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  • gagilordgagilord 55 replies3 threads Junior Member
    First of all thank you all for posting here and kindly answering my question.

    I realise that the best way to decide which college is for me i need to visit them. Unfortunately i am an international student (with a Bulgarian passport but living in Italy). A trip to the US would be really expensive and my parents can't afford it right now.

    Although i am not 100% decided on any college i will still apply ED because that significantly increases my chances of getting in and my stats arent that good for an international student. I know that i will be stuck with the college if i get accepted but thats a risk i have to take :(

    I plan to study physics and something else in college (something more humanitarian..i dont want to be stuck doing maths and physics all the time). So i guess in that aspect Williams is a better fit because of its strong science and maths departments.

    Finally, this drinking thing about WIlliams...do people go to extremes (=are drunk 80% of the time) or drink just to have fun? Also do the athletics play such an important part in social life that if you are not part of it you feel isolated?

    Thank you all once again!
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    Since my son is a freshman I cannot answer the question about campus culture too well. However, I can say that Williams' too biggest boosters for him were two young women who are not athletes who adore(d) the school. One has performed in ten plays in two years; the other was heavily active in another student group. From my impression, although athletics are big at Williams, the more vital thing is to be involved with extracurriculars, not necessarily athletics. My S is a music person, and I'm sure his involvement with music groups will be as engrossing to him as athletes' involvement is to them.

    None of the three people I mentioned drink.

    If you can't visit, you can get a real feel for the school by perusing the website.
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  • TianXiaTianXia 134 replies5 threads Junior Member
    If it helps, I know a ton of Bulgarians at Amherst.
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  • momrathmomrath 5986 replies39 threads Senior Member
    Finally, this drinking thing about WIlliams...do people go to extremes (=are drunk 80% of the time) or drink just to have fun? Also do the athletics play such an important part in social life that if you are not part of it you feel isolated?

    No and No. My son is an artist, museum docent and trekker. His friends are musicians, actors, dancers, political activists, do-gooders :). None of them is a heavy drinker.

    Gagilord, the major significant difference between Amherst and Williams is location. Amherst is in a small, lively town swarming with college students from several colleges. Williamstown is a mountain village. It's beautiful but remotely located making the Williams experience more insular than that at Amherst. If visiting is impossible, then you'll just have to visualize.

    I wouldn't get distracted by figures on athletes. Both colleges have 20+ varsity teams which require a lot of participants. (Actually, because Amherst is smaller, there are numerically more NON-athletes at Williams.) Both colleges attract physically active kids, but the focus is on doing something, anything, not necessarily organized sports.
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  • direwolfdirewolf 37 replies4 threads Junior Member
    Can anyone contrast the film studies courses at Amherst v. Williams?
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  • minimini 26172 replies259 threads Senior Member
    If you want to know about drinking at Williams, you can consult the school's own data (which they made public).

    Williams was a pioneer in film studies, and had the late great Charlie Samuels, bless his soul. No idea what the situation is now.

    You really need to visit. The music department and art history departments at Williams are much, much stronger than at Amherst (they are, however, much stronger at Smith than at Amherst, and many Amherst students take advantage of that). Languages - especially Romance languages are stronger at Amherst (especially if one includes the Five College offerings.) It is also worth checking out the Five College Certificate programs, which extend Amherst offerings well beyond what Williams is able to offer in certain areas:


    (One of the surprising things, though, is that in some of the Five College programs, Amherst is clearly the weak brother - but that's what the programs are for.)
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  • onemoremomonemoremom 395 replies10 threads Member
    "Williams has a slightly higher percentage of varsity athletes (40% vs. 1/3)"

    Actually, the proportion of varsity athletes at Williams is about 1/3 (34%).
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  • EntenduEntendu 20 replies0 threads New Member
    If you're concerned about the prevalence of drinking, whichever way you may prefer, Amherst probably has it the best. If you're completely adverse to the idea of substance use, there is a significant group of students at Amherst who feel the same way, and there is a lot of stuff to do that doesn't involve it. But even so, it doesn't preclude you from hanging out with the people that do. A lot of the students who opt for sub-free housing go to the parties just like everyone else, they just choose not to drink and no one minds. But if you are looking for a substance heavy culture, we're right next door to Hampshire and UMass(not to mention that alcohol is incredibly easy to obtain here), which you can draw your own inferences about. Amherst is great in the sense that no matter what you want out of college, you can find it here or through one of the other Five Colleges. On the other hand, Williams is lacking in certain respects.

    I can't really comment on the strength of the art or music departments at Amherst as I haven't had enough experience with them. However, I can say that Amherst lives up to its reputation as the "Singing College". Our Acapella groups and choral societies are extremely good. If you're ever going to visit, you should try to catch a performance by the Zumbyes.
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    As a musician, my son chose Williams. Amherst has a very small department. Although the professor he contacted was quite friendly, he made it clear that
    Amherst's offerings were very limited.

    Williams has a much larger course offering. There are several composers on the faculty and more than one studio for many instruments. The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra is a semi-professional orchestra that exists along side of the student orchestra.

    For the serious musician, the consortium is not as good as it seems. Because music requires so much practice time, my S felt he would not have the time to travel to other campuses to benefit from their offerings.

    As for film, Williams does not have a separate film department, and Amherst does, so Amherst wins there. However, there are film courses offering through the English Department. My S has a film-English prof. right now whom he says is awesome. First class they discussed the metafictional elements of the narrative style of Psycho. Since one of his goals is to write movie music movies are very important to him.

    In addition, Williams has a yearly Williamstown Film Festival during the Fall semester. John Sayles and David Strathairn both attended Williams.
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  • minimini 26172 replies259 threads Senior Member
    "For the serious musician, the consortium is not as good as it seems. Because music requires so much practice time, my S felt he would not have the time to travel to other campuses to benefit from their offerings."

    Well, we can only speak from experience. The Five College Consortium sponsors an opera program, to which my d. was the paid research assistant attached (starting her first year), and prepared the first score of the first opera ever written by a woman, in 1626. It was performed with musicians (and faculty) from all five colleges, headed by a Five College Professor, founder of the Folger Early Music Consort (whose office was at Mount Holyoke), on the Smith Campus, with 2300 people attending three performances. Faculty from around the U.S. came in for the event. Williams has nothing even close. (And this doesn't even include the chance to participate, as either player or singer, as a paid member of the Commonwealth Opera.)

    The Baroque ensemble she is part of met on both the Smith and UMass campuses, again coached by the head of the Folger Consort. Early music Renaissance choirs met at Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and UMass. Composers consortium brought composers from all over the world.
    So while I agree wholeheartedly that Amherst's music department is much, much inferior to that of Williams (indeed, Amherst is the weak brother), the combined resources of the Five Colleges far surpass those of Williams, including the Berkshire Symphony. I'm sorry your s. felt the way he did - because he was poorly informed: the Consortium is BETTER than it seems. But the Williams music department is indeed terrific.
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