Visit to Hampshire

Ok, so we visited Bates College in Maine, Hampshire in Amherst, and Bard in New York State. Thought I would post our impressions and thoughts about all three schools for those of you still trying to decide.
I’m putting each one in a different post. This one is about Bard.
Background on our situation: My son Sawyer is a senior but has always been homeschooled, so his admissions process is a little different than standard schools. He’s also graduating from high school with an AA degree from the local community college, so he has a lot of credits going in.
He didn’t think he’d like Hampshire because it was too freeform, and he has ADD and gets distracted and isn’t a self-starter, so wants something with some structure. But he’s creative, so he wants something where he can stretch the boundaries.
He was CRAZY about Hampshire.
The campus was new, designed as a real campus that made sense, the library is astonishing with all sorts of things you can check out from professional movie making and editing equipment to board games, the kids were friendly and enthusiastic and passionate about what they do, and the setup is perfect. They make it sound complicated, but here’s the gist: You take whatever you want the first year, but you have to take eight classes. Five of the classes have to be from five different categories, so you get a taste of everything. Two can be whatever you want. The last one is being engaged on campus in some sort of club or activity or engagement in the community.
Years two and three, you work with advisors to figure out what you’re good at, what you like, what you want to, what you want to know, and you take classes based on that, or you don’t take classes and you build things and do art, or you travel and learn that way, or you make movies with an internship. You figure out what you want to know, and how to learn it. You can access any professor and any class in any area from Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith or Mt. Holyoke. There are free buses running back and forth all the time. You can take classes in blacksmithing, jewelry making, biology, history, archeology, business and literature, or none of them.
Then in year four, when you’ve narrowed it down, you create new knowledge. A thesis, project, movie, art installation, play, dance. Whatever your thing is. Five percent of kids there publish peer-reviewed work as the lead author while an undergraduate. That’s unheard of anywhere else.
Everyone is creative, engaged, interested, friendly.
They served us lunch while going over financial aid and the way Hampshire works, were professional and welcoming, and made me feel like this was a safe, exciting, intellectual place to be and to learn and to grow. We went to the writing center and met a professor there who was warm and friendly and someone who I wanted to adopt me and I could have been friends with her instantly and gone out for drinks and talked about her life for ages. And all she does is help kids learn to write well.
The financial aid office was clean and large and well-lit and professional and they had a woman who was cheerful and helpful and told me how to appeal. A whole different story than Bates.
Oh, and they don’t do grades. Evaluations, instead, which is what we’ve always done in homeschooling. If you want grades, go take a class at Amherst and have it on your transcript.
By the time we left, my son was ready to start college TODAY. He loved it!

Sounds like a great visit! Both of our kids were also sold on Hampshire after visits, and both attended and graduated. I feel that Hampshire prepared our kids well for life, careers and grad school. Admittedly, there is an expectation that students will (at least to a certain degree) be self-starters who are willing to take charge of their college careers. At the same time, even though students design their own course concentrations, there are an amazing number of ‘hoops’ that must be jumped through, all with faculty guidance, before a degree path can get approved and completed. And, somewhere among the 5 college consortium, pretty much any college course that has ever been offered, can be taken.

My son is a little worried about whether he’ll be enough of a self-starter to get through all of the hoops. He loved Hampshire, but they have a low-ish graduation rate, and I’m sure it’s because a lot of kids transfer out because Hampshire is not a good fit. That said, the five-college consortium is a huge draw for him. He’s in a toss-up between Bates College and Hampshire. Bates has “better outcomes.” Hampshire is a much better fit.

@Meganmm, if he was “CRAZY about Hampshire” it’s a good fit. Outcomes, shmoutcomes. They don’t mean ANYTHING except that some schools spit graduates out after four years, because they regurgitated all the knowledge they were fed and vomited it out on tests. It doesn’t mean they learned ANYTHING. If he’s worried about being enough of a self-starter to get through of all of Hampshire’s academic hoops, he’s a PERFECT candidate. It means he’s psyching himself up for the challenge he knows Hampshire will bring him. Sounds like a Hampster to me. Is he in his first semester now, since these posts of yours were from back in April? And honestly, regarding transfers at Hampshire, because it’s not a “good fit”: for every peer I saw transfer out or leave when I was attending, I met another who transferred in because they hadn’t been happy at more “traditional” schools, and wanted more control over shaping their own education. I always felt so lucky that I had started and ended my undergraduate college career BOTH at Hampshire (and I got into EVERY SINGLE grad school I applied to). I had friends at more “traditional” and “academically prestigious” schools that didn’t get into all the grad schools they applied to, which says something pretty significant about the quality and level of a Hampshire education. Your son will realize that too. I hope he’s at Hampshire over Bates. Hampshire is a better, more engaging and creative school than Bates is (Bates is more like Amherst than Hampshire). Plus, the five college consortium can’t be beaten (you don’t get that in rural Maine). It’s one of the best consortia in the entire U.S.A. The other one being the Claremont Colleges in Southern California.

I have a lot of love for Hampshire too, having known several people who attended – and graduated from – Hampshire when it was still a new school and considered quite experimental.

They seem to be pioneering in attitude and in courage, breaking new ground both fearlessly and shamelessly.

All of the people I know who have graduated from there take the motto quite seriously – to know is not enough. They test and try everything out and aren’t satisfied with assumptions. It can get tiresome! But it helps them find new paths that may be overlooked, whatever the field

When others say: Why do such-and-such? The Hampshire grads I know say: “Why not?” and they find more, and to my mind more creative, possibilities where others haven’t bothered to look. New and uncharted paths.

As with any school, it’s not the right school for everyone, but it offers so much.

One other thing: It’s strong in the sciences! Most people think of Hampshire in terms of the arts, or politics or humanities, but the sciences are quite strong there. As with other topics, Hampshire sciences approach the field not by treating the students as empty vessels to be filled. Rather the model is inquiry-based learning: start with the interesting question of the student’s and then pursue the paths to finding the answer to that question. The basics must also get done to answer those questions, but the difference is that the student is applying the basics as he or she goes along, rather than the more standard model of learning rote, unattached information before being allowed to ask and pursue lines of research an inquiry that truly interest the student. To my mind the Hampshire model makes for a more meaningful learning process.

@Dustyfeathers, ABSOLUTELY! I have a friend who was pre-med when she was at Hampshire, and she went to Columbia for Medical School. And I absolutely agree with how you interpret the schools’ motto: Non-Satis Scire, because it is true. I work in the social services field and EVERY DAY at work, I use those creative possibilities to work better and more fearlessly, and Hampshire has something to do with that. For which I am grateful. Truth be told also, after Hampshire, graduate school was EASY. I have always thought of Hampshire as “graduate school for undergraduates” and I stand by that. I am glad I didn’t go to a more traditional college, because it wouldn’t have been as interesting an experience, and I wouldn’t have been an individual, I still would have been a number or a financial liability. In my mind, that’s the experience I had in high school. College should ABSOLUTELY be different. Hampshire afforded me that.

I agree that Hampshire can be a “graduate school for undergraduates” . That’s what I feel my (all very successful) Hampshire-grad-friends have found. They did independent work much earlier than what happens at many schools. That set them up professionally.

Their areas of interest were quite varied–
In my group one became a top-level designer and never went to design school per se. The Hampshire experience taught this person how to teach him/herself design at this high level.

One became a stock investor – very wealthy now

One broke open a field of research that hadn’t been touched – and this in a field that’s considered oversaturated. This person found an area that most people assumed couldn’t be explored and s/he did so. Because of his/her undergraduate work at Hampshire, had published as an undergrad (unheard of at the time) and went on to a top grad school in the field.

One is a photographer with national recognition.

Etc. etc. etc.

For the right person Hampshire gives them the freedom and know-how to break barriers in a given field.

D and I did a visit to Hampshire recently when she had an unexpected day off school. She’s a junior and starting her search so there was no pressure to like or not like. Other than my terrified driving on the Mass Turnpike because of the high winds, it was a successful visit. First of all, our two guides were very enthusiastic and informative, they were a couple of science-y types with a group of artistic types and everyone blended together quite well IMHO. Also, they were impressively adept at walking backwards! They seemed very proud of their school.
My D wants to study Illustration, Digital Art, Animation, Game Art etc. but…she also loves and is good at science and math and is discovering a real passion for international politics and economics so is having a difficult time figuring out what she wants to do about her post-high school options. She thought she wanted to go to an Art School but figured out that financial aid is much better at colleges and universities, not to mention all the other options for dual majors, minors, concentrations etc. She LOVED Hampshire because she can do all of the above and create her own major, and also attend other classes that pique her interest at one of the other 5 colleges. She loved the campus, felt like she fit in and really liked the vibe. She was actually a little disappointed that the dorm rooms were mostly singles as she has been looking forward to having a roommate since about 8th grade, she feels it’s part of the college experience, so she said she would request a double room and hope they matched her up with a compatible roommate.
It’s been great reading all these posts from Hampshire fans, and also good to know the opinion of those who aren’t so enamored of the school.
She is a junior though and anything could change, and will, between now and when she has to actually apply to college so we shall see how it all plays out. She has visited SCAD when we went on vacation to Hilton Head, and FIT because we are NYS residents. She was enthusiastic about the coursework at SCAD and hated the administration, and was disappointed in FIT but is going to revisit it next year before application time. There was nothing she didn’t like about Hampshire except my driving!