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Good Things at UMass Amherst

UMassBDICUMassBDIC Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
Been teaching here since 1995. Taught at Harvard and Stanford before. Ph.D. U of Chicago. Law Degree Yale.

From my perspective, excellent things at UMass Amherst include:

* Commonwealth Honors College UMass Amherst: Commonwealth College the Honors College at UMass Amherst
* Create Your Own Major Program News - Design My Major
* Special programs like the Entrepreneurship Initiative UMass EI - Home
* Faculty that is smart but accessible to students
* A general spirit of freedom

Discussion of colleges today is too saturated with status considerations. This is particularly true in Massachusetts, an old state with some very high status institutions (Harvard, etc.).

You don't come to UMass Amherst for the status thrill. You come for the education and opportunities. Hence, it's about what you can do with the vast resources offered at this large university. It's an excellent place if you want space to breathe in and to define yourself free of heavy traditions.

I think this is why we have some unhappy students: They are not making the most of it and can't count on the institution's name to make up for the time they have wasted. But most of the students I interact with are highly self-motivated and energized by their studies here.
Post edited by UMassBDIC on
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Replies to: Good Things at UMass Amherst

  • notrichenoughnotrichenough Registered User Posts: 8,597 Senior Member
    Thanks for writing this, especially after the hatchet job by the Globe. It's nice to get a positive view from someone who is actually there.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    My son is going to be visiting UMass next month. The only reason we are even looking into it is the possibility that it gives merit aid and has the Honors College.

    I would welcome any other information anyone has here since I have heard so many things about UMass that concern me-but we are going to check it out ourselves anyway.

    Why does it have such a shaky reputation if it doesn't deserve it?
  • martina99martina99 Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    My S is a freshman and is having a very positive experience. He's in a housing program (RAP) with other engineering students. He is enjoying his classes and labs and has made many new friends.

    My take is that at UMASS, you get the experience you want out of it. There is a contingent that is going for parties, and that was probably a larger part of the scene in years past.

    The more selective admissions criteria is making it more difficult to get in; I can see that leading to a better atmosphere. Reputations that have developed over the years take time to change.

    That said, my S, who is smart and had high SAT scores, did not have the GPA to get merit at the more selective private schools. Since we would be a nearly full pay family at a selective private, this was really the only option for S to get into a decent program that we could afford.

    And the school met his criteria anyway, he was looking for a large diverse school. He also wanted urban, but the place is so large it has a city like atmosphere.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    That's the kind of information we are looking for.

    My son wants to be challenged and be with kids like him.

    He is a social kid as well but has no use for the partying scene that is so strongly associated with URI-our home state school. UMass sadly suffers the same type of reputation.

    We will be visiting in a few weeks to find out more. He does have the stats to get merit aid at a lot of schools but UMass does seem to have a lot of strong points.
  • notrichenoughnotrichenough Registered User Posts: 8,597 Senior Member
    He is a social kid as well but has no use for the partying scene that is so strongly associated with URI-our home state school. UMass sadly suffers the same type of reputation.
    *Every school*, large or small, public or private, has a large and vibrant party scene. Why some schools get a party reputation and some don't, who knows.

    And at every school, your kid can make a choice whether to participate or not, and there will be plenty of kids who don't.

    My S chose UMass over a bunch of other high end engineering schools for a variety of reasons having to do with fit and cost. He does not drink or get high, and had no trouble getting a group of friends that are of like mind. He is having a great time there.

    As for reputation, it suffers in MA because it is the poor step-child to all the high-end privates that are in this state - Harvard, BC, MIT, Tufts, Amherst, Williams, Wellesley, etc etc etc. The people that write hack jobs like what was in the Globe a few weeks ago, and the politicians who fund the school, look down on UMass because it is a public school. I've been told more than once that UMass's rep outside the state is for higher than within, and there are rankings to support this - for example, this study (Top Universities in North America 2010-2011) ranks UMass as 4th in the state behind only Harvard, MIT, and Tufts, and has UMass as 14th or so in the nation among public schools.

    One word of advice for when you visit - try to look beyond the regular tour. IMO UMass does a pretty bad job promoting the school on the tour (at least the tour we took). Way too many kids, saw way too little of the campus. It wasn't until we went for Accepted Student Day that my S really felt UMass was the place for him, they did a much better job.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    I wonder if we should take the regular tour-he may get turned off by it. He has already toured several schools who did a very nice job with their tours.
  • notrichenoughnotrichenough Registered User Posts: 8,597 Senior Member
    ^^^ Maybe we just caught it on a bad day - it was during February break and they were mobbed.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    We'll see-we have booked a tour for 11/2- a Tuesday-which is election day here in RI with no school-hope Massachusetts isn't out that day too or it could be a mob scene.
  • martina99martina99 Registered User Posts: 855 Member
    I took S & a friend out of school one day to take the tour on a weekday last fall. It wasn't crowded and we had a decent tour.

    By the time Accepted Students Day rolled around we were kind of toured out - we strayed off the programmed course and poked around the campus on our own.
  • nineumnineum Registered User Posts: 142 Junior Member
    Pepper03 wrote:
    We'll see-we have booked a tour for 11/2- a Tuesday-which is election day here in RI with no school-hope Massachusetts isn't out that day too or it could be a mob scene.
    UMass doesn't have off that day, but plenty of high school students in various states have off that day, so be aware that you might have a larger than normal tour group.
  • notrichenoughnotrichenough Registered User Posts: 8,597 Senior Member
    ^^^ High schools in MA do not have that day off (at least my kids' school doesn't), so I don't think too many in-state kids will be there that day.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    Well I will hope for the best! I am impressed by what I have found out so far-albeit from the internet and very preliminary.
  • krmh11krmh11 Registered User Posts: 140 Junior Member
    some people were talking about the honors college there. is it available for any major and if so do you have to apply separately to there or are you automatically considered?
  • UMassBDICUMassBDIC Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
    The honors college serves students of all majors, including the business and other professional majors (nursing, engineering, etc.).

    Students are invited in based on their high school grades and SAT scores. You don't apply to the honors college as a high school student--the admissions office at UMass simply selects from the applicant pool to UMass. However, some high school students are applying to UMass because the honors college is there and they hope/expect to be admitted.

    Students who are not invited in still have an opportunity to join, if they perform well as UMass students. The procedures for this are now changing so I will not try to summarize here. But the good news is that the new system will be even more flexible and receptive to the students we call "the late bloomers" (students who were not stars in high school but do very well in college) than in the past.

    I am now teaching an honors class. The quality of students and tone of class discussion is first rate, much better than at the Ivy League university (Columbia) I attended myself in the early 1980s.

    The class is called Ideas that Changed the World and is a freshman seminar on major texts that have changed how people think or how things are done. Rachel Carson, Gandhi, etc.
  • Pepper03Pepper03 Registered User Posts: 1,439 Senior Member
    That is one of my biggest issues as a parent guiding my S through this process. Helping to find a place for him where he will be challenged and be with kids-as he says-"Like him". One of the things he is so excited about looking at colleges is the chance to finally be stretched to his limits-whatever they may be. He is very much the big fish in the little pond in our school-and he may well discover he can also be a big fish in a big pond-but unless we help him find the place where he can do that it may never happen for him-at least not academically.

    Trying to find that at a school that we can also afford is a real challenge for us-as I am sure it is for many parents in our particular situation.

    The real challenge for schools that are trying to improve either their reputation is how to get the students they want to attend their school-because a lot of what makes colleges great isn't in the buildings or even the faculty-although those are very important. What makes a college great is also the students.

    The challenge I think for schools like UMass is how do you attract the kids of students that can take you to the next level?
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