Amherst is a small school that allows for complete freedom of course selection. The academic atmosphere is much different from that of other schools because Amherst students have not been forced to take classes by a distribution requirement. Plus, there are no graduate students here to vie for the professors’ attention. The College actively seeks student involvement in its educational policies. When a teaching position opens up, the relevant department will ask majoring students to review candidates and give feedback to the selection committees; the same is true when a professor approaches tenure decision time.
The complete open curriculum, however, requires that students have a certain level of self-discipline because there is really no pressure to excel. You get out as much as you put into your Amherst experience. This can be said of many other institutions of higher learning, but it is especially applicable at Amherst College. The environment lends itself to diligent, high-achieving students, as well as the more lackadaisical students. If a student is passionate about a class and does all the work for it, he or she will assuredly enjoy a rewarding learning experience and perhaps even find a friend in the professor. On the other hand, students often get bored with a class they thought looked interesting in the course book. These cases are the bane of the teaching philosophy that Amherst supports, which, plainly put, is: “We’ll give you a world of opportunities, all you have to do is take your pick.” In short, if you genuinely want to learn and are willing to make an honest effort to do so, Amherst offers almost limitless opportunities for you. If, however, what you care about is going to a well-known school as a step toward a successful career of your choice, you’ll also find what you need at Amherst—but you will then miss out on the most exhilarating and rewarding parts of being a student here.