Amherst College is a private liberal arts college located in the historic town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Founded in 1821, it is the third oldest institution of higher education in the state. In 2022, The Wall Street Journal ranked Amherst as the best liberal arts college in the country.
Amherst was initially founded by clergy and citizens (including poet Emily Dickinson’s grandfather and lexicographer Noah Webster) as a non-sectarian institution “for the classical education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry” (W.S. Tyler, A History of Amherst College). One of the hallmarks of the new college was its Charity Fund, an early form of financial aid that paid the tuition of poorer students.
Although officially non-denominational, Amherst College was considered a religiously conservative institution with a strong connection to Calvinism until the mid-nineteenth century. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the college began a transition toward secularism, which culminated in the 1949 demolition of the college church.
Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, former President of Amherst College (2011-2022), said that colleges should “avoid taking institutional positions on controversial political matters, except in extraordinary circumstances” and should simultaneously both “protect their communities from discrimination and disrespect” and “cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”
Amherst College is an exclusively undergraduate four-year institution. Students can choose courses from 41 major programs in an open curriculum and are not required to study a core curriculum or fulfill any distribution requirements; students may also design their own interdisciplinary major. This college was the nation’s first institution to offer neuroscience as an undergrad major and also one of the first to offer American Studies. The library at Amherst College is home to the largest and most varied holdings related to poet Emily Dickinson anywhere in the world.
Amherst faculty are foremost authorities in their fields, yet are known for being exceptionally approachable. Pulitzer prize-winning poet Robert Frost taught part-time at Amherst College from 1916 to 1938. Melvil Dewey devised the Dewey Decimal System while an assistant librarian at Amherst College in 1876. Amherst Professor Hadley P. Arkes founded the Committee for the American Founding, a group of Amherst alumni and students seeking to preserve the doctrines of “natural rights” as put forth by America’s founders.
Amherst alumni include six Nobel Prize laureates (it has one of the highest proportions of Nobel laureates among graduates out of any undergraduate institution worldwide), 20 Rhodes Scholars, numerous Pulitzer Prize recipients, MacArthur Fellows, winners of the Academy, Tony, Grammy and Emmy Awards, a President of the United States (Calvin Coolidge), a President of Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta), two Prime Ministers of Greece, a Chief Justice of the United States (Harlan Stone), and three Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as notable writers, academics, politicians, entertainers, and business people.
Amherst College is responsible for many firsts, both in and out of the classroom. For example, student Jared Kass started Ultimate Frisbee here in the 1960s! Home of the oldest athletic department in the nation, this college offers a wide range of fitness options both indoors and outdoors, from recreational activities and club sports to intramurals and 27 NCAA Division III teams. Facilities include playing fields, a fitness center, a pool, courts, and an ice rink.
Amherst competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. The college has historically had close relationships and rivalries with Williams College and Wesleyan University. In fact, Amherst College, Wesleyan University, and Williams College form the “Little Three” athletic rivalry, a counterpoint to the “Big Three” — Harvard, Princeton, and Yale — which historically have dominated Ivy League football.
Amherst College is about a 30-minute drive from Springfield, Massachusetts; a 90-minute drive from Boston; and a 3-hour drive from New York City. The college has a scenic 1,000-acre campus with a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary. Amherst students have many opportunities to enrich their education through co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Student-led organizations include groups for activism, religious and cultural affinity, arts clubs, a debate team, a radio station, and more.
Amherst College is is one of the five colleges in The Five College Consortium, which comprises four liberal arts colleges and one university in the Connecticut River Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. The other four are Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. These geographically close institutions are linked by a bus service operating between the campuses during the school year, pre-paid for student use by a fee included in their tuition bills.
Amherst admissions criteria is highly selective, and the college’s acceptance rate is extremely low, but your chances are determined by the strength of your profile. Amherst takes a holistic approach to application reviews, looking at candidates from a multi-dimensional perspective and using a variety of factors to make admissions decisions. One aspect of the application given considerable weight is the essays. Other important factors include extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, character and talent.
Amherst is one of few schools that has a need-blind admission policy for both U.S. and international students. In 2021, the college ended its practice of legacy admissions and increased financial aid to increase access to low and middle-income students and diversify the college. Now that ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion are among Amherst’s guiding principles, 49% of Amherst’s student body self-identifies as domestic students of color.
Amherst’s evaluation of homeschool students is conducted on a case-by-case basis. The college “accepts 2-4 homeschooled kids each year, but the acceptance rate is far below its rate for applicants coming from public or private high schools” (College Confidential). Nevertheless, the Dean of Admissions at Amherst College praised homeschooled students’ “thicker folders, in a good way,” noting that these learners typically bring to the table a wide array of extracurricular activities, innovative coursework, and unique perspectives for seeing the world (Accreditedschoolonline.org).
For more detailed admission recommendations for homeschoolers, please see: https://acalert.amherst.edu/admission/apply/firstyear/homeschooled_stud