Exploring Five College Students’ Experiences at Amherst

Five College students are an essential part of the Amherst community, yet few know what their experiences are like. Staff Writer Olivia Law ’27 interviews students from across the Five Colleges to learn more about their experience taking Amherst classes.

Exploring Five College Students’ Experiences at Amherst
Five College students are in many Amherst College courses, but few Amherst students know about their experiences. Graphic courtesy of Humphrey Chen ’26.

Classes at Amherst College are full of engaged students from diverse backgrounds. We come from different countries, high schools, economic contexts — but also, different colleges.

The Five College Consortium — consisting of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, University of Massachusetts, and Smith — share a library system, 6,000 courses, and over 30,000 students. Although the consortium is often advertised as a resource for Amherst students, there still seems to be some ambiguity about how it works for students from the other colleges.

I interviewed five students from the Five Colleges who are currently taking Amherst classes to learn more about how the college looks from the outside — investigating what they have learned about Amherst from their experience, as well as where that experience falls short.


Despite the commute, which ranges from 15 minutes to nearly an hour, there are many motivating factors that encourage these students to take classes at Amherst.

Audrey Chen ’26, who is studying classical archaeology and museum studies at Mount Holyoke, was drawn to specific course listings. Chen is currently enrolled in “Saving the Unsavable,” a class cross-listed as art history and architectural studies.

“I was really drawn to it because we don’t have [a course like that],” Chen said. She also noted that the course fits well into her graduation requirements.

Others, like Claire Sullivan ’25 from Smith College, craved more the change of environment rather than a specific class. Although she loves taking classes at Smith, after two years on campus, she said that she “wanted to try something different [and] see different faces.”

Natalie Sandor ’26, a Hampshire College student, heard about the reputation of Amherst’s math department and decided to come in part to fulfill her pre-med requirements. “I had already been thinking about Amherst when I was deciding what college I wanted to go to,” Sandor said. “So it just made sense.”

It seemed, however, that deciding to take an Amherst class was the easy part — the difficult part was the registration process.

“It’s hard to get the two registrars to communicate and agree with each other on what’s happening,” Sandor explained. “And then on top of that, there’s the layer of getting in touch with the professors, which can be hard.”

Five College students often have to communicate directly with professors to get a place in their class, resulting in difficulty in registering that differs greatly depending on who is teaching a course.

Having spent his high school years in a Chinese Immersion school, Hampshire College student Jack Wojcik ’27 wanted to take advantage of Amherst’s Chinese department. However, when Wojcik emailed the professor to request enrollment in a 200-level Amherst Chinese class, he was denied.

“I wish I was given the chance to at least test into the class,” Wojcik said. When only given the option of enrolling in an intro-level Chinese class, Wojcik was dissuaded from the department — he enrolled in an Amherst sociology course instead.

Abby Kneipfer ’24, a UMass student, had a very different experience. Although Kneipfer had difficulties with the two registrars communicating, she credits her professor with making sure she was enrolled.

“He worked so hard to try to get me into this class,” Kneipfer said. “It made me feel so welcome.”

Experiences Within the Classes

When discussing the experience within Amherst classes with the Five College students, each of the unique colleges they came from influenced their perspective.

To Kneipfer, Amherst’s small class sizes in comparison to UMass classes make a big difference. Although her larger classes have discussion sections, even when there is space to talk, she said, “A lot of the time, it’s just awkward silence. Here, there’s not a moment of awkward silence. Everyone’s willing to contribute to the conversation and say what they have to say, which is new to me.”

However, Sullivan and Chen felt that Amherst classes had lower participation levels than they were used to, not only because they come from smaller liberal arts schools but from historically women’s colleges.

“I was actually really surprised by how quiet the class was,” Sullivan said. Despite her class being predominantly made up of women, she noted that she and Chen are often the only women who participate.

“It did make me think that perhaps [by] going to a historic women’s college [and being in] an all-women’s environment … people are more empowered to take up space,”  Chen added.

Chen also expressed surprise at the diverse majors present in the class she is taking at Amherst. At Mount Holyoke, Chen notes that most of the upper-level classes are made up entirely of classmates within her major; at Amherst, she has seen significantly more variety in the types of students who elect to take certain classes. In general, Chen noticed a difference in people feeling supported enough to “really venture out of their comfort zone to take classes.”

However, even the freedom Amherst offers is limited when compared to other colleges in the consortium. Hampshire College has no majors and focuses on personalized, independent work — which can be a stark difference from a typical Amherst class. Alongside two historic women’s colleges and a large state university, Amherst stands out for Hampshire students as the stereotypical college experience in the consortium.

“Amherst feels like what I thought college was going to be like,” Sandor said.

“I miss the kind of freedom of Hampshire,” Wojcik added, noting that in his Amherst class “it’s a lot more traditional … there are stricter deadlines.”

While the students reflected on how the Amherst experience contrasted with that of their colleges — they also compared it to their expectation of what Amherst would be. Wojcik felt “pretty intimidated” registering for an Amherst class, hearing that it was “a rigorous school, basically an Ivy League” made him “scared for how different it would be compared to Hampshire.”

Sullivan admitted that she felt similarly.

“I never would have been able to get into Amherst just based on what my high school was known for. And I think that gave me this whole idea of ‘Oh my god, Amherst is such a hard school. It's so much harder than Smith.’ And it’s not.” she said. “So I think that kind of ranking is just a number.”

Sandor faced a similar realization: after taking her calculus class at Amherst she admitted that “it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.”

Observations on Amherst Students

When interviewing these Five College Students, I also asked about their insights into Amherst students as a whole — what they observed socially or academically from their outside perspective.

While the students I interviewed described Amherst students as friendly, they did notice an unfamiliar serious nature.

Chen thought the student body had “A more intense demeanor.”

“I did feel initially that people didn’t smile as much as I was used to,” she said.

“Everybody has very high standards for themselves,” Sandor said. “It’s a very motivated environment. It’s hard to make generalizations, but in general, I feel like most people are too hard on themselves.”

Kneipfer felt similarly, although she did note that Amherst students may put in more work than is necessary. “I think people try too hard on the Moodle posts. Why are we writing seven paragraphs?”

The most agreed-upon observation of Amherst students, however, was the abundance of purple sweatshirts on campus.

“There’s a lot of school spirit here,” Sullivan observed. At Smith she describes a more “fashion forward” culture, that is very different from the Amherst student body’s tendency towards athleisure. Jokingly, she asked “Are you guys okay? I got dressed this morning.”

Sandor agreed with Sullivan, noting that it made her surprised at the amount of people involved in sports on campus. However, she noted that she sees sweatshirts denoted with “Amherst Math” as well as those sporting “Amherst Football.”

All students said that there were limited ways in which students interact between the Five Colleges.

Even Sandor, a performer in Amherst’s Symphony Orchestra for the past three semesters, observed that “Amherst students do tend to stay on Amherst’s campus.”

Kneipfer had another unique connection to the Amherst community: her boyfriend was an Amherst student who has since graduated. “He would show me what Amherst had to offer and I would show him what UMass had to offer,” she said.

Still, she feels there remains a divide: “UMass is kind of its own separate thing and all the other four colleges work together. So they communicate more with each other and leave UMass out.”

Independent of which school students were coming from, there was a general interest in seeing more social overlap within the consortium. “I kind of wish that the colleges had more intertwined events,” Wojcik said.


Students’ opinions on Amherst’s classes and student body were varied, and were highly dependent on what school they came from. However, everyone agreed on one thing: They all loved the commute.

Although Sullivan has to drive from Smith twice a week, taking a 45-minute chunk out of her day, which she has found especially hard during a very busy semester, she’s found herself looking forward to it.

“I get to turn on music and zone out for a little while,” Sullivan said. “And that actually feels really good in the middle of the day.”

Chen has a commute of nearly the same length, coming from Mount Holyoke, where she feels similarly. She said part of why she enjoys driving over is due to the Western Massachusetts scenery she sees on the way.

“We drive by a farm or horses or Hampshire cows,” she said.

Although both Sullivan and Chen enjoy their drives, Amherst does not have a Five College parking pass, something common at the other schools. Sullivan has to park in town and pay the fee, but she was not too frustrated about it.

“I would love to have a place to park on campus but honestly, it’s not that far of a walk and it’s not very expensive,” she said.

Wojcik, Sandor, and Kneipfer, coming from closer campuses, all take the bus. Sandor’s commute takes at most 15 minutes, but she still appreciates that the travel time allows her space to relax. “I just sit on the bus and I listen to my music.” Her bus ride allows her “a brain break.”

Their enjoyment of the commute is not something unique to taking an Amherst class, but an experience that Amherst students themselves can uncover. The students I interviewed told me that they learned a lot about their own colleges through engaging in the consortium.

Perhaps the best way to learn about the Amherst experience is to ride the bus, listen to music, and leave campus — putting what it means to be an Amherst student into perspective through a different lens.