The Five College Consortium is a group of schools in an area of western Massachusetts known as the Pioneer Valley. It comprises Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Amherst College, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire College are all located in Amherst, Massachusetts. Smith is in Northampton, while Mount Holyoke is in South Hadley. All three towns are 15-20 minutes from each other by car, and students can easily access each of the five campuses via a free shuttle.
The five colleges operate both as independent schools as well as mutually dependent institutions. The consortium was created with a mission to support long-term cooperation that benefits the faculty, staff, and students of the five colleges. Here, we guide you through what distinguishes the schools from each other, and how the consortium functions as a whole.
When students enroll at one of the five colleges in the Consortium, they automatically become a member of the consortium community and gain access to the other four colleges in a variety of ways. Undergraduates can take courses on the other campuses, at no additional cost, for full course credit. Grades from classes taken at other Five College Consortium campuses will transfer automatically to one’s home campus and will appear on their transcript.
The Five College Consortium is made up of a mix of small liberal arts colleges and one large public research university (UMass Amherst). Beyond their association through the Consortium, these five colleges differ in academic structure, and each of them brings a unique approach to college education.
Amherst offers 41 majors and boasts a small faculty-student ratio of 1 to 7. The school follows an open curriculum, meaning it has no distribution requirements or core curriculum. Students don’t have to take a specific number of courses in their major—and can feel free to explore as many departments as they want. They can choose from one of the 400 courses at Amherst—or from the thousands available at the other colleges within the consortium.
Hampshire College does not offer any set majors, but rather encourages students to explore and combine multiple disciplines. Instead of choosing from a list of majors, students work with a committee to customize a major from the 50 areas of study available. These include niche offerings and emerging fields such as Agriculture Studies and Rural Life, Game Design and Development, and Queer Studies.
Mount Holyoke has distribution requirements that are designed to acquaint students with knowledge in a wide array of disciplines as well as encourage them to explore fields that are new to them. At least 68 credits must be earned from coursework outside students’ major, across three divisions: humanities, science and mathematics, and social sciences. The college also requires students to study a language other than English as well as take a multicultural perspectives course. Engineering students can take advantage of the school’s dual-degree programs. They can earn both a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Holyoke and a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts, or the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College.
Smith College is the only women’s college in the consortium. Since 1970, Smith has had no distribution or general education requirements. Students must, however, take 64 credits (out of the required minimum of 128) outside their major. Students are assigned an adviser who helps them design a curriculum that has both breadth and depth, engages with cultures other than their own, and develops critical skills in writing, public speaking and quantitative reasoning.
Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst must take General Education courses in the following areas: Writing (two courses), Basic Mathematics (one course), Analytical Reasoning (one course), Biological & Physical World (two courses), Social World (four courses), and Integrative Experience (number of courses depends on the department). UMass has 12 schools within the university, including a College of Engineering, College of Information & Computer Sciences, and College of Nursing.
Campus and Student Life
Students at any of the five colleges can join organizations at other member schools. They can also access libraries at the other colleges, both online and in person. A free bus system running regularly between the campuses and area’s downtowns and shopping centers makes meeting other students easy. As a result, student life is integrated across the schools—from participating in clubs to attending lectures at the different campuses.
97% of Amherst College students live on campus for all four years. The school has over 100 student organizations, including groups for activism, religious and cultural affinity groups, intramural sports, arts clubs, a debate team, a radio station, and more. Off campus, students can visit the Mead Art Museum, the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Amherst College Natural History Museum. Amherst is also home to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the National Yiddish Book Center. Undergraduates can also be found doing work at Amherst Coffee or catching a movie with friends at Amherst Cinema.
92% of undergraduates live on-campus at Hampshire College. The school has 50+ student groups, which support a range of campus events and activities, intercollegiate club sports, intramurals, an outdoor recreation program, and access to the clubs, organizations, and events at the other Five College Consortium schools. There is an eclectic mix of extracurricular options that are unique to Hampshire. Examples include Blacksmith’s Guild, the Circus Folk Unite, Fermentation Club, Pokémon Go! Trainer Alliance, Yurt Radio, Mixed Nuts Co-Op and more.
At Mount Holyoke, 98% of students live on campus. There are 100+ student organizations, from the Animal Welfare Association to WMHC, Mount Holyoke’s radio station since 1951. It’s also fairly easy to start your own organization at MoHo. What makes the school’s on-campus experience unique is the option to stay in Living-Learning Communities (LLCs) instead of residence halls. LLCs prioritize building friendships and exploring students’ passions with a cohort of other students who share their interests or identity. For instance, Arts is an LLC for people with a curiosity for artistic expression. There are separate LLCs for students of Asian-American descent and one for Latinx students. There is also an LLC for athletes, one for language immersion, and one for students who are highly interested in outdoor activities.
96% of Smith students live on campus in “houses,” which range in population from 10 to 100. The house system enables students to create a sense of community and family while living at Smith. On campus, students can participate in one of the 120 student organizations or spend time in the Smith Botanical Garden or Smith College Museum of Art. Northampton is a college town that is small, yet equipped to meet the needs of a college student—downtown offers shops, bookstores, concert halls, and restaurants with a variety of cuisines. The town regularly hosts food festivals, parades, and other community events.
UMass Amherst, as the only large university in the consortium, has only 58% students living on campus. It is the only school among the five colleges with Greek life. Eight percent of the student body belong to the schools’ 35 fraternities and sororities. There are also over 400 registered student organizations. Undergraduates can join club and intramural sports teams, student-run businesses, student government, arts and media agencies, and other groups centered around interests and/or identity. The Spring Concert is an exciting annual tradition—big name artists such as Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys, Ludacris, Cardi B, and Jack Harlow have all performed over the years at UMass.
The Five College Consortium is a community made up of 31,000 students across 5 campuses who can choose from 7,100 courses taught by 2,100 faculty members. Attending any of the schools allows undergraduates to take advantage of the combined resources—while thriving thanks to the opportunities each individual college offers.