The Five Colleges (UMass, Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire) are located in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts. The setting is rural, but a number of world-class lively arts and entertainment venues are in the Pioneer Valley or a short drive away. The Tanglewood Music Center, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and Shakespeare & Co. are in the Berkshires, about 1 hour by car from Amherst. The Iron Horse Music Hall and Pearl Street Night Club in Northampton, MA, just across the river from Amherst, host live bands and the Calvin Theater hosts bands, comedians, and other live performances. In addition, the UMass Fine Arts Center presents a variety of visual arts in its museum and galleries and also provides a wide variety of performances. A number of historical sites, such as the home of poet Emily Dickinson, are found in the Pioneer Valley as are many hiking trails.
Amherst is consistently rated as one of the top ten college towns in the US. In 2009, msn Encarta rated Amherst as the best college town in North America while US News and World Report ranked UMass Amherst as one of the country’s top 50 public universities in the 2011 edition of America’s Best Colleges. One reason for this high ranking is the quality of life in a small town coupled with high-powered academic institutions, the accessibility of diverse, lively, arts performances and the mobility provided by a free bus system that links the Five Colleges and surrounding towns.