Campus rated a ‘best buy’ by Fiske Guide

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

UMass Amherst is among the 16 public universities and colleges in the U.S. rated “best buys” by the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2005.

According to the guide, “best buys” are schools that “offer remarkable educational opportunities at a relatively moderate cost.” Other schools on the list include Florida, Kansas, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Oregon, Texas, Texas A&M, Wisconsin-Madison, William & Mary, and State University of New York campuses at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Geneseo and Stony Brook.

Calling UMass Amherst “a liberal mecca in cosmopolitan and scenic western Massachusetts,” the guide gives the campus a rating of 3.5 on a five-point scale for academic quality. “UMass boasts strong study abroad programs and an international flavor. Science and engineering are also strong,” notes the guide.

While Linguistics, Polymer Science and Engineering, Psychology, Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering are highlighted as the campus’ strongest programs, the narrative also acknowledges the quality of several other areas: “Political science, creative writing, and international studies also draw praise. Biology, math, computer science, and the natural sciences are regarded as especially tough.”

The guide also emphasizes the campus’s “dizzying array of majors and extracurricular options,” the opportunity to take courses at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges through the Five College program, an “extensive research program” and a strong honors program in Commonwealth College.

On the student life side, the guide gives the campus a rating of four out of five for social life and three out of five for quality of living.

Taking note of the “abundant social life” on and off campus, the guide says alcohol policies are “strict and well enforced.” The various living options and Residential Academic Programs for first-year students are also described as pluses.

Other benefits of UMass Amherst, according to the guide, include proximity to Boston, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont, the PVTA bus system, and popularity of the athletic program, which “has been a model for achieving gender equity.”

Despite the sometimes daunting size of the campus, says the guide, “students can easily find a home in Amherst” by taking advantage of its array of academic and extracurricular activities and special residential programs that emphasize shared languages, cultures, interests lifestyles.