Composite image including images of the Five College campuses: UMass Amherst, amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College.

Collective Learning Power: UMass Students Benefit from Five College Consortium

Through Five Colleges, Inc., UMass Amherst students can tap into the extensive resources of our flagship research campus and four top-ranked, private liberal arts colleges nearby.

UMass Amherst, located in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, sits in close proximity to four top-ranked, private liberal arts colleges—including a young, unconventional campus and two of the oldest women’s colleges in the country. In nearby downtown Amherst, headquartered in an unassuming 19th-century house, Five Colleges, Inc. (also known as the Five College Consortium) is a small, independent non-profit that harnesses collaborative opportunities between these campuses, benefitting students of UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College. For UMass students, Five Colleges offers the best of both worlds: the ability to experience the liberal arts model while accessing the broad resources of the No. 1 research university in New England. 

Five Colleges, Inc. headquarters.
The Five Colleges headquarters, located in a historic 19th-century house in downtown Amherst, Mass.

For almost 60 years, the Five College campuses have collaborated as a group to achieve things they can’t accomplish individually. “No single campus—even one as large as UMass Amherst—can provide a home to every cross-disciplinary field of study,” explains Raymond Rennard, director of academic programs at Five Colleges. Working with faculty from the five campuses, Five Colleges develops and maintains innovative programs that cut across traditional disciplinary structures.  

Students on any of the five campuses have been able to take classes on any other campus free of charge.

Raymond Rennard, Director of Academic Programs at Five Colleges

Five Colleges: A Vanguard Consortium

Illustrated map of the Five Colleges in the Connecticut River Valley.
Illustration by Nate Padavick

Five Colleges, one of the oldest and most extensive higher education consortia in the country, has evolved throughout its history to respond to the needs of campuses and students. That evolution began long before Five Colleges was officially established in 1965. The consortium is an outgrowth of an educational extension service that launched in 1914 among the area's institutions including Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the Massachusetts Agricultural College (UMass Amherst's precursor).

Although there are scores of higher education consortia across the United States and the world, “Five Colleges is unique in the depth and breadth of its shared academic programs,” Rennard points out. Through Five Colleges, students have access to 17 certificate programs, two undergraduate majors, 30 faculty seminars, two centers, 30 jointly appointed faculty, and at least a dozen additional programs that support performing arts festivals, undergraduate research, and student field trips and internships. 

With several bus routes that run between Five College campuses, it’s easy for students to navigate when taking classes on other campuses. 


Five Colleges Academics

A core pillar of Five Colleges is cross-registration, which provides the opportunity for students to access a wider and richer range of educational experiences while attending a Five College institution, including majors, certificates, and other cooperative academic programs. "For more than 50 years, students on any of the five campuses have been able to take classes on any other campus free of charge," Rennard says.

Through Five College's cross-registration system, students can choose from 7,000 undergraduate courses offered at the five institutions—all included in the tuition paid at their home campus.


Collaborative Programming across Campuses 

Five Colleges coordinates dozens of multi-campus academic programs that give students and faculty members the opportunity to engage with people and access resources beyond their home campus. In Five College departments and programs, campuses collaborate to enhance academic offerings and support vibrant intellectual communities and experiences for students.


Center for World Languages Swahili class

Photo courtesy of Five Colleges

Center for World Languages

According to Rennard, "Five College students can choose from more than 60 different languages to study." The Five College Center for World Languages alone offers more than 40 less-commonly taught languages as credit-bearing courses for Five College students—from Amharic to Dutch to Vietnamese. 

"Both my parents grew up in Ireland and my father is from the few remaining Gaeltacht districts, or districts which speak Irish as their primary language," explains UMass student Sean Folan, who has been able to learn more about his heritage and connect with his family through studying Irish in the center. Students direct their own learning in a supervised independent format, meeting weekly with native-speaking or fluent conversation partners, developing cultural competence, and preparing themselves for study, research, and employment throughout the world.


Five College Dance

Photo courtesy of Five Colleges

Five College Dance

The Five College Dance Department is one of the few coordinated multi-college dance departments in the country. Each dance department of member campuses offers its own distinctive program while collaborating as a uniquely rich inter-campus department with abundant possibilities for dance students. 



Among the five colleges, students can choose from a complete and varied schedule of dance classes, with courses planned and coordinated together as a complete curriculum, and work with diverse faculty across institutions. "By having all these different perspectives and influences from peers and faculty [across the five colleges], I have been able to soar with my dance career and am on the path to pursue this professionally," says dual dance and psychology major Kat Lopez. 


An image of the Holmes Comet taken at the Orchard Hill Observatory at UMass.

An image of the Holmes Comet taken at the Orchard Hill Observatory at UMass.

Five College Astronomy

Through a Five College Astronomy Department (FCAD) course at Amherst College, UMass astronomy major Scott Barlow was able to travel to Arizona to get active experience at a major telescope. "I got to spend the rest of the semester working with data that I made myself," he says, "which was an incredible opportunity." 

By linking teaching and research programs through one collaborative department, faculty across the five campuses can offer a richer environment for doing astronomy than would be possible if each operated independently. For example, the optical and infrared observing course, generally offered at Smith College, is taken by students from each of the five schools, thereby avoiding duplication of effort and at the same time creating a more diverse classroom experience. For Sophie Booth, another astronomy major at UMass, the main benefit of FCAD "is being able to interact with the other students at the five colleges. It really adds to the experience as a UMass student to work with others and undertake projects together."


students observe navigational charts on a boat.

Photo courtesy of Five Colleges

Coastal and Marine Sciences

Through the Five Colleges Coastal and Marine Sciences program, Dwyn McNeil, a UMass animal science major, took a class called "Hurtling to Extinction: Whales in Crisis" with Laela Sayigh at Hampshire College. "We learned about the current state of the North Atlantic right whale and got to listen to many guest speakers," McNeil recalls. She went on to complete a summer research project at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where Sayigh conducts her research.

Five Colleges offers a Coastal and Marine Sciences Certificate to students at all five campuses. Through active affiliations with some of the nation's premier centers for marine study (field trips, internships, and study-away programs), students engage in experiential research to complement coursework.


A student uses a microscope.

Photo courtesy of Five Colleges

Culture, Health, and Science

Many graduate and medical programs recognize that tomorrow's health experts will need interdisciplinary training to link their understanding of history, culture, and behavior with clinical, biological, and epidemiologic models of health and disease. 

The Five College Program in Culture, Health, and Science (CHS) is a certificate program that allows undergraduate liberal arts students to explore human health, disease, and healing from interdisciplinary perspectives. Students design a plan of study that approaches "health" holistically from the perspective of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Led by a steering committee of top faculty members from all five colleges and a range of disciplines, CHS students work to articulate objectives, select courses, and conduct independent projects or internships. Faculty and students alike are enriched by the cross-campus connections and interdisciplinary collaborations that the Culture, Health, and Science program fosters—both locally and globally.


Adding Value, Enriching Experiences

Five Colleges expands the limits of a home campus for UMass students and those enrolled at our partner campuses. With student access to a broad spectrum of programming and opportunities, supplemental value is added to the UMass educational experience.  

For the community, the Five College consortium provides value that all members—students, faculty, and staff—receive from coming together, learning from each other, and striving toward shared objectives. As Five Colleges puts it, they serve as a "fulcrum that leverages the collective power of our constituencies to accomplish common goals."