Hampshire Ranks Among Top U.S. Colleges for Alums Earning Doctorates

According to the annual federal census from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) released on February 29, which tracks the number of research doctorates earned by each college’s alums in the ten years from 2004 to 2013, an average 8.4 out of every 100 Hampshire alums earned that advanced degree. This places Hampshire in the top 1.4% of colleges nationwide by the percentage of alums who earn the most advanced degree in their field. (See Top 50 colleges at bottom of article below or the full list at www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvydoctorates/)

Laura Wenk, Dean of Curriculum, commented, “At Hampshire we are doing something different, and our numbers look more like Ivy League schools in this regard than they look like most other small liberal arts colleges.”

Hampshire was founded by the leaders of four venerable colleges in Western Massachusetts to thoroughly question and reexamine traditional assumptions and practices of liberal arts education. Its unique philosophy and pedagogy assert that, one, students learn best when they have the independence to direct their own learning under the advisement of faculty, and two, that education should not be imposed on students. Students are challenged to perform serious independent work under the mentorship of faculty, relationships central to their academic experience.

Six Ways Hampshire's Academic Program is Different

1. Hampshire offers no traditional majors, instead, each student designs their own program of study, commonly examining questions through the lenses of several disciplines. Hampshire is often described as a graduate school model for undergraduates. Students do not progress through a freshman-through-senior cycle; instead, the college’s Divisional System guides the student year-by-year as they develop their own academic concentration, negotiate their studies with faculty advisers in a rigorous environment, and complete a yearlong advanced study project in their final year that is the capstone of their undergraduate experience.

2. Faculty advise students more intensively than at other colleges, as our professors give them choices in pursuing significant questions of interest and then challenge them to justify those choices. Wenk explains, “We meet with students in committees, two faculty to every one student through their second, third, and fourth year of study. In their final year, they have to design and carry out a year-long project over which they have a great deal of agency, advised by a committee of faculty they recruit. This sounds a lot like graduate school, and our students are not daunted by the thought of graduate school. They know what it is and how to do it.”

3. Courses are not the only sites of learning for Hampshire students, who engage in a variety of learning activities and environments including independent study, internships, community engagement, social action, lab work, and teaching assistantships. “Students often act as a TA in their fourth year, or earlier,” explains Wenk, “So, they have some experience in the roles of educator and leader, and can imagine themselves in those roles beyond Hampshire.”

4. Hampshire professors do not give grades but instead assess each student’s performance by writing narrative evaluations. The college has found that a written report on progress is exponentially more informative for learning, giving a student meaningful, constructive feedback they can learn from and act on – with a long-term benefit of a more thorough and insightful transcript after graduation.

5. Since it was founded in 1970, Hampshire has given applicants the option of not submitting SAT or ACT scores. In 2014, the college's research revealed the scores did not predict success at Hampshire, so the college stopped accepting standardized test scores for admissions altogether, becoming the only college in the US not accepting the scores for admissions.

6. The college is committed to education as a vehicle for social impact, and each student incorporates multiple cultural perspectives and performs community-engaged work, such as through internships and research assistantships.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is an annual census conducted since 1957 of all individuals receiving a research doctorate (i.e., PhD, ScD, EdD) from an accredited US institution in a given academic year. The SED is sponsored by six agencies: the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Education, US Department of Agriculture, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In 1958, a committee representing the presidents of four distinguished institutions – Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts – wrote “The New College Plan,” the basis for Hampshire’s philosophy and pedagogy. Hampshire remains partnered with its four founding institutions as the Five Colleges, one of the oldest and most successful educational consortia, which enables students at each institution a breadth of shared academic and extracurricular resources.  

In Hampshire’s Divisional System, students complete three divisions of progressively more self-directed study: Division I (year 1), exploration; Division II (years 2 and 3), concentration; and Division III (year 4), creation and advanced study. Mentored each year by faculty advisers, the student develops competence in their concentration as well as in four key college-wide learning goals: analytical writing and research, quantitative analysis and reasoning, independent project-based work, and multiple cultural perspectives.

Hampshire’s results extend to other notable outcomes:

  • A quarter of its alums have started their own business or organization, placing the college at #6 on Forbes’ short list of most entrepreneurial colleges in the nation. After graduation, Hampshire alums are creating platforms for putting their ideas into action, in the form of, for example, social ventures, investment firms, advocacy organizations, film companies, art galleries, or creative mashups of those and more
  • As undergraduates, one in five who complete a Division III project in science present their work at a peer-reviewed conference. Five percent are lead authors on peer-reviewed journal articles, a remarkable accomplishment for undergraduates
  • Nine Fulbright Scholarships in the last four years places Hampshire alongside the nation’s best schools for these awards
  • Two-thirds of graduates earn an advanced degree within ten years of commencement
  • Hampshire alums have won Pulitzer and Hillman Prizes and Emmy, Academy, Peabody, and Grammy Awards.