UMass Amherst: Large University, Small Communities

Among current and prospective families and students, UMass Amherst is recognized as a wonderful, cost-effective university garnering increasingly positive recognition on the national and international higher education stage. The university offers a stunning array of majors, access to leading thinkers, and opportunities to support and participate in a wide range of sports teams, clubs and extra-curricular organizations. Campus is well-maintained and pride-of place is evident. And oh yeah, the food isn’t bad, either.

Yet some accepted students begin their UMass Amherst journey with trepidation beyond the usual first-year nervousness. For the very same reason, high-achieving high school students are sometimes reluctant to apply, with their families sharing their concern. The reason? They consider UMass Amherst too large. Yet, it’s been my family’s personal experience that the numbers are deceiving, and there is a welcoming community — or multiple communities — for everyone.

If one merely considers total number of students, it’s a fact: UMass Amherst is large compared to many universities. However dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover what our family did. UMass Amherst actually consists of many smaller communities offering something for everyone and a comfortable place for all. Whether it’s a specific college, major, residence hall, fraternity or sorority, sports team or club or other extracurricular organization, there is an easily accessible group of friends sharing similar interests awaiting virtually every student who attends UMass Amherst.

Some students easily and naturally identify and jump right in to their community (or communities; there are often multiple potential communities of interest with varying degrees of overlap). Others may need more time, with the options being somewhat overwhelming initially. As noted earlier there are many choices, and not knowing where to begin may be intimidating. Here are some basic suggestions for where to begin to identify potential communities with your student:

  • The Student Life section of the UMass Amherst website offers a manageable gateway to numerous potential communities of interest. From community service options to Greek Life to hundreds of registered student organizations; this is a great place to start.
  • All Schools and Colleges offer various opportunities to get involved with a community of like-minded students, professors and others, including events, journals and other publications, institutes, lectures, and social gatherings. A great side benefit is the opportunity to meet others outside of the regular classroom setting.
  • UMass Amherst offers a wealth of living and learning community options as well. These options provide welcoming communities to students from diverse backgrounds, cultures, academic needs, and interests.
  • Early each fall semester, there is a club fair on campus known to students as the Activities Expo. It is publicized well ahead of time, so encourage your student to attend. They can gain useful information about various organizations on campus, and begin to get a better feel for what’s available. Their biggest challenge may be walking away with too many interesting options!

Bottom line, don’t let the overall student population numbers of UMass Amherst cause you or your student to overlook what could be a great academic and social experience. In the case of UMass Amherst looks can be deceiving. It is not the large, overwhelming place it appears at first glance. In reality, UMass Amherst consists of many smaller, highly accessible and welcoming communities. Viewing the university from a community perspective, this is one case where the parts are greater than the whole.

Chuck Kaufman serves on the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.