College Cousins: Amherst, Brown and Hamilton: Beyond the Core Curriculum

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Oh, those pesky core curriculum requirements. They do ensure students get a broad education spanning the arts and humanities, STEM and the social sciences. But they also can get in the way of specialized pursuits, not to mention personal preference. If you imagine needing a more flexible undergrad education, you should take a look at three top-notch schools with no distribution requirements. We’re talking about Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts; Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; and Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

An open curriculum is liberating but, as with any freedom, yields the most benefit when exercised with judicious responsibility. That brings out the best of the open curriculum. It allows students to collaborate with faculty advisors to devise a plan of study that suits their personal interests to a tee. Hate math? Flounder in foreign language classes? No problem. Just take something else more to your liking -- and better suited to your overall goals. That’s the benefit of the open curriculum. It’s an appealing prospect that adds to the popularity of Amherst, Brown, and Hamilton.


Amherst College

Amherst goes back to 1821. An original trustee was the father of the dictionary, Noah Webster, and its most notable alumnus was former President Calvin Coolidge. For nearly 200 years, it has remained dedicated to providing education for those without the ability to pay for it. Today, that takes the form of generous financial aid to 60 percent of students who receive scholarship aid. Overall, the average financial aid package annually is over $53,000. Amherst has also retained its elite academic status as one of our finest liberal arts colleges.

Brown University

Brown University, founded in 1764, is the oldest of these three. As an Ivy League university, it’s also the largest of these three, though still of modest size. It’s large enough, however, to offer 70 undergraduate concentrations and to have 2,000 graduate students enrolled in a number of programs. Though a globally renowned research university, it still prides itself on the outstanding quality of its undergraduate instruction. Brown also has what is probably the largest summer pre-college program in the United States. Brown’s commitment to the open curriculum and free inquiry exists through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community. The school eliminated university-wide distribution requirements in 1970, although there are departmental concentration requirements to ensure that students get a proper grounding in their chosen areas of study.

Hamilton College

Founded in 1793 as Hamilton-Oneida Academy and rechartered as Hamilton College in 1812, this top-notch liberal arts college in upstate New York was named after the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who served as an inaugural trustee of the college. Hamilton embraces diversity, believing that it promotes independent thought and mutual understanding and best prepares students for our complex world. The college retains its main focus, however, on the intellectual life of its academic community. Students study “what interests them” and benefit from a close and collaborative relationship with faculty.


In breaking with the curricular structure of traditional academia, these three venerable institutions exemplify what they teach their students, which is to pursue excellence in the path they choose to follow. Each has outstanding programs that work well for independent-minded and well-motivated student.