Amherst, a traditionally top-ranked liberal arts school, has many qualities that set it apart among small elite colleges. Unlike most top schools, which dictate a variety of basic core classes that lowerclassmen must take, Amherst has no required courses, except for a first-year seminar emphasizing writing and critical thinking. A consortium with nearby schools University of Massachusetts, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith allows students to cross-register for courses for no additional fee.

The college is known for its commitment to teaching and close interaction between professors and students, boasting a 7:1 student-faculty ratio. Amherst is one of a small group of schools that pledge to meet 100% of every student's demonstrated financial need. The result? Students with family incomes below $141,000 typically get a scholarship of at least $60,000, while those with incomes below $67,500 get a full ride.

With fewer than 2,000 students, Amherst's campus offers an intimate experience; 45% of its students also take part in study abroad programs in places like Paris, Cairo and Sri Lanka. In addition to its nearly 200-year-old campus, Amherst maintains a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary with wetlands and woodlands.

Sports have always been popular on campus, especially competitions between Amherst and friendly rival Williams College. The annual football game between the two Division III schools is known as the Biggest Little Game in America, a hat tip to the "Big Game" played annually by rivals Stanford and UC Berkeley.