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Duke University
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Amherst vs. Williams: Which College is Right for You?

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Williams College and Amherst College are arguably the best liberal arts colleges in the country, having consistently been ranked #1 and #2. Both schools are located in rural Massachusetts, although in different parts (about a 1.5 hour drive from each other). They are known for their academic rigor and both compete in Division III athletics


So you may be asking, Amherst vs. Williams, what sets them apart? If you’re trying to decide which to apply to or ultimately attend, we hope this post can lay out some of the differences to help you make your decision. 


Learn more about Amherst College and Williams College and see your chances of acceptance.


Amherst vs. Williams: A Quick Overview






Amherst, MA

Williamstown, MA

Campus Type

Small town, Rural


Undergraduate Enrollment



Acceptance Rate



U.S. New Ranking



Middle 50% SAT



Middle 50% ACT



Sticker Price



Financial Aid

Need-blind for domestic and international students, no loan, meets 100% need

Need-blind for domestic students, meets 100% need


Amherst College vs. Williams College: A Closer Look


Location and Weather


Amherst College is named after the town it’s located in, Amherst, MA, which is about a 30 minute drive from Springfield, MA. It’s a town of about 37,000 people and near Northampton, a vibrant town with an arts and music scene. UMass Amherst is less than a mile away and has over 23,000 undergrad students. This makes Amherst a college town surrounded by mountains, farmland, and beautiful fall foliage.


Williams College is located in Williamstown, a small town of less than 10,000 people in the Berkshires in rural northwestern Massachusetts. If you want to go to school in a truly remote area full of nature, Williams may be the place for you. 


Both schools are located in Western Massachusetts, with Williams being northwest of Amherst. You’ll experience cold winters, so come prepared for lots of snow, but also some beautiful spring days late in the semester.




Amherst has a student population of 1,849 and only has undergraduate students. Williams is slightly larger with 2,025 undergraduate students and 52 graduate students. The student to faculty ratio at both schools is 7:1. Both colleges offer small classes. Amherst’s average class size is 19 students and at Williams 75% of classes have fewer than 20 students.




Amherst College offers 40 majors in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Students can choose from more than 850 courses at Amherst and have access to an additional 6,000 courses at other schools in the area through the Five College Consortium. The other four Pioneer Valley institutions include: Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Amherst is one of the only schools in the country that has no distribution requirements and no core curriculum, offering students a great amount of freedom when choosing courses. The open curriculum allows students to explore many courses outside of their major. 40% of students also incorporate study abroad into their undergraduate experience.


Students often declare two majors, as minors are not offered. In addition, students can pursue 5 College Certificates in fields like International Relations, Latin American or African Studies. Students usually declare their majors in their sophomore year and can add a major later during their time at Amherst. The school also offers various interdisciplinary fields like American Studies; Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought; and Neuroscience. 


Notable faculty members include literature and poetry critic William H. Pritchard, Latino studies scholar Ilan Stavans, and novelist and legal scholar Lawrence Douglas.


Among its alumni are six Nobel Prize laureates including the economist, Joseph Stiglitz. David Foster Wallace, the novelist and Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System are also alums. Calvin Coolidge, former US president also attended Amherst.


Williams College also has rigorous and diverse academics. There are three academic divisions (languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and mathematics) and 36 majors. Popular majors include Economics, Political Economy, and English.


Students must meet the college’s distribution requirements: at least three courses in arts and humanities, three in social sciences, and three in science and mathematics. All students also must take at least two writing-intensive courses and one course to improve their ability to reason mathematically and abstractly. In tune with the athletic student body, students must pass a swim test and earn phys ed credits. 


The college follows a two semester schedule plus a three-week Winter Study where students can explore new interests. The winter study course is pass/fail so students are encouraged to try something new. Throughout the regular semester, Williams offers tutorials, based on the Oxford/Cambridge tutorial system. The courses are limited to two students to allow students to form close relationships with professors while pursuing independent study. 


Many prominent alumni have attended the college, including 9 Pulitzer Prize winners. Robert F. Engle, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and James Garfield, former US president also attended Williams. 

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Almost all Amherst students live on campus. And all first-year students live in dormitories on the first-year quad, right in the heart of campus. Sophomores, juniors and seniors enter room-draw to select on campus housing options ranging from singles to suite style living. Amherst has 34 residence halls, including several language and culture houses. 


There is only one dining hall on campus, Valentine Dining Hall and a late night snack option in the campus center. 


At Williams residential living is similar. Almost all students live on campus and freshmen live on the Frosh Quad. Upperclassmen apply for on campus living in room-draw and seniors have the option to live in Co-Ops (six small houses and one apartment complex) if they are looking for a slightly more independent living situation. 


Williams has two dining halls Driscoll and Whitmans’, and a few other venues offering lighter snacks. 


Financial aid


Both Amherst and Williams have outstanding financial aid, some of the best in the country. Amherst follows a need-blind admission policy or both domestic and international applicants.


57% of Amherst students receive financial aid. In 2020-21, Amherst provided more than $58 million in scholarship aid and the average financial aid award was more than $58,000. Amherst is no-loan for all students, while Williams is no-loan for families earning under $75,000.


Amherst also participates in QuestBridge, an organization that connects low-income students to elite colleges and universities. QuestBridge students make up over 10% of the student body. 


Williams meets 100% of demonstrated need, like Amherst. The admission process is need-blind for domestic students but not for international students, However, nearly 60% of international students receive financial aid. In total, 51% of Williams undergraduate students receive need-based financial aid and 21% of undergraduate students receive Pell Grants. 


Williams is famous for the Book Grant, which covers the full cost of all required textbooks and course materials for every aided student. 


Sports and Extracurriculars


Both schools compete in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) in Division III. In fact, they have a rivalry that dates back to 1859 to the first ever intercollegiate baseball game. Since then there’s been a lively rivalry between the sports teams. Each year, the football teams play each other in the “Biggest Little Game in America”, a fun event to show pride for your school!


Williams athletes are known as the Ephs or the Purple Cows. Approximately 33% of all students at Williams participate in sports at the varsity level. There are 32 varsity intercollegiate teams and 24 club teams, and a large intramural program. The school’s men’s and women’s ski teams and men’s and women’s squash teams compete in Division I.


Amherst College has the oldest athletics program in the nation. Recently Amherst took up a new mascot, the mammoth, after ditching the Lord Jeffs. Over a third of the student body participates in varsity sports with eighty percent involved in intramural and club sports teams. The school has 27 intercollegiate sports teams.


Both schools field several club athletic teams, including rugby, soccer, wrestling, water polo, ultimate, crew, fencing, and ultimate frisbee. Intramural sports include basketball, volleyball and softball among others. 


Neither school has Greek life and the social scene revolves to some extent around athletics. 


Culture and Diversity


Ethnicity of Domestic Students

Percentage of Student Body (Amherst)

Percentage of Student Body (Williams)




Asian and Pacific Islander



Hispanic or Latino






Native American







As you can see, Amherst College is slightly more diverse than Williams. If this is important to you, it may be a factor to consider. 


How to Decide Between Amherst and Williams


There are a lot of similarities between the two and frankly, if you’re happy at one then you’ll probably have a great experience at the other. That being said, if you are planning to apply Early Decision to one of the two, there are a few points that set the schools apart.


In terms of academics, Amherst has an open curriculum and Williams has some requirements. If you are really looking for freedom to explore any and all classes, perhaps Amherst would be more attractive. Amherst students also have access to the Five College Consortium, giving you access to more niche courses.


On the other hand, Williams also has some unique offerings including tutorials, the chance to work one on one with a professor. Also, the Winter session is a huge draw, as students stay on campus and take a class outside their major in a stress-free environment. 


Majors-wise, Amherst has a strong neuroscience program and a unique major called Law Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST). Williams has strong economics and math programs if that’s more your strength and interest (though the math major at Amherst is also very popular).


If athletics is important to you, generally, Williams teams are more competitive, but Amherst also has some very strong performing teams. Williams frequently wins the NACDA Directors’ Cup, an annual award for the most successful athletic program in each NCAA division. Williams has won the Division III Directors’ Cup 21 out of 23 years. 


The social life is similar at both schools, so a last factor to consider is the surrounding environment. Williams is more remote and arguably has better access to nature. Amherst on the other hand is close to Northampton, a lively arts town, and is surrounded by other colleges. 


Both are amazing options, so you really can’t go wrong. At the end of the day, if you are able to visit both campuses, go with your gut feeling and don’t stress about it!


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?


Now that you have a clearer understanding about the differences between WIlliams and Amherst you may be interested in applying to one or both! A strong academic and extracurricular profile are critical to have a shot at these schools. To get an idea what your chances may be check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. This tool not only estimates your odds of acceptance, but it also offers tips on how to boost your chances of admission.


Short Bio
Leonie Rauls is 2018 grad of Amherst College with a degree in political science and Spanish. She is a journalist and has lived in Bogotá covering politics in Latin America. In her spare time, she loves to run and try out new recipes.