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Mark Thomas

UMass Amherst: Evolution from a Party Animal


I was pretty disappointed the first time I heard the Scooby Doo Five College Consortium Theory. I was a sophomore at UMass Amherst, 2010, listening to a classmate explain how each character on the show “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” was inspired by a college in the Five College Consortium of western Massachusetts. The ascot-wearing character, Fred, was apparently inspired by the prestigious Amherst College. Daphne and Velma’s personalities stem from two neighboring private liberal arts colleges for women: Daphne embodied Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, while Velma represented Smith College in Northampton. The liberal arts school, Hampshire College, was source material for Shaggy. Which left Scooby–the goofy, comical, perpetually hungry dog with a speech impediment–as the representation of The University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Interesting, but not very flattering. Even if the theory isn’t anywhere near true, the school has been trying to shake that animalistic image for quite a while. And they’re succeeding.

When I was in high school, it was hard to pinpoint where “Zoo Mass” fell on the college spectrum. For some, it was a safety school. Many others considered it a reach. Since it boasted a great education and an affordable price tag (especially for in-state students), nearly everybody applied. I wound up enrolling and relocated to the quintessential little college town of Amherst, MA. Cue a very unwelcome spike in tuition and fees. But looking around the campus during my walks to class every morning, it wasn’t hard to see how far those extra dollars were going.

From 2008 to 2013, the school:

  • Opened both a new Integrated Sciences Building and a new Studio Arts Building
  • Completed the Commonwealth Honors College (a $192 million seven-building complex)
  • Saw out-of-state undergraduate admission hit 22%
  • Upgraded the football team to D1
  • Renovated the student center and dormitories
  • Announced countless new plans for campus development

According to the Boston Globe, the number of applicants has jumped from 20,000 to 34,000+ since 2005. It now boasts 88 undergraduate programs, 72 graduate studies, 28,140 students, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. This school has its own zip code for a reason.

But despite all of these developments around campus, it doesn’t take much for UMass to relapse back into party-school mode. At times, it can resemble a Hollywood set for some blockbuster college movie. New student orientation packets should provide instructional flow charts:


(Alright, that example might be a bit hyperbolic.)

But that’s not to say that these day-drinking, keg-standing rioters aren’t smart. In only 6 years, the average GPA for applicants to UMass has risen from 3.38 to 3.66. SAT scores have jumped from 1143 to 1197. In 2011, it was awarded $140 million in grants in contracts due to its recognition as one of the nation’s top public research universities. Most students in the Isenberg School of Management know that it recently ranked 36th business school program overall and 14th among public universities in Bloomberg Businessweek. And as a sort of issuance policy, both the University and the town of Amherst are focusing much more energy on alcohol abuse education and prevention. This isn’t your parents’ UMass anymore.

UMass has come an incredibly long way since it opened. But there’s no doubt that it still has a long way to go. This university is on track to transform itself into one of the best, most diverse, and affordable schools in New England — a godsend amongst an epidemic of pricey private schools. And if you were ever a fan of the show Scooby-Doo, I probably don’t have to remind you that Scooby usually caught the villain and saved the day (albeit with a lot of luck and improvisation).


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About Mark Thomas

Mark helps build the look and feel of the Magoosh product and brand through visual design. He graduated from UMass Amherst with a BFA in Studio Art. When he’s not designing things, he can be found painting, critiquing restaurant menu fonts, exploring the west coast, drowning his demons in a pool of bourbon, and watching the Celtics.

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