Class of 2017 Represents Diversity of Campus
Issue   |   Wed, 09/04/2013 - 10:19
Photo Courtesy of Office of Public Affairs
Students of the Class of 2017 arrived on campus with their families on Aug. 25 to being orientation activities and move into their first-year dormitories.

Facing a daunting 14 percent acceptance rate, the members of the Class of 2017 arrived on campus this week, filled with energy as they unloaded their cars and embarked on their college experience.

The class were chosen out of 7,926 applicants, of which 1132 were accepted, with 466 students arriving on campus to make up the Class of 2017. With an almost perfect male to male ratio (there are four more women than men), the students have a large amount of geographic, socioeconomic and racial diversity.

“Even though our applicant pool was down seven percent from last year we feel very good about how the quality of the applicant pool emerged, and a great group of students showed up, which is all that matters,” said Katie Fretwell, Director of Admissions. “Of course there were initial concerns that some of the attention given to Amherst last fall might have had a negative impact on students considering Amherst, but when we analyzed the pool that ultimately came in we didn’t see anything like a drop off in certain geographic regions or a drop off in female applicant either. The ratio of men to women was consistent with previous years. So, there wasn’t a particular group of students that dropped, it seemed to be a slice across groups.”

The class has large geographic diversity, representing over 30 countries, 40 states and the District of Columbia. Nine percent of the class are non-U.S. citizens and five percent are dual citizens. Furthermore, for the first time in 192 years there are more Californians than New Yorkers in the new class.

“I think part of the attraction is that east coasters are moving to the west coast, so they bring a greater familiarity with Amherst. Furthermore, as Amherst becomes increasingly national and international and as alumni go out into these nooks and crannies of the world, the College becomes more well known,” Fretwell said. “Things like the internet make it a lot easier for students to do things like virtual tours and draws more students to the College.”

The class represents great racial and socioeconomic diversity. A record 45 percent of students in the incoming class have self-identified as students of color.

“I suspect that makes Amherst the most diverse class at any of the liberal arts colleges,” Fretwell said.

Furthermore, 18 percent of the class are first generation college students. Additionally, 57 percent of students receive financial aid and a record 23 percent of incoming students are currently receiving Pell grants.

“That is a really distinguishing feature for Amherst among our peer institutions. It indicates that we are attracting really talented low-income students and enabling those students to chose Amherst. We are very proud of that,” Fretwell said. “I think Amherst has an excellent reputation for attracting students from different backgrounds and supporting students those students once they get here. We have a Financial Aid office and a Dean of Students office who are very sensitive to needs of students coming from different kinds of families, different backgrounds, both socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, so that programs emerge to aid students in everything from purchasing books to acquiring winter coats to experiencing an American thanksgiving if the students can’t get home. These are all good things that are happening, and I think all the students at Amherst care about that. They want fellow students to have some of the common experience of being a student, not only in the U.S. for students who are not from the United States, but to have a common experience while they are at Amherst. I think the College does a good job on that front, making sure that all our students have access to the same experience.”

The new class also contains over 24 students who have completed a gap year.

“Anytime a college student doesn’t go back to school in September represents a shift in normalcy because students who are high achievers who come to a place like Amherst have been going back to school every fall. To interrupt that cycle is going to help them see the world differently. Students who have had that experience when they come to Amherst are going to express that experience in the classroom and in the dorm, in sometimes unpredictable ways,” Fretwell said. “They’ll have a different level of maturity because they will have lived differently than other students. We are excited about that and certainly the high achieving students who take a break from all that school may find themselves renewed and reinvigorated intellectually. It is often the case that they are ready and recommitted to their schooling when they come.”

The incoming class is also highly qualified. Over 86 percent of the class graduated in the top decile of their high school classes. They represent over 378 different high schools. Fifty nine percent of the students attended public high schools, 35 percent attended independent high schools, six percent attended parochial high schools and half of a percent were home schooled.

There are also several transfer students joining the college this year. Out of 473 applications, the College accepted 20 students, with 13 enrolling this year, resulting in an acceptance rate of 4 percent. The transfer students range in age from 18 to 33, with a significant contingent from community colleges and two veterans.

“These students will bring an added level of worldly experience,” Fretwell said. “Transfer student have stories that are often different than our traditional high school students.”

For Fretwell, it is the diversity of this class that distinguishes it.

“The socioeconomic and racial diversity is remarkable, and the community, I think, will celebrate that and will build from it. Those are the kinds of things that will impact the whole college,” Fretwell said. “I think that is going to be special.”