Class of 2018 Arrives on Campus
Issue   |   Thu, 08/28/2014 - 18:03
Photography Editor Olivia Tarantino '15
On Wednesday, upperclass students welcomed the class of 2018 with “Voices of the New Class,” a performance featuring excerpts from new students’ admissions essays.

Lugging boxes, suitcases and the occasional piece of furniture across the first-year quad, the 470 members of the class of 2018 arrived on campus and settled into their new homes last Sunday. After moving in, members of the new class gathered in their residence halls and officially began the college’s nine-day orientation program.

This year’s class survived the second-most competitive applicant pool in the college’s history, with an acceptance rate of just under 14 percent. Of 8,479 applicants for the class of 2018, 1,174 were offered admission. Forty percent of admitted students ultimately chose to attend.

“The admissions staff is particularly excited to welcome those who have chosen us,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Katie Fretwell ’81. “To have them come to campus and be real and meet one another is incredibly exciting.”

Fifteen transfer students also arrived on campus this week. The college admitted 33 of 403 transfer applicants, for an acceptance rate of 8 percent.

Fretwell said that the incoming class is particularly notable for its unusual geographic distribution.

“We have six students from Alabama, which is surely a record,” Fretwell said. “We have five students from Hawaii, surely a record, and our first student from Somalia.”

Members of the class of 2018 hail from 31 countries and 39 states, plus the District of Columbia. The top three most represented states, in order, are New York, California and Massachusetts. Almost 10 percent of new students are non-U.S. citizens, and an additional 7 percent are dual citizens of the U.S. and another country.

The new class continues Amherst’s tradition of supporting students from diverse backgrounds: 60 percent of incoming students are receiving financial aid. Sixteen percent of the new class are first-generation college students, and 44 percent identify as American students of color.

The class also includes a record five Native American students.

“That is a high water mark for us,” Fretwell said. “We’re very excited about that, particularly since we’ve made a special effort in recruiting that population.”

Last January, the college announced a series of initiatives aimed to help more Native students attend college.

This year’s class also boasts the usual range of stellar academic accomplishments: 85 percent graduated in the top decile of their senior classes. Members of the new class come from 396 secondary schools, with 59 percent from public schools, 35 percent from independent schools and 6 percent from parochial schools.

Fretwell also noted an unusual trend among new students.

“A sad thing is that we have a lot of students who have lost a parent,” she said. “It did not play a role in our admissions work, but it may be a commonality that students find among themselves.”

After arriving on the campus, the class of 2018 experienced a newly revamped orientation program, one that emphasizes more dynamic group discussion and includes an expanded series of three-day orientation trips.

“We really tried to take a number of core events and make them more active,” said Provost Peter Uvin, who was tasked with helping to overhaul this year’s orientation. “I think that orientation used to be very passive in many ways — students were often talked at, and that’s about the best way of losing young people’s interest.”

Examples of new orientation programming include “Faces of the Community,” a three-hour event related to diversity, as well as well as a series of open houses for cultural organizations on campus. Students also participated in a conversation inspired by the newly introduced “Ask Big Questions” program, an initiative aimed to spark meaningful dialogue among members of the community. On Monday, first-years and student orientation leaders met in small groups to discuss the question “What do we need to learn?”

The expanded series of orientation trips also marks a dramatic change from years past, when students could choose to either go on one of two three-day trips or remain on campus. Now, the three-day trips are mandatory for all first-years, including athletes.

Last year, students could participate in either FOOT (First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips) or CEOT (Community Engagement Orientation Trip). This year, the college has added five additional options for orientation trips, including one that focuses on mindfulness and yoga, and another that takes place at Book and Plow Farm.

First-year students will return from their orientation trips on Saturday, then experience their first day of college classes on Tuesday, Sept. 2.