Amherst Magazine

Equal Footing

By Emily Gold Boutilier

In the fall, Dean of Admission Tom Parker made recruiting stops in Bosnia, Norway, Italy and the Czech Republic, while three members of his staff visited other corners of the world. During these trips, Parker and his staff answered questions from guidance counselors about the Amherst curriculum, the student body, the New England weather. But more than anything else, the counselors wanted to know whether Amherst is need-blind for international students. “If it’s not the first question they ask you,” Parker says, “it’s the second question they ask, because it’s so critical.”

“Need-blind” means that a school makes admission decisions without holding financial need against an applicant. In April, Amherst, which has long been need-blind for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, became only the eighth U.S. college to extend need-blind admission to international students. (The others are Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Middlebury, Princeton, Yale and Williams.) The change will occur beginning with the Class of ’13.

President Anthony W. Marx says that in making the change, “we hope that we are only reinforcing the message that we welcome all students to apply, regardless of financial standing. It is in everyone’s best interest that we are doing what we can to educate the best mix of future leaders.”

Today, international students make up around 8 percent of each entering class. Parker suspects that number will increase to around 10 percent as a result of the new policy. He predicts an increase in the applicant pool as well. The change, Parker believes, will have the greatest impact on students who live in the least wealthy areas of the world, including Africa and Latin America. “Now, everyone will be compared with everyone else,” he says. “It’s a level playing field.”

Many international students already receive Amherst financial aid. The aid packages combine college grants and work-study jobs, as they do for U.S. students. However, unlike U.S. students, those from other countries are ineligible for federal grants. (Amherst meets the full demonstrated financial need of every student who’s admitted.)

Peter Shea, the college’s treasurer, says that for planning purposes, Amherst has assumed a 2-percentage-point increase in the portion of the student body that is international. If that number holds true, he says, the new policy would cost between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in the first year and would increase as costs go up.