Welcome to Amherst College’s 73rd Amherst College Annual Report to Secondary Schools. The reports were inaugurated by Amherst Dean of Admission Eugene “Bill” Wilson in 1947. Even though the internet has made such a report no longer necessary (Dean Wilson surely would have found it remarkable that all of the information in the report could be easily retrieved from anywhere in the world with a phone that fits in your pocket), we have continued with this format, now in its eighth decade.
Many of my predecessors in this role, including Deans Bill Wilson, Ed Wall, Henry “Ted” Bedford, Linda Davis Taylor, Jane Reynolds and Tom Parker, would always open the report with a letter to secondary-school colleagues, and I am happy to follow in this tradition. As I looked back at some of the “anniversary year” reports (from 10, 25 and 50 years ago) for inspiration, I found myself feeling even more connected to the values that the Amherst Admission Office has held for much of its history: openness and transparency; commitment to identifying those students who are the right fit for the College’s mission and culture; and dedication to holistic, need-blind admission.
In the report from 25 years ago, Dean Jane Reynolds observed, “In their best moments, Amherst College students are open-minded, free, feisty, and able to maneuver intelligently in society and the world of ideas.” Having arrived recently with fresh eyes, I see all of these qualities today as well—notably, that feistiness in conjunction with the excitement for the “world of ideas.”
While the students we seek have the same qualities now as then, the admission landscape certainly has evolved. For the class entering Amherst in 1993, the College received 4,302 applications, admitted 991 students (a 23% admission rate) and enrolled a class of 421. Fast-forward a quarter century, and you find last year 9,720 applications for admission, 1,240 admitted (13%) and an enrolled class of 492.
In the same 1993 report, Dean Reynolds spoke of the pending retirement of the 16th president of Amherst College, Peter Pouncey.
At the time of his arrival [in 1984], he saw incoming classes which did not fully represent the demographics of a changing American society; he puzzled over why the College was returning unspent resources to the financial aid budget year after year; and, most significantly, he argued that to be a truly great institution of national prominence, the College must bring “a full sample of the nation’s talent” to the campus.
In the course of Pouncey’s presidency, the dean reported, “the number of students of color entering Amherst each year has grown from 14% to 31.5% of the class.”
I am grateful to Pouncey and Reynolds, and their successors, for their efforts to diversify the College and bring it to a place of leadership among American higher education institutions. Today, nearly half of our incoming class identify as U.S. students of color. Most students receive need-based Amherst scholarships. Our student body includes students from more than 50 countries. Through those we admit, the Admission and Financial Aid Offices strive to uphold the College’s mission to educate students “of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.”
Yours in education,
Matthew L. McGann, Ed.D.
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid