Over the summer Katie Fretwell ’81, the director of admission, pored over a heap of application essays, test scores and personal data, all in an effort to inventory the new Class of ’10. She found that the 432 students come from 38 states (New York, Massachusetts and California top the list) and 19 foreign countries, including China and Kenya. More than half receive financial aid. The women slightly outnumber the men.
But who are the first-years behind the numbers? In the mix, Fretwell discovered a varsity knitter, a unicyclist (award-winning) and a champion in Dragon boat racing. The class includes agnostics and atheists, at least one (self-declared) Communist and an Orthodox Jew who became a Southern Baptist.
The class tests well, with an average SAT score of 711 (verbal) and 706 (math). Eleven percent have a parent who went to Amherst, an increase over last year, and more first-year students than ever in recent history—16 percent—are first-generation college students. Sixteen percent speak English as a second language. A record 39 percent describe themselves as students of color.
As Fretwell scrutinized the numbers, she saw two themes emerge. First, more first-year students than usual—21 percent—intend to major in the sciences. Two were semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. Another actually professes to go by the nickname of Einstein.
Fretwell also noticed a rise in political activism and community service, a trend she attributes, at least in part, to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and upheaval in the Middle East. One student served as president of both the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Young Republicans.
The youngest first-year is 16; the oldest 22. Two were home-schooled through high school. There is a triplet in the class, as well as a woman who raises pigs. Along with newspaper editors and debate champions, the class includes a TV addict who founded the Seinfeld Club and a breakfast-food aficionado who started the Cereal Club. There is also a glass blower, a magician and a host of female wrestlers. Eleven students, including a semi-professional hockey player and a veteran of Singapore’s military, took a year off between high school and college.
This year, the name Andrew defeats the long-triumphant Michael as the most popular for men. Three women’s names—Elizabeth, Jennifer and Sarah—are tied at the top of the list.
The eclectic group, artists and scientists, Andrews and Elizabeths alike, came together on a cold, rainy day in August. They join 17 transfer students. Fretwell is quick to point out that her statistics only begin to quantify the diverse paths the students have traveled on their way to Amherst. “I have no doubt,” she said in a speech to the new class, “that you have much to offer Amherst and much to learn from one another. Welcome, Class of 2010. You have arrived.”