The impetus for the policy came in 2006, when the Committee on Academic Priorities recommended extending outreach to lower-income students, eliminating loans and becoming need-blind for international students. In “an expensive decision to be made at a critical time,” as Fretwell puts it, the faculty approved all of these initiatives, and the College decided to increase enrollment to help achieve them.
Those decisions have paid off. Last year, 55 percent of Amherst students received College financial aid. The policy has allowed admission officers to reach populations who would not otherwise have had Amherst in their sights. “When you can wave a financial aid flag with that kind of generosity, people pay attention, and I think that’s made a big difference in the kind of students now considering Amherst,” Fretwell says.
Perhaps most important, the policy has been a rousing success in what it has given the College: every marker of student excellence has risen in the past decade.
Ten years in, it’s clear that Amherst’s more diverse student body is a draw and an advantage. This was certainly true for Peter Mack ’15. A Cape Cod native who came from Tabor Academy, Mack learned about Amherst “accidentally,” and it was love at first sight. He made friends quickly, and they made his experience. “The opportunity to hear points of view that are so drastically different from mine, whether it’s because the person came from Asia or Africa, or California or Florida, or because their families are made up differently, was invaluable,” says Mack, a member of the squash team who wrote a history thesis on desegregation and urban planning.
Now a consultant with Censeo in Washington, D.C., Mack wishes he had more opportunities in his day-to-day life to engage with others the way he did at Amherst.
Silvia Wu ’11 came from a large high school in San Francisco. Her two priorities for college were that it be far from home and small. Wu calls her experience at Amherst “eye-opening,” and the opportunity to freely explore her academic interests was paramount.
“I am thankful for the financial aid package,” Wu says. “It gives students across different backgrounds—whether you’re middle-class or from a working-class background like I was—the opportunity to experience a liberal arts education.” This opportunity otherwise might have been unaffordable.
“So I’m grateful,” she says. “I could take classes that were interesting to me and pursue careers and professions that fit my interests.” A recent graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Wu is currently a law clerk at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.*
For Mari Crook ’13, Amherst was an option only because of the financial aid package, which made the College more affordable than the University of Illinois, where she would have been an in-state student. She was impressed with the interest Amherst took in her, beginning with flying her to see the campus once she’d been accepted. That sense of care continued throughout her time at Amherst: the College funded her internships in India and Costa Rica and her semester abroad in Paris. That Amherst subsidized more than just her tuition allowed Crook to think more globally.