Colleen O'Connor '11 came to Amherst as a transfer student through the college's Community College Transfer Initiative.

Why Colleen O’Connor ’11 transferred to Amherst

Colleen O’Connor is from Westhampton, Mass. She came to Amherst as a transfer student through the college’s Community College Transfer Initiative, a program funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Here, Colleen expresses her gratitude to the donors who have made her Amherst education possible.

Thank you so much for your generous contribution. Amherst is an amazing school, and without the generosity of people like you, I would never be able to go to it. I transferred to Amherst last spring from Holyoke Community College. People go to community colleges for a lot of reasons. Mine was monetary—and it was the best stroke of luck that I could have asked for.

In high school, I worked… a lot. I often worked full-time, and often at more than one job (on top of going to school for six hours a day, plus homework). I was convinced that if I worked really hard, I would be able to pay for college. I applied to one school: Framingham State College. I was sure that I would be able to pay for a state school. When I got the letter saying that it was $7,000 a semester, I was crushed—working well over full-time for two years, I had only saved $5,000.

So I enrolled at HCC, thinking that I would become a dental hygienist. I decided that I would only work for 24 hours a week at the Bluebonnet Diner in Northampton. I wanted to get my gen ed requirements over with, since that is what everyone told me to do. I found out that I loved learning. Everything was interesting to me, and, as it turns out, when I wasn’t being stretched so thin between work and school, I was actually pretty smart. Then, I started doing extracurricular activities, which I hadn’t had time for since middle school. I joined the student newspaper [and] the alumni newspaper and started volunteering at a shelter. I took a noncredit math class at Mount Holyoke and started thinking more about how open my future might actually be. One day, a customer of mine who is a custodian at Amherst brought in a copy of The Amherst Student, which said that Amherst was doing away with loans [and replacing them with scholarships]. I went to an open house at Amherst and decided that this was the right place for me, this was a place where I would be challenged and this was a place that would give me the future that I’d always been afraid to hope for.

Going to Amherst has opened up a lot of doors that I always thought would be locked to a working-class kid like me. Since coming to Amherst, I’ve studied art in Italy, worked with letters written by Edith Wharton and Clyde Fitch and learned to write fiction from a man whom critics call a “genius.” This summer, I am working to publish a memoir that a man in my town wrote before he died. I feel like I am taken seriously at Amherst; when I said to my adviser that I wanted to be a writer, she didn’t laugh. I’m free to think big here. No one sighs. No one laughs. No one explains to me that the world “doesn’t really work that way.”

And it is all because of people like you.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Colleen O’Connor
Amherst College Class of 2011

To learn how you can support broadening access and financial aid at Amherst, contact Tim Neale, director of leadership giving, at (413) 542-5900 or

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04