By Caroline J. Hanna

Tom Parker is retiring as dean of admission and financial aid. Katharine Fretwell ’81 will take over.

[Admission] Katharine Fretwell ’81, who has served her alma mater’s admission office for nearly 25 years, has been named dean of admission and financial aid, effective July 1. Fretwell succeeds Tom Parker, whose retirement ends an illustrious career at the college.

Reporting directly to President Biddy Martin, Fretwell will oversee all operations of both the admission and financial aid offices. “Katie has worked alongside Tom for many years and will continue to build on Amherst’s success in attracting motivated and exceptional students,” says Martin. “I’m thrilled that she has agreed to take the reins from Tom.”

Tom Parker and Katie Fretwell ’81

Katie Fretwell ’81 says she is “proud to receive the torch” from her mentor, Tom Parker.
Photo by Rob Mattson

Fretwell—who majored in English and dramatic arts at Amherst—joined the admission office in 1989. Named dean of admission in 2012, she has been responsible for implementing and administering admission policy and for representing Amherst through secondary-school visits, on-campus programs, conferences and alumni functions.

Fretwell was instrumental in launching pioneering programs that have increased socioeconomic diversity at Amherst while ensuring that low-income Amherst students graduate at the same rate as their peers, across disciplines. These programs include QuestBridge, which matches high-achieving, low-income students with colleges that want them; Diversity Open Houses, which bring promising students to campus each year; diversity interns, current Amherst students who give prospective students information on the Amherst experience; and Summer Science and Humanities Institutes, which provide admitted students with coursework to help ensure they will thrive at Amherst.

“I could not be any happier for Katie,” says Parker. “The admission and financial aid operations could not be in finer hands as we move forward.”

“I feel privileged to serve the college in this new capacity,” says Fretwell, “and proud to receive the torch from my own mentor, Tom.”

Parker’s hallmark candor and devotion to data in decision-making and recruitment have given administrators, faculty, prospective students and families new insights into college admission, says Martin. “Tom leaves an exceptional and enviable legacy,” she says. “Thanks to both Tom’s and Katie’s efforts and talents, Amherst’s offices of admission and financial aid are regarded as national models for enhancing access to and affordability of higher education.”

Record Levels of Diversity

  • Tom Parker came to the admission office in 1999 from his alma mater, Williams, where he served on the admission staff for 20 years, including eight as director.
  • Parker’s commitment to developing the most diverse and academically talented applicant pools in the college’s history has been rewarded with record levels of diversity among the entering classes. In the Class of 2017, 44 percent identify as students of color. About 60 percent of Amherst students receive financial aid.

  • During Parker’s remarkable tenure at Amherst, the college earned national recognition for recruiting and graduating low-income and racially diverse students, for its need-blind admission policies for both domestic and international students, and for replacing all loans with grants in its financial aid awards.