Welcome, New Students

Classmates “will be instrumental in how you decide to live your life and contribute to the world,” the dean of admission—who’s been in their shoes—told first-year and transfer students.

Students stand in circles on Memorial Field
Students participate in Orientation activities on Memorial Field. Photo by Takudzwa Tapfuma ’17.

In an address to the 489 new Amherst students today, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Katie Fretwell ’81 urged the group to demonstrate courage—specifically, the courage to share their strengths and experiences and to get to know classmates. “Do not hesitate to make yourself be known,” she said, “or to be vulnerable to the challenges brought by both your professors and your peers. This is not a passive environment. Be prepared to participate.”  

Fretwell offered this advice to a nervous crowd of first-year and transfer students who filled the bleachers of Lefrak Gymnasium. It was among the early events of this year’s New Student Orientation, which began with move-in at 8 a.m. and will conclude with Opening Convocation on Sept. 4. In between, the students will attend a welcome reception with Amherst President Biddy Martin, meet with academic advisers, take part in numerous social gatherings and bond during off-campus expeditions.

Fretwell used her pulpit to excite them about the journey on which they are poised to embark.

“You have taken the grand step from being an admitted student to an Amherst student, she said. “You are here, together, on the brink of a new and shared beginning, regardless of your GPA, what high school you attended, in what kind of neighborhood you were raised, the number of awards you have collected or the odds you overcame to be here.

Out of the record 9,285 applicants for the class of 2021—known as the bicentennial class, because it will graduate in the College’s bicentennial year—1,198 students were admitted and 473 enrolled. And of the 464 students who applied for fall transfer admission, 34 were admitted—a mere 7 percent—and 16 enrolled.

“That degree of selectivity confirms that you have truly distinguished yourselves and are in truly distinguishing company,” Fretwell said.

These new students speak more than 45 languages and have lived in more than 50 countries. They have founded gay-straight alliances; mentorship programs; voter drive organizations; cultural affinity groups; and bird, philosophy, pancake and “Be Loud” clubs. They have worked with veterans and Holocaust survivors; served on fire rescue squads; and joined anti-bullying, Operation Smile, Best Buddies, clean air and combating climate change organizations. And an unusual number of students expressed a passion for animals.

As Fretwell explained, bringing together a community of people with such diverse backgrounds, characteristics and accomplishments was intentional. “This design, this residential 24/7 immersion,” she said, “will challenge you to do things you may not have been asked to do before,” such as live with people unlike themselves and engage in intense but civil debate.

“The lofty goals we have for members of our community may not be immediately evident in your early weeks and months at Amherst, but I am certain that when you assemble as a class again in spring 2021 to graduate, you will reflect on how your teachers, mentors, staff and friends will have influenced your ability to make sense of the world and to navigate it with skills and sensibility, regardless of your major,” she said. “These people and the experiences that accompany your relationships with them will be instrumental in how you decide to live your life and contribute to the world.”

Here are some other facts about this year’s new students:

  • The class is 51% men and 49% women
  • They hail from 38 states, Puerto Rico and 26 countries
  • They attended 388 different secondary schools
  • 43% identify as U.S. students of color
  • 8% are non-U.S. students, and an additional 8% are dual citizens and permanent residents of the U.S.
  • 55% are recipients of Amherst financial aid, and 19% are Pell Grant recipients
  • 11% are first-generation college students
  • Their ages range from 16 to 32
  • The most represented male first name is Matthew; the most represented female first name is Sarah
  • Their academic scores are exceptional: Their ACT composite is 33—a record. Their SAT composite (the “old test”) is 2232—also a record. And their redesigned SAT (first introduced with this class) is 1469.
  • Among them are winners of Gates Millennium, National Merit, Coca Cola, Davis, Goldwater and Jack Kent Cooke Scholarships
  • Various first year and transfer students have been named Advanced Placement Scholars, Intel and Regeneron Finalists and National Hispanic Recognition Scholars
  • They aspire to become medical, legal, educational professionals as well as judges, entertainers, scientific researchers, engineers, conservationists, foresters, architects, clergy members and diplomats
  • They are members of an English country dance band, wind ensembles, baroque chamber ensembles, marching bands, rock bands, pep bands, steel bands, in addition to barbershop quartets and madrigal, choral and a capella groups
  • Some have won the Optimist Essay Contest, published in the Concord Review, participated in poetry slams, or attended the Breadloaf, Iowa, Sewanee, Kenyon and UVA Young Writers’ Programs
  • They are improvisers; thespians; ballet, hip hop, step or classical Indian dancers; cartoonists; sculptors and pottery and film makers
  • They have conducted research on endangered Himalayan bears, neurodegenerative disease, arson, infant mortality, cholesterol, Circadian rhythms and schizophrenia
  • They compete in a number of athletic activities including gymnastics, rugby, snowboarding, fencing, juggling, Dragon boat racing, competitive weight lifting, cricket, canoe polo and synchronized ice skating
  • They have earned money hanging tobacco, shining shoes, designing jewelry and designing clothes


Students, holding welcome signs for the first-year students and their families, jumping and smiling.

Orientation 2017

The 489 newest Amherst students arrived on campus Aug. 29, many with families in tow. These first-year and transfer students graduated from 388 secondary schools and speak more than 45 languages.