Amherst College welcome package for newly admitted students

At 6:21 p.m. exactly—that’s 18:21 in military time—some 10,567 applicants will find out whether they are among an exclusive group.

When they log on to the Amherst website, 1,144 students (or 11 percent of applicants) will receive the good news: They have been admitted to Amherst's class of 2023.

There's more good news: The College meets the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student, including those from other countries. (And with an average scholarship in the range of $50,000, that’s no small thing.)

The timing also has a special meaning: Amherst College was founded in 1821. 

Three hours before any student celebrations, the College held a party to celebrate the admittance of those 1,144 students—and the contributions of the tour guides, admission counselors and staff members who worked hard along the way.  

Among those celebrating was Maya Hossain '21, who met prospective students in her role as a diversity intern this year. Hossain said she was blown away by all the students she talked to and how sophisticated they were in their understanding of issues they might face as first-generation, low-income students.

"They weren't letting their identity wear them, they were wearing their identity really proudly," Hossain said. "I'm so excited for these students to come here."

Admission staff preparing admit packages Hossain remembers her own decision day clearly. Having received three rejections earlier that week, Hossain—herself a first-generation, low-income student—had become increasingly low in spirits. On the big day, she dropped her phone in a toilet, so a friend lent her a phone to check the Amherst decision. 

"I burst into tears. They said, 'Oh, another rejection. It's okay.' And I said, 'No, I'm going to college. This is so exciting!'" Hossain recalled. Of admission letters, she said, with a grin, "You just need one. If it's not Amherst, that's okay, but if it is, be really happy."

The 1,144 students admitted this year come from 48 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. California is the most represented state with 171 students. Another 11 percent are international students. 

Some 56 percent identify as U.S. students of color, including 21 percent who identify as African American, 20 percent as Asian-American, 18 percent as Latinx and 3 percent as Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Amherst is a founding member of the QuestBridge program—a national nonprofit that matches exceptional, low-income youth across the country with leading colleges—and 129 students successfully applied through that program this year. 

All admitted students are now invited to come to Amherst for open houses in April.

"I am so inspired by the students who apply to Amherst," says Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann. "These students are truly remarkable. I am certain this is a group of students who will make a difference in the world through their ideas."  

On Thursday and Friday as the clocks counted down to 18:21, the Office of Admission buzzed with activity.

On Dean of Admission Cate Zolkos' desk, a purple pen sat next to a stack of paper three-and-three-quarters inches high. These were the 1,144 acceptance letters, which Zolkos had blocked out time over multiple days to sign. Doesn’t she get a hand cramp? Wouldn’t she rather use a machine for this? To both questions, Zolkos said no.

“The students are spending a lot of time working on their application, as well as years and years of education and effort,” Zolkos said. “They deserve the respect of me taking the time to sign a letter.”

Besides, added Zolkos with a smile, signing letters is the fun part.

Downstairs, an entire conference room was overrun with stacks and stacks of colorful folders with “WELCOME” on the cover. Staff spent a day getting them ready to mail and arranging them in piles of 100. They'll spend another entire day adding personalized letters, then checking and double-checking to make sure all of the information is correct before the envelopes head out.

Admission Office Manager Susan Geissler has been keeping track of this massive effort, and she's proud of all the work her colleagues have done.

“It’s my favorite time of the year,” said Geissler. “This is what we’ve worked for all year, to get a class.”