What changes has Amherst made to its admission and financial aid policies?

As we look forward to our next 200 years, Amherst is making two significant adjustments to our admission and financial aid policies: we are ending the longstanding practice of a legacy admission preference and expanding student financial aid to $71 million annually, assuring that more low- and middle-income students benefit from our loan-free financial aid program. By ending an admission preference granted to the children of alumni and increasing student financial aid, Amherst continues to expand access to higher education and assure that an outstanding Amherst education is within reach for all income groups.

What does it mean to end legacy admission preference?

Historically, academically well-qualified children of alumni have experienced some preference in the admission process. Approximately 11% of each admitted class represents academically well-qualified children of alumni. The use of legacy admission preference has never compromised Amherst's very high standards—admitted children of alumni are highly qualified, academically and otherwise. When this change takes effect during next year's admission cycle, there will be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage to children of alumni; academically well-qualified children will be considered using the same criteria as the rest of the applicant pool. Make no mistake: Every Amherst student, whether they have family members who are alums or not, was admitted as part of a very careful selection process and deserves to be here.

Will there still be children of alumni in the student body?  

The official end of legacy preference in admission does not change the fact that legacy applicants are often among the most gifted and promising in our applicant pool and we want to continue to encourage applications from those with connections to Amherst. Based on past applicant trends, we anticipate that children of alumni will be represented in every class.

What do you hope to accomplish by ending legacy admission preference? 

This move is a continuation of our long-standing efforts and leadership in expanding educational opportunity and an important step in ending a historical program that inadvertently limits educational opportunity by granting a preference to those whose parents are graduates of the College. After more than a year of study, the leadership and board determined that ending legacy preference—a practice that has been part of our admissions process since at least the 1920s—would further expand our ongoing efforts to increase the diversity and variety of lived experience of the students attending Amherst. We are proud to be among the first of our peers to take this important step towards a more equitable system of higher education.

How did the Board of Trustees make this decision?

Andrew J. Nussbaum ’85, Chair of the Board, said: "The Board of Trustees periodically reviews the College’s admission policies, and considered the topic of legacy preference in admission over a number of years. As Biddy Martin’s announcement reflects, the Trustees unanimously support the elimination of this preference, for the reasons noted in President Martin’s letter. We are also confident that children of alumni will continue to comprise a substantial portion of future classes based on their own talent and achievements. We thank our alumni, as always, for their dedication to the mission and values of the College."

When does the financial aid enhancement take effect?

The change will take effect in the 2022-23 academic year for all enrolled Amherst students (including students who are currently applying to Amherst as first-year and transfer students). 

How will the change affect alumni giving?

We are confident that this is the right decision for the College and that it boldly positions us as a leader for the next 200 years. Amherst’s commitment to educational access is a point of pride for many of our alumni and families, and almost half of our alumni help fund financial aid and scholarships by giving to the Amherst Fund each year. We studied and debated this decision carefully before moving forward; ultimately, we believe that ending the legacy preference will have a significant positive impact on the College’s ability to deliver on its mission of opportunity and accessibility. We anticipate that this commitment to our mission will resonate with many alumni. 

Why are we further increasing financial aid?

The expansion is designed to:

  • Be transparent and easy to understand
  • Send a clear message that 80% of U.S. households would fall within the income guidelines to qualify for substantial aid
  • Expand programs that provide financial support to students once they arrive on campus

Amherst already has a strong financial aid program; what changes does this set of updates include?

Amherst is increasing its commitment to financial aid to $71 million annually to improve the financial and programmatic support for lower- and middle-income families. This change will allow the College to provide support for 60% of its students, among the highest proportion of any need-blind liberal arts college. This increase in our financial aid policies and programs is designed to extend opportunities for debt-free education to middle- and low-income families, who will save thousands of dollars each year. With this enhancement, most students with total family incomes below $141,000 will receive a scholarship of at least $60,700 per year, an amount equal to Amherst's tuition this year.  And most students with total family incomes below $67,500 will receive a scholarship of at least $76,800, which is Amherst's comprehensive fee for tuition, housing, and meals this year.

What do the changes in the policy mean for most students in practical terms?

Using the new guidelines, the average aid package will increase to $63,570, and one in six members of the student body will see their grant jump by more than $5,000 each year. This means that, in addition to more low-income families receiving assistance, students who come from families earning between $100,000 and $200,000 and with limited assets will also have greater access to financial assistance.

Additionally, as part of this new program of expanded assistance, Amherst will provide access to grants that can be used for necessities ranging from laptops to winter coats to job search expenses. It will also formalize the Student Emergency Fund, which supports students with unanticipated financial needs. Reducing the work-study requirement to four hours per week from six hours will provide more time for students to enjoy their college experience, study or, if they choose, earn money for themselves.