A fresh legacy: First-generation students replacing legacy admissions at Amherst College


Staff Writer

Published: 06-28-2023 2:16 PM

AMHERST — Nearly one in five students in the incoming class at Amherst College will be the first members of their family to attend a four-year institution of higher education.

In an early look at the 480 students expected to arrive in the fall to begin their studies, the college anticipates that 19% of the Class of 2027 will be enrolling as first-generation students. That will be the highest proportion of first-generation students in the college’s modern era, with officials pointing to it as a demonstration of education access and equity practiced by the college, following an announcement in October 2021 that legacy admissions, in which children of alumni are given preference for admission, would end.

“As a first-generation college student myself, I’m extremely proud of the continued success that we see here at Amherst in admitting and enrolling students who will be the first in their families to attend a four-year college or university,” Matt McGann, dean of admission and financial aid, said in a statement. “It is just one of many signs of our unwavering commitment to making an Amherst education accessible to students from across our country and around the globe.”

While this was the first class admitted with no preference given for students with a legacy connection to Amherst, 6% of the class of 2027 falls under that designation. That is only about half of the recent 11% average of legacy admissions.

Smith College, with 635 first-year students, is looking at a class that will have 17% first-generation students, according to Joanna May, vice president for Enrollment. It will also be the most selective class in the college’s history, with an admission rate of 19.7%. Unlike Amherst, Smith has not used legacy admissions.

At Mount Holyoke College, 545 students are expected in the Class of 2027. Of those accepted into the class, 395, or 25%, are self-identified first-generation students. Like Amherst, the college is striving to make its enrollment economically and racially diverse, with one piece of that work having a group of admitted first-generation and low-income students being able to travel to campus, all expenses paid by college grants, for the “Experience MHC” open house event in April.

Mount Holyoke officials say they understand a campus visit can be a deciding factor that drives an admitted student to enroll.

Amherst’s latest class benefits from the changes of the Amherst Within Reach initiative, announced at the same time as legacy admissions were ended. This initiative includes significant enhancements to financial aid, which has been increased for the majority of students admitted to Amherst. Of the projected incoming class, 38% will receive institutional, state and federal grants that fully cover at least tuition, and 17% will receive grants that cover the total comprehensive cost of attending.

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In addition, Amherst is keeping in place a policy that advance deposits are no longer required for enrolling students, and a test-optional approach for SAT and ACT score submissions, formalizing a four-year pilot program that began in 2020.

“Each year, we admit a new class of talented, intellectually curious students with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and each year I’m amazed as I watch them join our community here at Amherst and enrich it with their own interests and passions,” McGann said. “I look forward to seeing what the class of 2027, and our fall transfer cohort, bring to our campus when they arrive here this fall.”

At Amherst, the Class of 2027 is 50% domestic students of color and 13% international. Students come from 40 states, Washington, D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands, and 31 countries. An additional 23 students are projected to enroll as transfer students to Amherst in the fall of 2023, 65% of whom are transferring from a two-year institution and 17% of whom are first-generation college students. Final statistics for the enrolling students will be available in early fall.

At Smith, 35% of the Class of 2027 is domestic students of color and 14% international, with 17% being eligible for Pell grants. Those receiving need-based financial aid make up 62% of the class, and students come from 44 states, two U.S. territories and 36 countries.

At Mount Holyoke, 42% of the Class of 2027 is domestic students of color and 25% international, with 9% being Pell grant-eligible In addition, 68% of the class went to public high schools, and 16% are from Massachusetts.

The various makeups of the first-year classes at the Valley’s private colleges comes as Hampshire College anticipates continuing to increase its enrollment. As of its deposit deadline, 306 students accepted offers of admission, declaring their intention to attend this fall. Last year, the number of deposited students following this deadline was 261.

This puts Hampshire on track to return to full enrollment and financial sustainability by 2027.

“This is another indication that our radical approach to undergraduate education is resonating,” President Ed Wingenbach said in a statement. “These numbers offer compelling proof that as students and families make their college choices, they’re drawn to an experience organized around the generation of new possibilities, new questions, and new solutions to the complex challenges our future presents.”

The incoming students will be in the largest class since 2018 and marks a turnaround from 2019, when Hampshire’s administration pursued a potential merger and declined to enroll a full fall class. In May 2019, the board of trustees voted to remain independent and the Hampshire community took a stand to preserve its independence and reinvigorate its mission.

Among the group of currently committed students are 285 first-years and 21 transfers. Three of the incoming transfer students are from New College of Florida and 20 additional New College students have begun the transfer process. In March, Hampshire extended an invitation, with matching tuition, to New College students in response to the ongoing politicization of educational curricula at the college and in the state overall.

The group of incoming domestic students at Hampshire come from 37 states. Black, Indigenous and people of color students make up 31% of the incoming class, 8% are international students and 37% are Pell-eligible.