What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

A Good Amherst College Essay Example


Amherst College is a prestigious liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts. Perhaps best known for it’s open curriculum, students challenge themselves to study diverse disciplines to become well rounded individuals. It’s a small school with only 1,800 students, leading to a close knit student body. If students are looking for a niche course that may not be offered at Amherst, they can access the Five College Consortium, a system of five colleges including Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, and UMass Amherst, to take additional courses. 


Given how highly selective Amherst admissions are, you need to have strong essays to stand out from your fellow applicants. In this post, we will be going over a real essay a student submitted to Amherst. We will also share what the essay did well and where it could be improved to give you a better idea of how to approach your Amherst essays.


Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 


Read our Amherst College essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 


Amherst College Essay Example


Prompt: Respond to one of the following quotations in an essay of not more than 300 words. It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay.


“Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather, achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.”   – Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst College Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals


Bright morning, clear skies, chirping birds – a beautiful and peaceful scenery indeed, but a stark contrast to the unrest I felt within. The cassava pellets (garri) were burning, and my heart was racing. In a panic, I threw sand underneath the pan to quench the flames before all the garri got burnt.


Earlier, grandpa had asked if I had any questions concerning the roasting process. I thought I had watched him enough to know the ropes and said no. Now, I had failed him woefully and ruined his business, as he sold the garri. Guilt sliced through my heart like a hot knife through butter, and with pain and shame, I took the little I could salvage back home.


My grandfather looked utterly disgusted and very disappointed. “Mandla, why did you not ask? You put in too much firewood—an avoidable mistake. Mandla, you should have asked. There is no shame in not knowing everything.” 


That is the thing I have learned about knowing some things – you mistake it for knowing everything. I could defend a ball like Maldini and evaluate large sums my classmates couldn’t manage in my head. I could do it all, so I felt that I could roast garri without grandpa’s help. The charred mess and acrid smoke of my mistake showed me that I could fail. And also, that I could rise from it. My next bag of garri was golden and fragrant and as perfect as the lesson. Returning to school, I asked questions in class whenever I had the chance because I wanted to know. 


The insatiable beast that was my curiosity kept me on my toes and developed into a strong affinity for knowledge acquisition. I had transformed as an individual, and I had the unfortunate garri incident to thank immensely.


What the Essay Did Well


Overall, this is a strong essay that shares a specific example of a challenging experience and how it changed this student’s perspective. Particularly well executed, the student selected a unique experience (cooking garri is not something every high schooler does) and is able to relate it to other aspects of their life (asking for help and being curious). 


The third and fourth paragraphs are particularly strong in the way they develop the plot and provide personal reflection. Quoting the student’s grandfather is a concise, and simultaneously more engaging, way to reveal the climax of the story. We can feel their humiliation upon hearing their grandfather get upset. Additionally, his last advice, “There is no shame in not knowing everything,” does a great job of summing up the lesson learned and connecting back to the quote from the prompt.


The student then transitions smoothly to expanding beyond the world of cooking garri to demonstrate how they can apply this lesson to soccer and academics. This shows a level of personal awareness that admission officers are looking to see. Being able to think critically about yourself and admit to your shortcomings is a skill many people struggle with, so the fact this paragraph is able to convey this student’s ability to do so is very important.


What Could Be Improved


The biggest drawback of this essay is it gets too lost in flowery language, resulting in some key details not getting the attention they require. We get a third of the way through the essay setting up the situation with the “Bright morning, clear skies, chirping birds” and how “Guilt sliced through my heart like a hot knife through butter” before we see what this student learned from their experience—the heart of the essay.


When we finally do see them discuss their growth, the student says I had transformed as an individual,” but does not have the space to explain how or why. In order for an essay about overcoming challenges to make a lasting impact, the reader needs to appreciate how you emerged from the experience differently. 


In order to make more space to include these important details, the student could have cut down on the colorful prose, especially if it doesn’t directly relate to the plot of their story. They could still demonstrate their writing skills by opening with a description of the burning garri: “Yuck! An acrid smell attacked my nostrils and raven-black smoke stung my eyes. It was only when I looked down to the cast iron in the blazing fire that my stomach fell: I burned the garri.” Replacing unnecessary imagery and metaphors (like the chirping birds and hot knife) with creative language that furthers the plot is a far better use of this student’s limited space.


If they intentionally went through and asked themselves “Does this line contribute to the story or is it just an example of my writing skills?” or “Is this a new piece of information or am I repeating an idea?”, they could save enough space to include elaboration on how this experience transformed them as a personal. 


Where to Get Your Amherst Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Amherst essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.