Amherst Essay Example: Breakdown + Analysis

What’s Covered:

 

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. 

 

Just 10.8% of applicants were admitted to the Class of 2025 from a pool of 10,567 applicants. While the overall acceptance rate is low, generally around 30-35% of early decision applicants are accepted.

 

Amherst requires you to submit three supplemental essays in addition to completing the Common Application, Coalition Application or QuestBridge. One of these allows you to either respond to one of four quotations in an essay of not more than 300 words or submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. In this post we will go over the first option; choosing to respond to a quote. For more details about all the supplemental essays, check out our Amherst College Essay Guide for 2021-2022.

 

Amherst Essay 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

This prompt gives students the chance to talk about any challenges they’ve encountered. It fits the “Overcoming Challenges” essay type. If your mind immediately jumps to a difficult experience you’ve had, this may be the prompt for you. Admissions officers are hoping to learn about your character and see how you handle adversity. The goal of this essay is to show admissions officers that you have the intelligence and fortitude to handle any challenges that come your way. After all, college serves as an introduction to adult life, and schools want to know that the students they admit are up to the task. 

 

A tricky aspect of this prompt is that it’s personal. To respond effectively, you’ll need to open yourself up and share your past struggles. This is not easy and you’ll want to make sure you also don’t overshare details about the challenge itself. For example, if you decide to write about your multiple attempts to build a computer, you should focus less on the technical aspects and more on your actions, reflections, and mental/emotional state. This essay is about you and how you handle challenges.

 

Also keep in mind your essay should end with reflection, especially since the quote says “Rather, achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.” The key is to share what you learned from the tough experience, how it changed you, or how you made the most of a difficult circumstance. You want to demonstrate your resilience and adaptability in challenging situations. In short, your response should make sure to focus on the (resulting) achievement and what you learned, rather than just the difficulty itself. 

 

For example, if you are writing about a sport’s injury, (which keep in mind could be a cliche topic if you don’t find a way to make your story unique) focus on how you came back, whether it was back to the field, or if you weren’t able to continue playing, how you made the most of the situation.

 

If no past experience jumps out at you immediately, remember you can share a small moment. It’s not about how difficult the challenge is, but how clearly you are able to convey how you overcame the challenge. Not everyone has had a serious illness or injury or suffered the loss of a loved one (which is a good thing!). In fact, writing about tragedies is not recommended, as admissions officers have heard similar stories many times, and this quote is about how achievements become more satisfying after defeat (it would be kind of insensitive to say that a tragedy has made your life better).

 

Instead, try reflecting on how you’ve changed throughout your life and what experience may have contributed to that growth. By digging into smaller moments that may at first seem insignificant, you may be able to tell an unexpected story. Admissions officers want to hear something new and something personal, so this type of brainstorming is a great first step!

 

Amherst College Essay Example

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.

 

Essay Analysis 

 

Overall, this is a strong essay that shares a specific example of a challenging experience and how it changed the author’s perspective. Particularly well executed, the author 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). 

 

We’ll now go through the essay in sections to highlight specific strengths and weaknesses. 

 

The first line: Bright morning, clear skies, chirping birds – a beautiful and peaceful scenery indeed, but a stark contrast to the unrest I felt within. 

 

The writer demonstrates their strong command of the English language while drawing the reader in. However, for a 300 word prompt, it may be a better idea to save words to describe how you got through the difficult experience. This flowery language may not be necessary, especially since the chirping birds are not relevant. 

 

In the next two sentences the author sets up the mistake (burning the garri) and goes on to explain how the mistake made them feel: 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.

 

This section can be condensed into one sentence. Saying “I had failed him woefully” and “guilt sliced through me…” are a similar sentiment. Both are not needed. Remember, at this point in the essay (over 100 words in) it’s still unclear what the author learned from this experience or how they remedied the burnt garri. 

 

The next section uses a quotation to develop the plot: 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.”  

 

The phrase There is no shame in not knowing everything, hits the nail on the head. It does a great job of showing and not telling the lesson learned through dialogue. 

 

The next sentence admits the author felt arrogant: I could do it all, so I felt that I could roast garri without grandpa’s help. 

 

Admitting a character flaw is a strong statement in an admissions essay, but as long as the author explains how they grew from this mistake, it can be very powerful. The author achieves this by going on to explain how the experience disappointing his grandfather (with an easily avoidable mistake) was a humbling experience. The author makes it clear they will act differently from now on. They will ask for help and clarification, to avoid mistakes. 

 

The final sentences: 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.

 

This paragraph could use some work refining the lessons learned. The first sentence is a bit clunky and uses unnecessary flowery language (insatiable beast) that could confuse and distract the reader. Then, the author writes, “I had transformed as an individual,” but does not explain how or why. This language is vague and leaves the reader a bit confused. The essay began with a personal experience, but ended with a lesson that could be explained in more detail.

 

Overall, the author successfully describes an experience of failure and explains what they learned and how they will apply it to other aspects of their life. The reader understands the applicant has gained perspective that asking questions is a key part of growth. The author successfully explained this lesson without falling into a cliche experience, but shared a personal story. 

 

Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

 

It’s important to get a few people to read over your essay before you submit your application. More perspectives will help you understand what other people take away from your writing. You want to make sure your message is clear! 

 

That’s why we at CollegeVine have a free peer essay review tool, allowing you to submit your essay and get feedback from another student. You can also edit other students’ essays to get an idea what other essays look like. Also, it will help you improve your own writing skills!

 

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Short Bio
Leonie Rauls is 2018 grad of Amherst College with a degree in political science and Spanish. She is a journalist and has lived in Bogotá covering politics in Latin America. In her spare time, she loves to run and try out new recipes.

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