Lily Fang 9 min read Applying to College, College Lists

How I Got Into Amherst College

I didn’t actually want to go to Amherst at first. After receiving acceptances to Amherst and Vanderbilt, I’d visited both colleges and was leaning towards Vanderbilt. My parents tried to convince me otherwise, even inviting the parents of a current Amherst student over for dinner. I wore my Vanderbilt shirt that day as an act of defiance. 

 

Amherst’s financial aid package was more generous though, and it offered more intimate and engaging academic experiences as a liberal arts college. It also had an open curriculum, which was well-suited for students undecided about their major, like me. I was torn. 

 

So, I did what any normal high schooler would doI polled my teachers and classmates for which school I should attend. I made pros/cons lists. In the end, I went with Amherst (of my own volition, I always added, as the teen not wanting to seem like she was just listening to her parents). 

 

While the decision felt agonizing at the time, I was lucky to be able to choose between two schools that I thought would fit me well. So for any Amherst hopefuls, I want to share my high school journey and the factors that may have impacted my acceptance. Since Amherst College’s admissions is done holistically, you can’t really pinpoint any specific reason for acceptance; instead, what counts is how the different application components come together and show that you’d be a strong member of the campus community.

 

I’ll walk through the different components of an application to Amherst, and what my personal profile looked like. Before that, however, I think it’s important to go over how my background and context may have impacted my application.

 

Application Context:

 

It’s undeniable that factors such as ethnicity, financial need, whether you applied regular or early decision, etc. often impact your chances of acceptance. To better situate my application, here’s my application background: 

 

  • I applied Regular Decision at the end of November 2013. I’m a member of the Class of 2018, so I’m a recent grad.

 

  • I’m from a public high school in Ohio, so my counselor wasn’t very involved in college admissions. I didn’t use an admissions counseling service, but I did get older friends and teachers to give essay feedback.

 

  • I’m an Asian-American with no special circumstances (not legacy or first-generation).

 

 

  • I submitted a violin arts supplement; this may have impacted my application favorably as the Amherst conductor gives feedback to the admissions committee, and I was actively recruited for the orchestra upon enrollment.

 

One final point: Amherst’s application asked for 3 potential major interests. I remember listing Philosophy, LJST (law, jurisprudence, and social thought), and History. I ultimately was a math and French major and didn’t study any of these subjects, so there’s no need to think too hard about what you put down. Just know that you’ll likely be paired with a first-year advisor from one of your department choices, so be sure to list subjects you might actually study (and not subjects you think will give you an admissions edge).

 

With that, we can move onto the actual application components!

 

Academics

 

I had a 4.0 unweighted GPA and took 8 AP courses total, plus honors courses if there wasn’t an AP equivalent. My school didn’t rank individuals, but did give general percentiles, and I was in the top 10% of my class. For the Class of 2022, 88% of accepted students were in the top 10% of their class, and 20% were valedictorians.

 

Here’s what my AP class distribution looked like:

 

Freshman Year

  • None

 

Sophomore Year

  • AP US History

 

Junior Year

  • AP Language and Composition
  • AP European History

 

Senior Year

  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Literature and Composition
  • AP French Language and Culture
  • AP Government and Politics

 

Standardized Testing

 

Since I applied in 2013, I took the old SAT out of 2400. I took an SAT class and self-studied for a couple months before sitting for the test twice. My superscore was 2300 (800R, 780 M, 720 W), with my highest single sitting at 2260 (800R, 780 M, 680 W). Converted to the New SAT, my superscore would be 1520, and my highest single sitting 1490. The middle 50% SAT for the Class of 2022 was 1420-1560 (EBRW 700-770, Math 720-790). Amherst does superscore, so be sure to send in your sittings with your highest section scores.

 

I also self-studied for the ACT and submitted a score of 34 (single sitting). The middle 50% for Class of 2022 was 30-34. For more statistics on accepted students, here’s a helpful page on the Amherst website. I want to note that taking both the SAT and ACT is totally unnecessary, and I would’ve only taken the SAT if I could go back and do it again. Amherst requires just one or the other, so there’s no need to spend time studying for two different tests.

 

I also submitted two SAT Subject Test scores, though Amherst now neither requires nor recommends SAT IIs (at the time I applied, I believe they did require them). I got a 760 on the Literature Subject Test (93rd percentile), and a 780 on the SAT Math II Subject Test (71st percentile).

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Extracurriculars and Awards

 

I was pretty active in my high school; to condense things a bit, I’ve picked my most important extracurriculars and combined some activities that would’ve otherwise been listed separately on my application.

 

EXTRACURRICULARS: 

 

Cross country and track (F, So, Jr, Sr)

  • Selected by teammates as 1 of 3 senior cross country captains
  • Earned 4 varsity letters by time of application and 2 Integrity Awards (selected by teammates)
  • Considered the “team mom;” always had extra clothes/shoes to lend and tutored teammates struggling in math

 

Region and School Orchestra (F, So, Jr, Sr)

  • Participated in 3 different audition-based region orchestras throughout high school
  • All-state orchestra alternate sophomore year
  • School orchestra concertmaster; led first violins through difficult passages in section meetings

 

Student council (F, So, Jr, Sr). 

  • Student body secretary (1 yr), class VP (1 yr), class rep (2 yrs)
  • Organized community fundraisers such as Trick or Canning for food banks
  • Planned and executed school events (dances, talent show, etc.)

 

Miscellaneous volunteering (F, So, Jr, Sr)

  • Guided local food pantry patrons through food selection/limits (2 yrs)
  • Taught children with Down Syndrome to bike in week-long summer workshop (2 yrs)

 

AWARDS:

 

National Merit Semifinalist

  • Awarded to top 1% scorers on the PSAT by state

 

National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award

  • For exceptional student writing based on submission of creative “best piece” and essay response to a prompt
  • Disclaimer: not the caliber of a national award, but still something admissions committees will recognize (around 500 students receive the award annually)

Essays

 

I applied through the Common App, so the Amherst admissions committee saw two essays from me: the Common App essay, and the one Amherst supplement.

 

My Common App essay was pretty quirky, and I think that quirkiness might’ve helped my application. I chose the prompt that still exists as the first option on the Common App:  

 

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

 

Here’s a short excerpt from the beginning of my essay:

Mile five. I sensed the all-too-familiar, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Rhythmic footsteps filled my ears as I inhaled the cool country air. Quaint farmhouses and swaying cornstalks peppered the landscape, creating a bucolic scene so picturesque and cathartic—ideal for a long run. The misty morning sun peeked through the lush green leaves of the trees lining the stretching rural road. All this wasn’t enough of a distraction. 

 

I let out a frustrated groan. “Tessa, I really have to poop.”

 

My running buddy laughed. “Lily, no. Not today!”

 

I sighed in agreement. No, not today. It was long run day, we were in the middle of nowhere at cross country camp, and we were determined to run eleven miles—without stopping.

I go on to finish the story (I decided not to go poop because I wanted to be tough and accomplish our goal, in case you were wondering). I also talk about how my mentality in running helped me through unrelated life challenges—how I had to sweat to improve my performance, that intimidating tasks felt more manageable when mentally broken down into chunks. My friend and I ended up running more than 11 miles that day. Here’s the end of the essay:

Mile twelve-point-five—roughly. I glanced at my watch. One hour, fifty-five minutes. We had surpassed our goal, but I hungered for more. When would I get the chance to run two hours straight again? I convinced a begrudging Tessa to run for another five minutes. Our voracious stomachs grumbled at the enticing scents wafting from the dining hall. We turned the opposite direction. We would be tough. 

 

Mile thirteen. I sighed with relief as my watch finally read two hours. Our steady gait ceased to exhausted steps.

 

“Lily, we just ran a half marathon. I’m going to kill you,” Tessa declared indignantly. But her smile gave it all away.

 

I laughed. “Tessa, if we can run thirteen miles straight, what can’t we do?”

 

Four years ago, I couldn’t run a mile—the very thought of running used to intimidate me. But here I was now. Bathed in the mid-morning sun, I inhaled deeply and contentedly. It was long run day, I was in the middle of nowhere at cross country camp, and I had just run thirteen miles. 

 

I am a runner, and I am unstoppable.

I laugh now reading this essay because of the flowery descriptions and the ridiculous story, but I do think the essay painted an accurate picture of who I was at the time, and who I still am. 

 

As a fun fact, Amherst has an annual performance called New Voices of the Class where upperclassmen take excerpts/lines from the essays of the accepted class, and turn it into a comedy skit (I’m happy to say that “I really have to poop” made the cut).

 

For the Amherst supplement, we had the choice to respond to a quote in under 300 words (4 quotes to choose from, option A), or to submit a graded paper (option B).

 

I went with option B because it seemed easier, though most admissions professionals will recommend that you go with option A, as it requires more effort and demonstrates more interest.

 

Here’s the prompt for option B:

Please submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay. If you have submitted an analytical essay in response to the “essay topic of your choice” prompt in the Common Application writing section, you should NOT select Option B. Instead, you should respond to one of the four quotation prompts in Option A.

 

I actually don’t remember which specific paper I submitted, though I’m positive it was a literary analysis. One thing I will recommend is to pick a strong paper on the shorter end (no more than 2-3 pages double-spaced). I’m sure the admissions officers will be unhappy if they have to read anything longer than that. 

 

I also want to note that Amherst now has an optional prompt that asks students to describe any significant research experiences they’ve had (50-75 words). If you haven’t done any research, you can leave it blank with no penalty.

 

Letters of Recommendation

 

Amherst requires a counselor recommendation and two teacher recs (English, Math, Science, Social Studies or Foreign Language). I tried to meet with my counselor regularly throughout high school, so I think my counselor rec was likely more personal than most counselor recs. For the teacher recs, I asked my AP Language and Composition teacher from junior year who had read and given feedback on a lot of my memoir writing, so hopefully she knew me well. I also asked my Honors Chemistry teacher from junior year. Chemistry doesn’t quite lend itself to getting to know students as well as creative writing, but I had done well in the class and was on good terms with the teacher. 

Interviews

 

Amherst doesn’t offer alumni or admissions officer interviews, likely because its alumni network is smaller as a liberal arts college. 

 

Wrapping it Up

 

Amherst offers its own college applications tips, and you can find them here. If you’re a member of an under-represented group or a first-generation college student, you might also want to check out Amherst’s Diversity Open Houses. This program allows prospective students to visit for free, with Amherst covering transportation to campus, housing with a current student, and food for the weekend.

 

As a final thought, I want to emphasize the importance of “humanizing” your application, especially through your essay. The essay is really the only part of the application where you can share a glimpse into your personality, so it’s totally okay if your essay is quirky, geeky, funny, touching, etc. You want whoever’s reading to feel something. This is especially important in selective admissions, where most applicants have impressive transcripts; because of this, acceptance can be based on something as arbitrary as whether the admissions officer connected with you, or liked you from reading your application.  

 

The quantitative components of my application were probably pretty standard compared to other Amherst applicants, and I didn’t have any stand-out state or national awards. I really think it was my weird Common App essay that gave me an edge. I feel that I was able to share my outlandish ambitions and stubborn determination through the story I shared (along with my penchant for memoir writing). 

 

In any case, I hope this gave you a better idea of an accepted Amherst student’s profile. Best of luck with the upcoming admissions cycle!

 

For more about Amherst, check out this YouTube video, where I discuss student life at Amherst.



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Lily Fang
Blog Editor at CollegeVine
Short bio
Lily Fang is 2018 grad of Amherst College with a degree in math and French. She has called three countries “home”: the U.S., France, and England. In her spare time, she trains for marathons and writes for her lifestyle blog.
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