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How to Write the Amherst College Application Essays 2016-2017

Check out the Amherst College Application Essays for 2017-2018


In 1821, a group of community members near Amherst, Massachusetts, gathered together to create an institution in which “young men of piety and talents” would be properly educated. From its very beginnings, Amherst has defined itself as an institution educating those who would not normally be given top-notch resources to succeed. In fact, Amherst College is the first western institution to award a Japanese student a degree; not to mention, Amherst’s first African American student graduated just five years after its founding.


This diversity and willingness to educate people of all backgrounds has grown ever more with each passing generation, and today, Amherst is the definition of diversity: Men and women from all American states and countless cultural backgrounds are represented each year at this school. Perhaps they are drawn by the college’s numerous student organizations — there are over 100 — or maybe the campus’s beautiful location at the heart of Pioneer Valley, which houses a breathtaking river and natural scenery.


Considering the school’s stellar academics and low acceptance rate of just 14%, fewer than 2,000 students each year are found on Amherst College’s campus. With such a competitive acceptance rate, it is crucial that you present yourself in the best light. Much of your application profile will be presented through the essay, and that’s why we at CollegeVine are here to help.


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Amherst College Application Essay Prompts


In addition to the essay you are writing as part of the Common Application, Amherst requires a supplementary writing sample from all applicants. To satisfy Amherst’s supplementary writing requirement, you may choose either Option A or Option B.


Option A Section

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.


Prompt 1


‘Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight — insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.’

– Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College


Prompt 2


‘Translation is the art of bridging cultures. It’s about interpreting the essence of a text, transporting its rhythms and becoming intimate with its meaning… Translation, however, doesn’t only occur across languages: mentally putting any idea into words is an act of translation; so is composing a symphony, doing business in the global market, understanding the roots of terrorism. No citizen, especially today, can exist in isolation — that is, untranslated.’

– Ilan Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College, Robert Croll ’16 and Cedric Duquene ’15, from ‘Interpreting Terras Irradient,’ Amherst Magazine, Spring 2015.


Prompt 3


‘Creating an environment that allows students to build lasting friendships, including those that cut across seemingly entrenched societal and political boundaries… requires candor about the inevitable tensions, as well as about the wonderful opportunities, that diversity and inclusiveness create.’

– Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin, President of Amherst College, Letter to Amherst College Alumni and Families, December 28, 2015.


Prompt 4


‘Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather, achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.’

– Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals


Option B Section

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.


Optional Section


If you have engaged in significant research in the natural sciences, mathematics, computer science, social sciences or humanities that was undertaken independently of your high school curriculum, please provide a brief description of the research project. (50-75 words)


Below, we’ve outlined how to tackle each essay question — there are 3 overarching ones. To make identification of each question easier, we’ve used their corresponding titles from above. Remember that you must write and submit either Option A or Option B; however, the Optional essay is, well, optional. It is recommended that you look through all the guides on how to write the essays before deciding which essay(s) to finally tackle. Happy writing!

Option A

GENERAL OVERVIEW: For all the essay prompts within this section, you are limited to a maximum of 300 words. This means that your essay should be fairly short, so keep that in mind for later. Remember that you must choose to write one of Option A’s prompts OR submit Option B’s. You may notice that Amherst specifically informs applicants that research on the quotes’ context is not necessary or even recommended; Amherst is basically asking you to interpret each quote how you see fit, which is not necessarily how it was originally used.


Each prompt, which you’ll soon see, is going to be naturally geared toward a specific kind of person with specific interests, passions, and experiences. However, whichever essay you choose to write is up to you and, as stated before, depends on your unique interpretation of the prompt! Do not immediately write off any ideas you may have.


Finally, make a mental note that Amherst is especially looking for this essay to be unique and personal to you. Regardless of which prompt you end up choosing, you must ensure your essay exhibits these qualities.


Step 1: It’s important that you know what each prompt generally seems to be about. For that reason, we have outlined below some key words, phrases, and topics for each prompt. Take the time to carefully read through these overviews.


Prompt 1

If you read this prompt carefully, a few keywords and phrases might pop out at you. These may include the following: rigor, insight, empirical evidence, mathematics, and science.


With such words and phrases as these in mind, you may come to the conclusion that this prompt is primarily geared toward those who would be able to expand on scientifically- or mathematically-related passions and experiences. (Of course, as mentioned before, that is not to say that you cannot write this essay if you don’t have a specific passion in these areas! The essay is up to both you and your unique interpretation.)


Prompt 2

Reading this prompt carefully, you’ll notice the keywords and phrases all tend to gravitate toward the humanities. Here are some keywords and phrases that you might have come up with: translation, culture, language, art, rhythm, and meaning. These words and phrases are suggesting that those who have interests in the humanities would generally be able to find great ways to expand upon this essay.


Prompt 3

Take the time to read this prompt, looking for keywords and phrases along the way. We compiled a list of words that might have jumped out at you; maybe your list matches ours: boundaries, opportunities, inclusiveness, diversity, environment, friendships, candor, and tensions. Through these words, you may come to the conclusion that this essay is intending to focus on applicants who would like to talk about cultural background or human relationships.


Prompt 4

Finally, the last prompt is short but sweet for those who would like to talk about topics related to keywords and phrases like these: achievement, obstacles surmounted, and defeat. This prompt is more general and aimed toward any applicant; everyone has had to overcome obstacles to achieve success at some point in his or her life. And that’s the sort of idea that this essay seems to be leaning toward: the path to success and its associated difficulties and emotions.


STEP 2: Now that you’ve read all the prompts’ specific overviews, it is time to choose which prompt you would like to write. Write down any and all situations, experiences, or passions of yours lying behind the key ideas of each prompt. Make sure that you do this brainstorming for each prompt above; you never know what kind of valuable idea may come up and become the one that you ultimately choose to write about.


STEP 3: Once you’ve written down a number of associations and ideas for each prompt, it’s time to narrow down which prompt and idea you will write about in your Option A essay. When choosing your final idea, consider how much detail you can write about the idea for the prompt, how much the idea for the prompt matters to you, how much the prompt’s quote resonates with you, how relevant the prompt’s keywords and phrases are to you, etc.


STEP 4: Now that you’ve chosen both a prompt and idea, it’s time to start writing! Throughout your essay, apply your creativity and originality to impress the admissions readers. Make sure that your tone, diction, and content coalesce into a clear voice. You might choose to start your essay with a hook or interesting grabber, which can be done in many ways!


Consider some of the following: plunge readers into action, write about something seemingly random that then relates to the rest of your essay, or describe a scene that will set the mood for your essay. Then compose the body of your essay based on what you brainstormed earlier. Whenever possible, it’s smart to include anecdotes to make your writing more personalized and interesting to read.


When you’re done, wrap up your essay and end in a satisfyingly final and memorable way. There are many ways to do this, including reiterating your grabber statement in a different way or composing a thought-provoking statement. As you can see, there are many ways you can approach the essay! Once you are done, read through your work multiple times yourself for edits. Then, have teachers, parents, and mentors aid you in your essay editing as well.


Option B

Before you become dead-set on writing Option A’s essay, you may want to consider Option B. Option B is a very easy and convenient option that may still effectively showcase your profile, way of thinking, and writing style. It may be more difficult to communicate your personality with Option B, but it does a great job of showcasing your thinking process and writing style. (It is also quick and easy, which is why it appeals to many applicants.)


STEP 1: Gather all your graded essays that you wrote during your junior or senior year. You may have to do some digging through your closet or through your computer files. If you can’t find very many, maybe a specific essay already comes to mind when it comes to showcasing your abilities in writing and analysis.


STEP 2: It’s time to narrow down your essay pile to the one that you’d like to submit to Amherst. In order to do this, first consider the basic requirements and what Amherst is looking for. Remember that you must submit a paper that shows your skills with persuasion, reason, and calling upon evidence.


Also remember that “you should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay,” so you should automatically throw these out of the pile. Use your best judgment when it comes to whether your essay would be appropriate or not; you may ask for advice from a trusted teacher, counselor, or other guiding figure.


STEP 3: Now that your list of essays meets all the basic requirements, it’s time to pick the final essay for submission. When making your decision, consider  how much you like the essay you wrote, the grade you received on the essay, whether you feel that the essay was your best writing, etc. After you’ve made your selection, call on the advice of trusted mentors; then, make your final submission!



This essay is not required, but it’s a good idea to do it if you’ve conducted research outside of school. You may note that the word range is a mere 50-75 words — only a few sentences long. Be concise and clear.


STEP 1: This essay is very straightforward. Make a list of all the research you’ve conducted and list relevant details about each. This might include the topic of your research, the duration, the results collected, the professor or institution you worked with, etc. If you’ve only had one research experience, then this should be an easy step for you.


STEP 2: Looking at your brainstormed list, eliminate any minor research experiences that you feel should not be mentioned in the grand scheme of things. For example, maybe you stumbled upon a research activity through a father’s co-worker. Then let’s say you conducted research with him for only one day on a topic you did not even enjoy. This would be a prime example of something to leave out of this very brief essay.


If your list is too long, then make sure to cut out some of your research experiences based on how much you enjoyed the activity, how consistently you’ve participated in it, how prestigious the institution/program was, etc.


STEP 3: It’s time to write the relevant details of your research experiences. Provide the bare minimum details in a few, well-constructed sentences about your experience(s), keeping in mind that there is nothing fancy expected of you here; all you need to do is clearly communicate your accomplishments. Once you’ve done that, read through your essay for edits, and have trusted mentors and peers look over your short essay.


Hopefully, you now have a good idea of how to respond to the Amherst College essay prompts for 2016-2017. It’s now time to get started on some writing. We highly recommend that you do not procrastinate! Every word and idea counts, and we hope that our Amherst College guide will help you reach your best work. In the meantime, you may consider visiting Amherst College’s campus to check out the campus and maybe get some inspiration. From CollegeVine to you, we wish you good luck!



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