How to Write the Amherst College Supplement Essays 2017-2018
Amherst College is a liberal arts college located in Amherst, Massachusetts. It is an exclusively undergraduate institution comprised of roughly 1900 students. Amherst College is known for its open curriculum, which allows students the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses on a plethora of different subjects. It is also part of the Five College Consortium, which allows Amherst students to take classes at all participating colleges and universities: Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Amherst is a highly selective college, accepting just 14% of applicants in 2016. However, its small size makes the admissions process more intimate and personalized. Its application supplement is unique in that one of the options is to turn in a previously-written high school paper. There is also the option of writing a more traditional essay response if you feel more comfortable doing so. Lastly, there is an optional space to include a brief description of any significant research you have done.
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Amherst College Essay Prompts
The Amherst writing supplement asks applicants to choose between writing an essay response to a given quotation (Option A) or submitting a graded paper from the applicant’s junior or senior year of high school (Option B). This requirement is in addition to the essays required by the Common Application. Applicants must choose one, but not both, of the aforementioned options.
Which option is right for you? This depends on several factors. If you are really proud of an essay you wrote for your AP English Literature class, then perhaps Option B is the right choice. On the other hand, if one of the quotations really speaks to you, and you think you can write an amazing response to it, then it might be better to pick Option A.
If you’re unsure about what path to take, then it might be a good idea to write the essay response for Option A first. If you decide later on that it is not your best work, you can always resort to using one of your high school papers. Just make sure it’s one of your best ones!
Note: 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.
Option A: Essay Response (300 words or less)
Please 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.
Before starting to write your essay response, remember that it is not necessary to do any research into the quotation you pick. The prompt is asking you to write your response based solely off the text provided — nothing more, nothing less. The admissions committee really wants to analyze not only your writing skill, but how well you are able to analyze the quotation and the unique way in which you process it.
So, although it may be tempting, don’t do any research into the quotation you decide to write your response about. Do, however, make sure that your essay reflects your true feelings and thoughts about the quotation you choose. 300 words isn’t actually that much, so it’s really important that your response be succinct.
There are four prompts to choose from if you pick Option A.
This prompt is a great choice if you are at all interested in mathematics, logic, or any science-based major. Did you love your AP Bio class? Are you fascinated by physics and Newton’s laws of motion? If so, then consider choosing this quotation for your essay response. This quote discusses the importance of insight, especially when working with the natural sciences.
A successful scientist, according to Jagannathan, is really in tune with the workings of the world. In other words, he or she is curious about the way things work and makes an effort to understand how it happens. Jagannathan seems to imply that this insight is necessary, above all else, in order to really understand how things work. Coupled with evidence, insight can allow a scientist to make astounding revelations.
If you happen to be interested in the humanities, especially the social sciences, then this is the perfect prompt to choose. This is a great way to reflect on your love of music, of foreign languages, even of business. In this passage, Stavans concludes that translation occurs often and everywhere; in fact, an act of translation is anything that involves some crossing-over.
Stavans also comments that an isolated individual is essentially untranslated. This highlights the importance of relationships in today’s global world. For your essay response, come up with your own example of a translation, and discuss how it brings people out of isolation. If they apply to you, consider the examples given — composing a symphony, doing business — or use something that applies to your own life.
If you are really committed to social justice, love to discuss politics, or hope to make the world a better place through activism, then consider choosing this prompt. When it comes down to it, this prompt is similar to Prompt 2 — it too discusses a type of translation. However, it focuses more on problem-solving and making the most of a situation than the actual crossing of boundaries.
Martin, the President of Amherst College, believes that the strongest relationships require candor, or transparency, in order to thrive. In any friendship, there will be potential disagreements; however, these can be lessened with frank discussions. On a similar note, discussion can also make a friendship much more rewarding because both parties are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Martin thinks it is important to create an environment where healthy relationships can thrive.
If you have overcome a significant challenge in the past, then this is the perfect opportunity to discuss your achievement while also reflecting on the quotation. This is the simplest of all the quotations, as well as the shortest, but don’t let that diminish the quality of your response.
Think about something you have achieved despite the many obstacles that stood in your way. Or alternatively, write about the achievement of someone in history that you particularly admire. If you choose to do the latter, then make sure you explain why you look up to the individual.
Option B: High School Paper
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.
Note: 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. Find out more about Option B here.
Carefully read the guidelines for submission of your high school paper. It must be a graded paper, argumentative in nature, that makes use of literary, sociological, or historical evidence. For example, a paper written for your English or history class would be suitable. It should be a paper that really shows off your best writing skills: your subtle use of metaphor, your varied word choice, your talent for embedding quotes and analyzing them.
If you’re still uncertain about what paper to choose, consider asking one of your teachers for advice. He or she will probably be more than happy to suggest which one of your essays you should submit.
Note: In addition to this brief description, you will also have to provide answers to the following questions:
You should only respond to this question if you have conducted significant independent research. What counts as significant research? Perhaps you took your high school science fair project to the next level and were invited to show off your work at a national competition. Perhaps you simply decided to really dedicate yourself to one of your hobbies and now have a whole body of work to show for it.
The word limit for this response is only 75 words, so you should be extremely succinct in your description of your research. Include only absolutely need-to-know information. A good way to accomplish this is to touch upon the four W’s:
- Why did you do this research?
- What was it on?
- When (and for how long) did you spend on it?
- Where did you publish or present it?
No matter what option you choose for your Amherst supplement, make sure that you are confident in your choice. Write an essay response that you are really proud of, or submit the high school essay that you worked on the hardest. The admissions committee wants to see your work ethic and dedication show in your writing.
In addition, don’t be afraid to be yourself. In your writing, show as much of your unique personality as you can. Instead of shying away from your weird obsessions and quirks, use those to set yourself apart.
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