How to Write the Amherst College Essays 2021-2022

Note: Amherst’s essays historically do not change very much, if at all. These prompts are unconfirmed for the 2021-2022 cycle, but we expect them to remain the same, especially Prompt 3 with Options A and B. Check back in August for any updates!

 

Amherst College is a private liberal arts school located in the picturesque college town of Amherst, Massachusetts. A small school with a student body of just under 2,000 undergraduates, Amherst is very selective. 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 boasts an open curriculum, meaning that students have only one required writing seminar outside of their major, rather than a full set of general education requirements. Around 40% of juniors study abroad, and Amherst’s financial aid follows along, meaning that students pay the same amount as if they were studying on-campus. Students can also take classes at one of the four nearby colleges—Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, and UMass Amherst—through the Five College Consortium.

 

To apply to Amherst, you’ll have to submit two supplemental essays and one optional one. Let’s break these down. Want to know your chances at Amherst? Calculate your chances for free right now.

Amherst College Essay Prompts

Prompt 1 (optional): At Amherst, we know that identity is more than checkboxes. If you would like to share more about your identity, background, family, culture or community, please tell us more here. (175 words)

 

Prompt 2: Please briefly elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience of particular significance to you (175 words)

 

Prompt 3: Choose one of the following options:

 

Option A: 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.

 

Option A1: “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

 

Option A2: “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.

 

Option A3: “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.

 

Option A4: “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: 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.

 

Option C: If you are an applicant to Amherst’s Access to Amherst (A2A) program, you may use your A2A application essay in satisfaction of our Writing Supplement requirement. If you would like to do so, please select Option C. However, if you would prefer not to use your A2A essay for this purpose and you want to submit a different writing supplement, select either Option A or Option B. [Please note that Option C is available only to applicants to Amherst’s A2A program].

 

Prompt 1 (optional):

At Amherst we know that identity is more than checkboxes. If you would like to share more about your identity, background, family, culture or community, please tell us more here. (175 words)

This essay is found in the school questions section, and allows you to disclose more information about your identity. Here, Amherst is looking to better understand who you are and this is a great opportunity to showcase aspects of your background that might not be clear from a cursory glance at the other parts of your application.

 

Typical responses might include sharing more about your culture or ethnicity, your gender identity or sexual orientation, your family history, or socioeconomic background. However, you can choose to center your response around any part of you that you feel has influenced your perspectives, values, and opinions.

 

You have about 175 words, which isn’t enough to write a full-fledged essay, but is enough space to provide an anecdote or two and then a more in-depth analysis.

 

For example:

 

My family celebrates not one, but three new years. 

 

In late November, my father helps me find a gold scarf that perfectly matches my kurta. As everyone else dances gracefully in concentric circles at the garba, I fumble along behind my older cousins and try to match their steps without trampling on their toes. 

 

In January, we ring in the New Year three hours early with Ryan Seacrest, toasting apple cider and watching the snow fall in Times Square – an impossibility in our southern Californian suburb.

 

A month later, we go to my aunt’s house, where he and my cousins have prepared a feast of banh chung and banh day to ring in the Lunar New Year. I stumble through a conversation with my grandmother as she asks me questions about my schooling in Vietnamese. 

 

Though I can’t quite grasp the raas’ beat, keep my New Years’ resolutions, or handle my uncle’s spicy pho, I love that these celebrations have brought and will continue to bring me closer to my cultures each and every year.

 

This response shows admissions officers how the student melds their identities rather than telling them. Ideally, your anecdote will be filled with imagery while also communicating information about yourself rather straightforwardly.

Prompt 2:

Please briefly elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience of particular significance to you. (175 words)

Amherst also has another prompt embedded in the school questions section about extracurricular activities (this is the classic “extracurricular prompt“). Although you’ve already listed your activities with short descriptions, this is a chance to elaborate on one that has a particularly deep meaning to you. This is an opportunity to show admissions officers a more in-depth look at one of your commitments. 

 

Try to avoid cliche topics, such as being part of a winning sports team or general member of a club. Try to start your response with an anecdote that vividly explains a significant moment during this experience. 

 

For example, if you’re a hospital volunteer, you can mention a particular patient interaction that opened your eyes to a healthcare career, or a particular doctor or nurse that you shadowed who changed your perspective on the field. 

 

Also, don’t discount non-traditional work experiences or extracurriculars – these can help set your application apart and provide a more well-rounded view of your high school experience. If you had to work afterschool, babysit your siblings, or frequently cook meals and perform other household tasks for your family, these are valid essay topics. It can also serve as an explanation for why you couldn’t participate in as many traditional extracurriculars like sports teams and clubs.

 

Furthermore, keep your prospective major in mind when answering this prompt. This is an especially effective strategy if you are applying to a competitive academic program and want to showcase your dedication to the subject. 

 

For instance, if you are applying as a computer science major, you can talk about self-driven projects such as building your own computer or website. Get into the nitty-gritty of what parts or coding segments you struggled with the most, taking readers into your journey and thought processes.

 

There are a number of ways to approach this prompt, but make sure that its content does not overlap with your other essays. For example, if you’ve already mentioned another extracurricular or aspect of your family life, don’t use this opportunity to further elaborate on that unless you have something truly unique to share. 

 

Prompt 3: Options A, B, C

 

Amherst’s main supplement has many choices, which might seem overwhelming. But don’t worry, we’ll break it down further for you. For this essay, you’ll choose from three options. Option A asks you to respond to one of four quotations in a personal manner. If you choose Option B, you’ll be asked to submit a graded persuasive essay from your junior or senior years of high school that is backed by evidence. Option C allows you to submit your A2A (formerly DIVOH) application essay, if you applied to their diversity open house weekend.


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Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Option A: 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.

Note that this is the first of three options for the supplemental essay. If you choose this prompt, you’ll write a response to one of four quotes, which are listed below. This should be a personal reflection on the quote. Think about what it means to you and how it relates to your life and experiences. You may be tempted to research the quotes, but as the prompt says, avoid this urge. You have all of the material you need to write a great response. If you happen to disagree with a prompt, feel free to do so. Don’t feel pressured into conforming to what the quote says as long as you can write a response that supports your view and back it up with personal anecdotes.

Option A1: “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

If you’re interested in the sciences, this would be a great prompt for you to respond to. Use this prompt as a way to demonstrate not only your passion for science, but your capabilities. Jagannathan says that in the sciences, having insight into how the world works is more important than reasoning. Take this opportunity to show that you have both.

 

Here’s a few ways to approach this prompt:

 

Demonstrate your fascination with the world: What about the applications of science excites you? Maybe you love exploring how different fields of science overlap in pharmaceutical development. Perhaps you enjoy studying the effects of various compounds on protein structure. Regardless of what your interest is, convey it very specifically in your response. Including details and examples will help substantiate your interest and provide substance to your response.

 

Show that you have the necessary skills: Make sure your response is personal and not just abstract by providing examples of how rigor and insight have played a role in your scientific ventures. For example, you could talk about how you extended your science fair project about dominoes falling over to be about the structure of buildings during hurricanes.

 

This demonstrates insight into how models can be used to effectively explore natural phenomena that cannot be directly altered. This insight is essential as no matter how many times or how hard you try, it is not feasible to conduct an experiment of altering building distances and observing them during hurricanes. Thus, in this case, insight was more important than rigor and enabled you to explore an issue. Even if you have no formal research experience, you can still respond to this prompt in an effective way. For example, you could talk about an experience that you had during a science class, perhaps during lab, in which you demonstrated rigor and insight.

Option A2: “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.

If your interests lie in the humanities, social sciences, or business, consider responding to this prompt. Stavans provides quite a few real-world examples about the importance of translation: translation of languages, ideating, creating a symphony, international business, and terrorism. If you connect with any of these concepts, write about this connection. If not, consider other applications of the quote. Here’s a few examples of what you could write about:

 

Dance, art, or music: These are often seen as translations of feelings and expressions. If you have experience with any of these, you could write a beautiful essay about it. For example, if you’re passionate about dance, your response could be about how you use it as an escape from negative feelings, channeling them into your dance instead of into your life. You could also talk about feedback you’ve gotten from others about how your dancing makes them feel, or about how watching others makes you feel.

 

Literature: If you’ve read translated works, you could write a great response about them, but be sure to make it personal. As an example, you could write about how reading various translations of Camus’s The Stranger led you to realize how minute changes in stories or speech can affect perception, making you more careful about what you say now.

 

A group project: Have you ever had an idea that sounded great in your head and had trouble conveying it? Have you ever struggled to merge the ideas of multiple people? Group projects are great examples of translation of ideas at work, so if you’ve experienced a substantial one, talk about it. Be sure that your response showcases positive attributes, such as leadership abilities, communication skills, or empathy.

 

Code-switching: As students who speak multiple languages know, sometimes conversations can become a mashup of different languages. Perhaps this led to you introducing a new word to your friends or connecting to two languages and cultures rather than one. If so, write about it. This could lead to a great response about connecting various heritages and identities, which many immigrants and descendants of immigrants can relate to.

Option A3: “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.

Are you interested in politics and social change? This prompt could be great for you. Martin speaks about the importance of communication, saying that being frank about differences is important to create and maintain friendships despite, or perhaps because, of them.

 

One option for responding to this prompt is to provide an example of a friendship you’ve had with someone who was different from you. If you were to do this, speak about how recognizing these differences facilitated your friendship and celebrating them opened up new possibilities. For example, you could write about how your friend introduced you to your new favorite food from his culture or going to your friend’s cultural celebration made you appreciate music more.

 

Another option is to talk about a time that you experienced an environment unlike that which Martin describes. Perhaps you were part of a clique that discriminated against a group of students and you realized that this was wrong. You could write about how approaching these other students opened you up to new ideas and experiences and led to more lasting and meaningful friendships than you had before. An important part of the prompt references “candor about the inevitable tensions,” which you could incorporate by talking about how you and your new friends spoke about the discrimination openly rather than just pretending it never happened, which is what led to the strength of your friendships. Another example is if you had a friend who was facing difficulties due to race, gender, or any other factor, and you spoke up about it, being vocal and open despite the fact that these are often controversial subjects. Perhaps you were discriminated against and a friend spoke up.

 

Regardless of what example you use, be sure to highlight openness and compassion. Demonstrating an ability to speak about controversial subjects will show maturity and poise.

Option A4:“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

This prompt is a great opportunity to talk about any hardships that you’ve encountered. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your life? This is a very personal question and your response could be about anything from being bullied to experiencing homelessness. Know that no hardship is too little. If it significantly affected your life, it matters. Especially consider responding to this prompt if the hardships you’ve faced have negatively affected your academic performance, as this could be a way to address that in a positive manner.

 

Keep in mind the following points while crafting a response:

 

Don’t be too personal: Although providing details so that the reader fully understands the issue is essential, try not to include more personal details than necessary. Doing so could detract from the main point of the essay or make you seem unprofessional. For example, if you were to write about experiencing difficulties finding a job, it would not be advisable to write about how cruel various managers were for not offering you a job opportunity. As another example, if you were writing about how your parents’ divorce affected you, there’s likely no need to include the details of what went wrong in their relationship.

 

Don’t be frivolous: Be sure that the topic that you choose matters to you. Although you may be tempted to write about your horrendous teacher who robbed you of your A in Spanish, this story won’t showcase any of your positive attributes. Try to write about an example that shows resilience and strength leading to achievement in the face of hardships.

 

Be positive: As the quote references achievement after difficulty, make sure you put a positive spin on your essay. Your response should be focused on the achievement rather than the difficulty. For example, if you write a response about your broken leg as a soccer player, do not write your entire response about how it ruined your chances of getting drafted. Instead, you could write about how good it felt to get back on the field and score a goal after sitting on the sidelines for so long or how cheering on your teammates made your team’s victory even sweeter.

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.

If you choose Option B, be sure to carefully read the directions. Do not select Option B if you chose to submit an analytical essay for the Common Application.

 

An appropriate paper should be:

 

 

Here are some examples of appropriate essays to submit:

 

  • An analytical essay based on a piece of literature, such as an interpretation of a poem supported by analysis of rhetorical devices
  • A historical essay based on research, such as an essay about which factor was most important in the development of a war

 

Make sure that the essay that you choose to submit meets the requirements and fully demonstrates your writing and analytical skills. If you’re unsure, it would be a great idea to ask the teacher who graded it what they think.

 

We strongly recommend submitting an essay on the shorter side, as a longer one might take up too much of the admissions officer’s time.

 

If you truly want to demonstrate your interest in Amherst, it’s also preferable to choose option A, where you respond to one of the quotations. Doing “extra work” for your application shows that you are more invested in the school.

Option C: If you are an applicant to Amherst’s Access to Amherst (A2A) program, you may use your A2A application essay in satisfaction of our Writing Supplement requirement. If you would like to do so, please select Option C. However, if you would prefer not to use your A2A essay for this purpose and you want to submit a different writing supplement, select either Option A or Option B. [Please note that Option C is available only to applicants to Amherst’s A2A program].

Amherst hosts two diversity open houses (A2A) in the fall for up to 100 prospective students, covering their transportation fees, housing, and meals for the weekend. Participants get to stay with a current student in their dorm, attend classes, and experience life on campus. These weekends are open to all high schoolers, but preference is given to underrepresented minorities and those from financially disadvantaged families.

 

Selection is based on an application, which includes an essay. If you were an A2A applicant, you may reuse your essay to apply to Amherst. As with Option B, however, we recommend that you respond to Option A and write a new essay if you wish to truly show your interest in Amherst.

 

We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck on your supplemental essay for Amherst!

 

For more about Amherst, check out this YouTube video, where a 2018 grad shares her experience as a student at Amherst College.

 

 

You should also check out the post How I Got Into Amherst College, for a close look into the profile of an accepted Amherst student.

 

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