How to Write the UMass Amherst Essays 2023-2024
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has three required short response prompts for all applicants. The first asks you to elaborate on why you wish to attend UMass Amherst, the second asks about a community you’re a part of and its influence on you, and the third asks about why you chose the major you selected on the application.
Since UMass Amherst receives thousands of applications from academically strong students, your essays are your best chance to stand out. In this post, we’ll discuss how to craft an engaging response to each of these three prompts.
UMass Amherst Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Please tell us why you want to attend UMass Amherst? (100 words)
Prompt 2: At UMass Amherst, no two students are alike. Our communities and groups often define us and shape our individual worlds. Community can refer to various aspects, including shared geography, religion, race/ethnicity, income, ideology, and more. Please choose one of your communities or groups and describe its significance. Explain how, as a product of this community or group, you would enrich our campus. (100 words)
Prompt 3: Please tell us why you chose the Major(s) you did? (100 words)
Please tell us why you want to attend UMass Amherst? (100 words)
This supplement is a very standard example of the common “Why this College?” prompt, a classic way for admissions officers to learn more about your interest in their school. Just as you’re worried about colleges selecting you, admissions staff are concerned about whether you will choose their school if you’re admitted. This response provides another opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates and explicitly express your interest in UMass Amherst.
However, you’re only given 100 words to answer this prompt. Therefore, you should narrow your thinking down to 1-3 genuine reasons you want to attend UMass Amherst. This response should be very specific—many students make the mistake of simply listing generic positive qualities that could apply to any school.
Including general information like the strength of an academic department or a prime location can convey a lack of interest and actually detract from your application. A great starting point to research the school for this response is the school’s website, which contains copious information about its values, unique offerings, and campus culture.
Also, avoid listing school rankings or hackneyed adjectives praising the school, as this can come across as disingenuous. Admissions officers already know their school’s strengths and statistics—they want to learn more about you specifically, and how you plan to take advantage of UMass Amherst’s offerings.
Because one of the other supplemental prompts focuses on why you chose your major, you should avoid any overlap in this essay—that is to say, try not to write about your desired major here. However, because of the 100-word limit, you should focus mainly on academic or extracurricular offerings such as specific classes, research opportunities, and clubs. Think about what you hope to gain from the college experience at UMass Amherst as you select topics to write about.
Here are two examples of answers to this prompt:
Weak response: “I chose to apply to UMass Amherst not only because of its stellar academics, but also because of the extracurricular opportunities I will have to learn and grow both professionally and personally. I plan to join the Pre-Law Society to develop the soft and hard skills I need to apply to law school. I also plan to join a dance club as I am passionate about expressing myself through art. Recently, I have become interested in standup comedy, so I plan to pursue that as well. In addition, I look forward to living in and exploring the rural Amherst environment.”
Strong response: “As a future environmental rights lawyer, I am deeply passionate about gaining the tools to aid worldwide sustainability efforts. I look forward to contributing to research projects like Professor Lena Fletcher’s Outsmart app. Preventing invasive species’ destructive tendencies through early detection is important to me—my grandparents’ orchard was destroyed by emerald ash borers, so I understand the gravity of this research firsthand. Through courses like Rethinking US Environmental Policy, I can delve into the political origins of land and water distribution. Moreover, UMass Amherst’s Gardenshare Practicum will allow me to gain hands-on experience in community sustainability.”
The first response starts off with a very general sentence that could apply to any institution of higher education. The use of generic adjectives praising the school (like “stellar”) should be avoided. Because the word count is so limited, you should avoid vague language as much as possible. Don’t waste words giving trite compliments to the University!
The second response jumps into the applicant’s passions and future goals. It then directly connects a UMass-specific opportunity to the potential fulfillment of this goal. This is a much stronger approach that will grab your reader’s attention and make your response more memorable.
The first response also reads a bit like a laundry list of extracurriculars. Rather than focusing on quantity, you should try to enhance the quality of your response by adding depth through detail. The second applicant not only mentions a UMass-specific offering, but also explains their personal connection to it. Also, their note about the Gardenshare Practicum explains how they will fit into campus culture in their free time.
These inclusions add a layer of authenticity that will make a response more credible to admissions officers. Adding these types of details takes some quick research and can do a lot to add to the relatability of your essay.
At UMass Amherst, no two students are alike. Our communities and groups often define us and shape our individual worlds. Community can refer to various aspects, including shared geography, religion, race/ethnicity, income, ideology, and more. Please choose one of your communities or groups and describe its significance. Explain how, as a product of this community or group, you would enrich our campus. (100 words)
Because college is one big community just like any other, UMass Amherst wants to know about other communities you’re a member of and how you will fit into their own campus community. This prompt is very straightforward, but it also gives you a lot of freedom to talk about any community that is meaningful to you and what you do as a part of it. The goal of this essay is to demonstrate that you are an active community member and can fit right in at UMass Amherst.
It’s crucial that you pick a community that is central to your life and one that you play a significant role in. Including the examples given in the prompt, here are a few examples of communities you could consider:
- Religious community
- Racial or ethnic community
- Sports teams
- Clubs and extracurricular organizations
- Volunteer organizations
- Political movements
- Apartment building or street block
- Online communities or groups
- Community of people who share a similar hobby or interest
As you can see, there are many different ways to approach this essay. You might even write about a language community, or a community of people with a similar disability. Once you know what community you want to write about, you need to discuss your role within the community. For tips on choosing a community and writing thoughtfully about it, check out our guide to writing the diversity essay.
A quick note: Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The ruling, however, still allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, which is one reason many schools are now including diversity prompts as one of their supplemental essay prompts. If you feel that your racial background has impacted you significantly, this is the place to discuss that.
When choosing a community, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can only talk about one where you were a leader or contributed to some big project—even as a member of the community you could still play a large role. When you’re thinking about the role you played, ask yourself these four questions:
- What actions do I generally take?
- Why do I enjoy being in this community?
- How do I impact others in my community?
- What do I learn from being a part of this community?
If you can answer these questions, you can definitely write an essay that is personal and informative. Including self-reflection, especially for the third and fourth question, will demonstrate your critical thinking and maturity to the admissions committee.
It might help you to describe a formative experience that involved your membership in your chosen community. This experience should ideally be one in which you learned a new lesson, gained a new skill, or personally grew in some way. You are limited to 100 words total, including the last part of the prompt, which concerns your future involvement in the UMass Amherst community, so be sure to get right to the point.
These questions might help you distill the entire experience into the most important points:
- What happened?
- What was going through your mind and how did you feel as it happened?
- How have your emotions about the event changed over time?
- Have you faced any challenges as a result of membership in this community or your background?
Finally, the last part of this prompt asks how your membership in this community will help you enrich the UMass Amherst community. To discuss this, go beyond generic college tropes like late-night conversations with your roommate, as those are things you can find at any school. Instead, find some element of UMass Amherst that you’re specifically intrigued by.
Maybe your Filipino community at home is extremely important to you, so you’re looking forward to joining the Filipino Student Association on campus to stay connected to that community. Or, perhaps you’re planning to start a fashion entrepreneurship club on campus to create a community that currently doesn’t exist.
Even though you only have 100 words to work with, your response can still give your reader new information. Don’t write about something you’ve already discussed elsewhere in your application, limiting yourself by passing up one of the opportunities you do have to share something new with admissions officers.
By the end of your essay, the admissions committee should know exactly what you value in a community and should be able to imagine you in specific communities at UMass Amherst. Ending the essay with your specific ideas for your community involvement at the school will leave the admissions officers with a positive impression of you as an involved student.
Please tell us why you chose the Major(s) you did? (100 words)
A “Why this Major?” prompt is a way for colleges to learn more about you and distinguish you from other candidates with similar academic backgrounds and interests. Admissions officers want to learn more about your current experience with a subject you’re interested in, where your passion comes from, and how you plan to continue pursuing this passion beyond your college career. The committee can also get a better idea of your interest in UMass Amherst specifically, and an idea of how you plan to use its resources to better facilitate your learning.
When brainstorming content for this prompt, think about what initially drew you to the subject. Avoid using general statements like “I want to be a civil engineer because I have always enjoyed working with my hands.” Dig deeper into your passion and give specific details—one applicant might talk about how a Lego set they received for Christmas during their childhood first sparked their love of building. Another might talk about how they always admired the architectural genius behind their favorite structure in their hometown.
You should also tie your response to future goals you hope to accomplish with this major. A common mistake many students make here is being too general. Rather than using platitudes like “making the world a better place” and “helping others,” talk about specific things you could do to achieve these goals. Though you by no means need to have your career plans figured out, you can explore potential options to add depth to your response.
For example, a prospective chemistry major might discuss wanting to invent a non-teratogenic pesticide. Someone applying as a math major might want to develop an online teaching program for students who struggle with the topic and implement it at underprivileged schools.
Another factor to consider is how you plan to pursue this major at UMass Amherst, so that admissions officers will have a better idea of how you will fit into the campus culture. If you’ve already mentioned major-specific resources in the first essay, however, there’s no need to repeat yourself. You can instead focus on your interest in the major and your future goals. While you may have already discussed your academic goals in the first essay, consider this an opportunity to expand upon those goals in more detail.
No matter how you approach this essay, you should research specific classes, research opportunities, programs, student organizations, and other opportunities for involvement that tie into your major. For example, a prospective psychology major might discuss how UMass’s specific psychology programs tie into their dedication to activism. A response could go something like this:
“Participating in the Black Lives Matter movement has underscored my desire to explore the neural circuitry behind racism. As a psychology major, I plan to pursue this topic within UMass Amherst’s Psychology of Peace and Violence Program, by working with Professor Ervin Staub on developing active bystander training for police. I believe this biological approach to activism will go a long way in fomenting sustainable change at the systemic level.”
Keep in mind that this is not a full response, but it does demonstrate the tone and level of detail you should aim for when writing a response to this prompt. Adding details like this will lend authenticity to your response and make it more fun to read. Admissions officers want to know why this major is important to you, so let your creativity and passion flow—the possibilities are endless!
Where to Get Your UMass Amherst Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your UMass Amherst essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!