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How to Write the Amherst College
Supplemental Essay

Amherst College asks students to submit just one supplemental essay, with four prompts to choose from. Each prompt is a quote from someone affiliated with the college. Here’s a guide to responding to each of the possible quotes!

Option A

“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.”

“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

This prompt is a great opportunity for students who love STEM subjects. Whether you agree or disagree with what this quote says about math and science, you can engage with this prompt in a way that tells the reader a lot about how you think. For instance, you might write something about your own experience with reasoning and insight in these fields–such as a lab experiment that proved all of your reasoning wrong with empirical evidence. You can also select this prompt if you are interested in the humanities. What role do reasoning and insight play in your life? How do they factor into the way you read a book, watch a movie, or reflect on a philosophical concept? Use this prompt as a space to explore your academic interests as well as offer insights into your world view.

“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.”

Ilán 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.

To answer this prompt, first ask yourself, “What does translation mean to me?” Is it code switching when you are at school with your white friends vs. when you are at home with your Latinx family? Is it literally translating for your grandmother at the doctor’s office? Is it turning complicated math concepts into fun, bite-size lessons on TikTok? Once you determine what translation looks like in your life, use it to tell a story. You can also refer to the part of the prompt that acknowledges how the increasingly globalized world we live in affects every aspect of life by writing about how understanding other cultures has shaped your life. Like your personal statement, this supplement should tell a story only you can tell and shed a light on your personality and background in a way other aspects of your application were not able to.

“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, 19th President of Amherst College, from Letter to Amherst College Alumni and Families, December 28, 2015.

Diversity is a quality that colleges increasingly value and aspire to grow on campus. But diversity is not just holding hands and singing kumbaya. With diversity often comes conflicting beliefs, implicit biases, and intentional or unintentional exclusion. Fostering diversity requires difficult conversations and lots of introspection, but the end result is worth it. A few questions you can ask yourself or try to answer in this essay are: What experiences do you have, positive or negative, with diversity? When and how have you built friendships with other people who have different life experiences than your own? What does diversity mean to you and why does it matter? What kind of diversity are you looking forward to at Amherst, and what will you bring to the table in terms of your own background? Researching the Amherst student body or your own community’s demographics might help you get started with this essay.

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

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

If you didn’t write about a challenge or obstacle in your college essay, or if there are multiple struggles that are central to your narrative, this prompt is a great option for you. You can write about a favorite failure where things didn’t quite go your way, but you ended up better because of it. You could also write about medical, familial, structural, or monetary obstacles you had to overcome to get to where you are today. Regardless of what you write about, it’s important that you write about the topic maturely and don’t try to put blame on other people or dwell on your frustration. Consider choosing a story that is already behind you, one which you can look back on and see with greater perspective, rather than writing about an obstacle you are currently facing.

Amherst has two other essay options if for some reason you are unable to respond to one of the prompts above:

Option B

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. Also, 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 were 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 on either the Common Applications or the Coalition Application. However, if you would prefer not to use your A2A essay for this purpose and you wish to submit a different writing supplement, select either Option A or Option B. [Please note that Option C is available only to students who were applicants to Amherst’s A2A program. Non-A2A applicants must choose either Option A or Option B.]