How to Write the Amherst College Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2021/2022

Before we get to the quotes, a few things to think about when approaching this option and choosing which quote to write about:

  1. Ask how this essay adds to your Amherst application as a whole. That likely will require you to brainstorm and choose your topics before you start writing, not just for Option A, but for the Additional Personal Information and Activities prompts too. Why approach it this way? With each application you submit, you want to show as many sides of yourself as possible; each prompt is yet another chance to show your schools of choice why you’re a great fit for their campus. What experiences/skills/values/insights do you want Amherst to know about that you haven’t already shared in your Common App personal statement? If there’s a cool extracurricular activity you want to talk about, for example, maybe save that for the Activities prompt, and talk about a different set of experiences or activities here—one that doesn’t overlap too much with what you want to write about in the Additional Personal Information essay. 

  2. Make it personal. Take Amherst officials seriously when they go out of their way to urge you to write an essay that’s “personal in nature.” They’re telling you they don’t want an academic dissertation on the meaning of empirical analysis or achievement; they want to know more about you—how that big brain of yours sorts through big ideas, how those ideas connect with experiences you’ve had, skills you’ve developed, and the ways in which you’ve grown, as a student and a human. The goal here is to get a deeper sense of you and the contributions you’d make to the Amherst community in terms of fresh ideas and perspectives. To that end …

  3. Choose the quote that most resonates with you and generates the most material for an essay about your experiences/values/skills. Pick out keywords you can build an essay around—whether it’s math or science (Quote #1), culture or language (Quote #2), diversity or friendships (Quote #3), or achievement (Quote #4). If what you end up writing is tangential to the quote, that’s OK. By expressly saying you don’t have to research the entire text the quote is excerpted from, Amherst officials are leaving it open to your interpretation and its application to your life, whatever that may be. So, there’s no “right” way to answer this prompt. There are a gazillion right ways.

  4. Consider writing a “super” essay. Look at the essays you’re writing for other schools. Is there a topic you’re already writing about that could fit one of these quotes? If so, save yourself some time and write a “super” essay. And by that, we don’t just mean a Really Great essay. We mean an essay that can work for a number of prompts, with some modest, necessary tweaking to answer the specifics of each prompt. For example, Stanford’s “meaningful” prompt or numerous schools’ “community” prompts might overlap nicely, depending on which quote you respond to. Sign me up, you say? Check out this full guide to the “super” essay.

Now, to those quotes, and a brief discussion of each …

Quote #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

Because Jagannathan specifically mentions mathematics and the natural sciences, you may think this quote is meant for engineering, bio, computer science, or other math/science lovers. But you’d only be partly right, because it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you want to write about how insight has played a role in your life—from the relationships you’ve formed to the skills you’ve learned at your internship at a PR firm. Or maybe you have something important to share about the value of observation and what it’s taught you about yourself and the world around you. The options are abundant.

Quote #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.”  – 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.  

Like Quote #1, this one may seem to target a certain type of student—linguistics majors, English Lit lovers, and other word nerds. But again, we want to urge you to think expansively. Give yourself the freedom to find a kernel that relates to your life—whether that’s your love of language, or your own experiences with the interconnectedness of today’s world. 

Pro tip: If you’re wondering if what you’re writing is really speaking to the prompt, sprinkle in a few keywords from the quote—“composing a symphony,” “exist in isolation”—to show how you’re incorporating its concepts. Just don’t overdo the references, as that may seem overly gimmicky. 

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

This one could be a great opportunity to write a diversity essay, especially if you’re already writing one for another school. Here’s a full guide to writing that type of essay.

Quote #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 College Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals

This quote is pretty short, but there are still a number of potential topics for this one—using “difficulty” or “achievement” as a springboard, for example. Or, say, you’ve had some challenge you’ve overcome that didn’t fit anywhere else in your application—maybe you’re even writing about it for your UC application (helllloooo, “super” essay!). If so, check out our guide to the UC application, and pay particular attention to the discussion on PIQ 5: Significant Challenge.

Here’s an essay that was actually written for another school: UT Austin. But notice that, if the author just shifts the few phrases and details specific to Austin (we’ve bolded them), the essay can fit this Amherst prompt perfectly, since like all good essays, the focus is the student and their values, qualities, etc. We’ve left the original so you can see how it would double up. This is what we mean by writing a “super” essay.

Example 1:

Quote 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.”  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.  

When someone hears Alabama, or specifically my hometown of Birmingham, they think of the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement, college football hysteria, and controversial laws. I’ll be the first to admit: my home state is far from perfect. Born and raised in Alabama as an Indian-American, I have experienced the positives and negatives. Yet, the lessons I have learned growing up have shaped me into who I am and taught me values I wish to evolve at UT Austin.

Every morning I walk to my blue-eyed godfather’s garage to get my car; he lets me because he has an extra spot. When I drive through the neighborhood, it’s normal to smile and wave to strangers. When a crisis arises, like my grandmother falling while she and I were home alone, neighbors immediately came to help, some I had never met before–the famous Southern hospitality revealed.

Volunteering at TechBirmingham, I’ve developed a responsibility to give back to my community. As a Longhorn, I look forward to continuing my impact in Austin through the CS  outreach programs. In addition to being an avid member of Code Orange, I wish to be an instrumental leader in developing and implementing new programs and initiatives to further educate the budding STEM youth.

Growing up in Alabama, I have learned the value of community. Whether it is helping our neighbors in a time of need or educating and mentoring kids in the community that need guidance, I know that a strong community creates strong leaders. I wish to bring my perspective and value of community to the Longhorn family—ensuring that all my peers are supported and successful.

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Think expansively about the quote. As we mentioned earlier, if you choose Quote #2, you could write about language (or a number of other topics), or as in this example, you could write about “the art of bridging cultures” through personal relationships. By taking us on a tour of the deep connections this student has made with others, we get a keen sense of how these interactions and relationships have shaped their outlook on life, their drive to give back, and their appreciation for “the value of community.” If you have a similar story about how a community has had an important influence on your growth and development and want to write about it here, just make sure you pick a different topic to explore in your Additional Personal Information essay.

  2. Maybe add some “Why us?” elements. Amherst doesn’t have a “Why us?” prompt like many schools do. So consider using Option A as an opportunity to sprinkle in those Amherst-specific details—reasons why you’re drawn to the school and what you’d do with the opportunities there. Notice that in the following sentence, the Austin details can be changed to details specific to Amherst (or just about any other school …): “As a Longhorn, I look forward to continuing my impact in Austin through the CS  outreach programs. In addition to being an avid member of Code Orange, I wish to be an instrumental leader in developing and implementing new programs and initiatives to further educate the budding STEM youth.” Why do this? It helps Amherst admission readers envision you on campus, not just learning but contributing. Here’s a full guide to the “Why us?” essay for more tips.

  3. Use details to bring your story to life. Details are the chalk and blackboard to the “show me, don’t just tell me” school of thought. By providing color, anecdotes, and examples, you help your reader take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the story you’re trying to tell. That not only makes your essay more engaging, it makes it more memorable. Like this: “Every morning I walk to my blue-eyed godfather’s garage to get my car; he lets me because he has an extra spot. When I drive through the neighborhood, it’s normal to smile and wave to strangers. When a crisis arises, like my grandmother falling while she and I were home alone, neighbors immediately came to help, some I had never met before–the famous Southern hospitality revealed.” Those “show me” details do a beautiful job of illustrating, and paying off on, this “tell me” thesis statement: “Yet, the lessons I have learned growing up have shaped me into who I am and taught me values I wish to evolve at UT Austin.”

Here’s a great one for Quote #3:

Example 2:

Quote 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.” (300 words)

When I joined the Durham Youth Commission, a group of students chosen to represent youth interests within local government, I met Miles. Miles told me his cousin’s body had been stuffed into the trunk of a car after he was killed by a gang. After that, my notion of normal would never be the same. 

A melting pot of ideologies, skins, socio-economic classes, faiths, and educations, the DYC is a unique collaborative enterprise. Although I was initially intimidated after hearing stories like Miles’, I soon realized that the members of the DYC never let difference become an obstacle to understanding. Even now, our experiences are like an elaborate network of roads: weaving, bumping, and diverging in unexpected ways. The Commission allowed us to bring our individual experiences into a shared space of empathy.

Miles talked about his cousin’s broken body. DYC supervisor Evelyn Scott explained that girls get ten-day school suspensions for simply stepping on another student’s sneakers. Witnessa educated us about “food deserts,” where people can’t count on their next meal. And I talked about being born in Tokyo, moving to London, and living in North Carolina, finding a way to call each place home. How my family’s blending of Jewish tradition and Chinese culture—bagels and lox on weekends and dumplings every Lunar New Year—bridges distinct worlds.

My experience in this dynamic space of affirmation and engagement engagement has made me a more thoughtful person and listener. Listening empathetically helped us envision multifaceted solutions to issues facing 21st-century youth. I want to continue this effort and be the woman, student, and friend who both expands perspectives and takes action after hearing people’s stories. Reconciling disparate lifestyles and backgrounds in the Commission has prepared me to become a compassionate leader, eager to both expand perspectives and take collaborative action. (299 words)

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Make those personal connections to your story. This is the key part of what Amherst is looking for, so make those personal connections work for you. Think: anecdotes of experiences you’ve had, life lessons you’ve learned along the way, and skills you’ve developed, and how. Even though this student starts out talking about Miles’ experiences, she quickly tells us how stories like his impacted her “notion of normal,” further sharing how she’s learned that “our experiences are like an elaborate network of roads: weaving, bumping, and diverging in unexpected ways.” And this: “My experience in this dynamic space of affirmation and engagement has made me a more thoughtful person and listener.”

  2. Consider coming out with a power intro, if you have one. This example may be a bit off the charts in that way, but don’t think you have to have a gripping, or graphic, anecdote about a brutal murder for your intro to be effective. There are many ways to open your essay with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. This guide has 9 ideas that can help get you started.

  3. Show your values. Values are a critical piece of any college essay. Why? They’re central to showing your college(s) of choice the morals, tenets, and beliefs that mean most to you. A great way to determine your core values is to do the Values Exercise. Which values have you not had a chance to express elsewhere in your Amherst application, or which would you want to come through in a stronger way? This essay is brimming with values, like inclusion, trust, collaboration, community, and compassion.

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