How to Approach the Amherst Supplemental Essays 2020-2021


How to Approach the Amherst Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

So, you have set your eyes on the open curriculum, beautiful scenery, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and five-college consortium that Amherst College offers; you are not alone! This past admissions cycle, Amherst College received a record-number of 10,567 applications. Because there are only 473 beds on Amherst’s first-year quad (unless forced triples are utilized), the Office of Admission aims to yield exactly 473 students each year. As a result of such a large applicant pool and a relatively small student body, Amherst has a low admission rate - this past year, the school had an admission rate of less than 11%!

As a Former Admissions Officer at Amherst, I’ve seen many students wonder how to convince the readers at the Amherst College Wilson Admission Center that they deserve one of those limited beds. The most important factor in your Amherst application is that admissions officers can clearly see how students will make meaningful, important contributions to Amherst’s relatively small community. So how does an applicant describe convincingly the impact that they will make on campus and elaborate on how they’ll support their fellow community members? There is no better way to do so than through the Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021 that the college specifically asks applicants to answer. 

Amherst Supplemental Essays 2020-2021 – The Activity Question

First, you will be required to submit a short response to the following question: 

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

Here is your chance to explain in greater detail to admissions officers one extracurricular activity or work experience. The Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021 only ask for one, so take a look at the activities you have listed on your application, and select carefully just one that meets the following criteria:

  • You have not elaborated on this activity anywhere else in your application, particularly not in your personal statement. 
  • You are passionate about this involvement! Amherst does not conduct interviews as part of their admissions process, so treat this response sort of like a chance to demonstrate your excitement toward what you are involved with, much like you would be able to portray in an interview. 
  • You have made important, specific contributions that you can describe. 
  • Preferably, you are currently involved with, or were very recently involved with, this experience or activity, and it could likely be continued in some way once you arrive on campus. Especially since the word count is so low, do not feel the need to explain explicitly why your involvement connects to something that already exists at Amherst. However, if you are most enthusiastic about something that Amherst does not already offer and which you could not realistically start on your own, then select a different involvement.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!



Main Writing Supplement

Finally, Amherst asks you to complete their main writing supplement. You have to choose one essay from the three options provided. Note that Option B and Option C are less time-consuming than A, so make sure you read all three options before spending significant time getting started.

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. 

Do not ignore the fact that Amherst specifies that there’s no need to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken. This does not mean that you do not have to put a lot of time and thought into this essay - you do! However, it also signifies that the admissions officers are worried less about you drawing upon outside sources and previous knowledge, and more so expecting to read about your own interpretation of the prompt after doing a close read of the text provided. They want to see your own original, critical thoughts that are rooted in your own experience. 

There are four different quotations to choose from for Option A in your Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021. You only need to select one for a 300-word maximum response. 

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 

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." 

- 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.

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, President of Amherst College, Letter to Amherst College Alumni and Families, December 28, 2015.

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

Analysis of Quotes

If you select Quote #1, make sure that you do not fall into the trap of utilizing too much inaccessible scientific or mathematical jargon. Admissions officers can already see elsewhere in your application that you have excelled in your school’s math or science curriculum. They don’t want an unapproachable essay which conveys little to no new information about you. 

If you select Quote #2, the most important piece to keep in mind is that you should know a lot about whatever you write. Too often, students fall into the trap of, after doing a close reading of this prompt and starting to grasp its understanding, being inspired by the ideas it presents, and then trying to inspire the reader to be inspired, likewise, by the ideas. The problem here is that the inspirational piece would not be your own idea, but what is already in the prompt! If you select this prompt, focus on grounding your response in your own interests and experience, and avoid writing in the hypothetical or general. 

If you select Quote #3 for your Amherst supplemental essay 2020-2021, then it is absolutely crucial that you have thought a lot about what it would mean to live in a college community with a student body as diverse as Amherst’s. If the idea of “diversity,” as President Biddy Martin describes it here in this quotation, excites you, but you have had limited exposure to this idea thus far - then that is fine, and you are certainly not alone. However, do not use the Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021 to write broadly about your openness to diversity as an idea! This is a space to specifically write about why engaging in dialogue that bridges societal and political boundaries is important to you. Tackling Quote #3 is a chance for you to write about the connection you see between community and race, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics, age, wealth, etc.

If you select Quote #4, make sure that you do not fall into the trap of writing a predictable piece about how something started out as very difficult for you, but through hard work and perseverance, you succeeded. For example, as a general rule, avoid writing about a rainy day in which your chances of winning a big sporting event were limited, but at the last second, your excellent skills earned a win - it has been done too many times! Instead, think about how complicated success and achievement are, and make sure that your writing reflects that complexity. Rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty details of the incident you’ve outlined, highlight the important characteristics or lessons you picked up in the process.

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.

This prompt might seem too good to be true at initial glance. But you read it correctly - for Option B, you get to select your favorite paper that you have written from one of the two final years of high school. Make sure that it is a critical piece that is thesis/argument driven, and NOT creative writing, a lab report, or an in-class essay. You should have also scored well on the paper because admissions officers will see what grade you received. If you have a paper that you are proud of that also checks these boxes, then congratulations, you are already finished!

Make sure to keep it short! While there is no technical cut-off point for how long the paper you submit can be, a 5-page paper is ideal (no longer than ten, max!). Amherst prefers if you have a copy of a paper with your teacher's comments on it. If not, they would like to see some sort of indication of the grade or remarks that your teacher gave you on this writing piece. 

Option C

If you were an applicant to Amherst's Diversity Open House (DIVOH) weekend program, you may use your DIVOH 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 DIVOH 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 students who were applicants to Amherst’s DIVOH program.]

Option C, which is new this year, is only for students who applied to Amherst’s Diversity Open House (DIVOH) weekend program. Just like for Option B, if you were accepted into DIVOH you already have your essay. If you did not attend the program, then you have no choice but to pick between Option A and Option B. 

Making Your Selection

The Amherst College admissions officers do not have a preference for whether you submit Option A, Option B, or Option C, as each option offers something different and important to your application. Option C is not applicable to everyone; so, you will most likely choose between Option A and Option B. 

If your academics shine best through the papers you write rather than your transcript or testing, then submitting your best writing piece as an Option B supplement can help prove your academic prowess to admissions officers. Or, if you feel like you don’t have enough time before the deadline to write a new, well-thought-out essay, Option B is a good way to lighten your workload, while still presenting high-quality work. 

However, if you find that, after completing your application, there is a very important part of your personal identity that you have not had the chance to describe yet to admissions officers, elaborating on it through one of the Option A options may be the best choice for you.

Optional Research Supplement

Next, you will be given the option to write a brief research supplement: 

If you have engaged in significant research in the natural sciences, mathematics, computer science, social sciences or humanities that was undertaken independently of your high school curriculum, please provide a brief description of the research project (50-75 words)

As a top U.S. liberal arts college with a sole commitment to undergraduates and with phenomenal faculty members conducting top-notch research, Amherst places a huge importance on research across all domains: natural sciences, mathematics, computer science, social sciences, and humanities. 

Importantly, because there are no graduate students on campus, there are bounteous opportunities for Amherst students to work on graduate-level research with professors. Thus, the Amherst College Office of Admission has a commitment to finding students who already love learning for the sake of learning, are learning, are thrilled at the idea of becoming experts in their chosen academic field(s), and love researching and to makeing new discoveries. 

If you have worked on significant research already, then the Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021 giveis you a chance to write a brief abstract about your project. Make this section as clear and direct as possible, describing what your research question was, your methodology, and any conclusions and/or implications of your research without any “frills." 

A key part of the instructions for this supplement that should not be ignored is that this research project must have been undertaken independently of your high school curriculum. This means that you did not work with a teacher from your high school on this project, and you did not have to complete this research as a requirement for graduation. 

If you did not conduct research that fits these specifications, do not try to force a different research-related experience into this space. Your passion for learning for the sake of learning and any excellent research projects you have conducted through your high school curriculum will shine through in other parts of the application - do not worry!

There are some students for whom it will be more important to include an optional research supplement than others. For example, if you have indicated “researcher” or “scientist” on your application as one of your primary career interests on your application, it will help codify this interest if you already have research relevant experience that you can add here. Likewise, if you have indicated on your application that your desired terminal educational degree is a your doctorate, then having already had this type of research experience will be seen as beneficial. 

As you might expect, elements of your application such as your grades, test scores, letters of recommendation, honors, and your personal statement are all considered important in evaluating your application. However, the Amherst supplemental essays 2020-2021 are absolutely key in going beyond the other components to help admissions officers determine how you would fit into the campus community. Don’t take the prompts lightly – dedicate a significant amount of time working on your responses. Good luck! 

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