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The Requirements: One essay of 300 words, a series of optional short answers
Amherst is giving you an opportunity to further distinguish yourself from other applicants—not with amazing test scores or impressive grades, but by painting a more detailed picture of who you are. Think about activities you enjoy, places that give you peace, or aspects of your personality or background that you haven’t discussed in your application yet and tell that story. Maybe you’d like to write about your experience growing up in a military family, competing in the Junior Olympics, or playing Mancala with your grandpa. The options are endless! Just be sure to tell admissions something about you that they don’t already know.
Amherst wants to admit a diverse class of students and takes seriously its commitment to making the campus a safe space for all. That said, this short essay response is entirely optional, so please don’t feel pressured to respond if you identify as LGBTQ+ but aren’t ready to be out to admissions yet. Any response you choose to give here will not make or break your admission; it’ll just add another facet to your application.
Activity essays like this one are more common than participating in icebreaker activities during your first week of college. All things considered, the hardest part is selecting the activity you want to write about! So, we return to our favorite mantra: tell admissions something they couldn’t learn from anywhere else in your application. If you wrote your Common App essay about your time walking dogs for your local animal shelter, focus on a different activity or work experience that reveals a new aspect of your personality. This can be a great opportunity to highlight your leadership skills and any awards or special recognition you may have received throughout high school. Were you nominated for an award after going undefeated with your doubles tennis partner? Were you asked to manage a team of volunteers at the food pantry based on your community-minded reputation and leadership skills? No matter what you choose, it should probably be something you’ve been involved in for a while, so you can demonstrate your growth and the impact that you have had on others.
There’s not a lot of room for embellishment in this brief prompt. So only answer it if A) you have actually done research that fits the bill, and B) you haven’t already written about it in detail. (In the first prompt of this supplement, for example.) If your work meets the criteria, don’t worry about getting too clever with your description. In fact, you’ll do yourself a favor if you adhere to the standard academic practices around presenting research in your chosen field. If it’s scientific or medical research, cover the bases of a report: research question, methods, and results (with special emphasis in anything you found particularly interesting or central to your experience). If it’s in the social sciences or humanities, a basic synopsis that focuses on your main argument will do. Once you’ve filled in the basic details, you might consider giving a little background on how you came to participate in this extracurricular research: how did you get connected with the lab or program? This small narrative element will help you show admissions that you’re motivated, engaged, and already out in the world impressing people.
Before you even get to the quotations, there’s a lot to take in about Option A, so let’s take a breather. Don’t let the seemingly academic nature of this assignment fool you; at the end of the day, Amherst admissions is still looking for a personal story.
This option is perfect for students who have a strong background in volunteering, community service, and leadership. If that’s you—great! In your response, make sure you focus on how learning has translated into leadership or community service. Maybe you were a junior camp counselor for at-risk youth and observed how your senior counselor adjusted their approach to each camper based on what they learned about them. Perhaps you started volunteering at an animal shelter and quickly realized you had a lot to learn about animal care, eventually using what you learned to train other volunteers. Make sure you articulate what you see as the benefits of connecting learning with leadership and how you will use this knowledge as a member of the Amherst community.
This is a Diversity Essay in disguise, perfect for students who have a unique background, identity, or interest that has impacted how they interact with the world. Maybe you grew up on a working farm and look forward to using your experience to educate your peers as an EcoRep in your dorm. Perhaps you’ve lived all over the world because your parent was in the Foreign Service and you bring a fresh perspective on American imperialism. You could also write about your race, nationality, or any other aspect of your background, personality, or experiences. Make sure to focus on not only what makes you unique, but also how that has primed you to educate your peers and make your mark on Amherst’s campus.
This prompt is perfect for students who have a creative or intellectual passion outside of their classwork that has been a major part of their lives thus far. Maybe you’ve taken coding courses through your local community college and used those skills to build an app for your uncle’s deli. Perhaps you love musical theater and perform every year with the summer stock company in your town, taking on increasingly larger roles. Whatever you choose to write about, make sure the focus is on what you learned about yourself. Maybe you realized that you have a deep-seated desire to utilize your skills to help others. Perhaps you always considered yourself clumsy but discovered you could dance, improving your self-confidence in the process. Through this prompt, Amherst seeks to understand what inspires you and how that inspiration has changed you. To finish it up, tell admissions how you will continue to pursue this passion as an Amherst student.
Okay, we’ll keep it short. Although this is technically an option, the wording should make it clear that admissions is really angling for a response to option A. We only see two sets of circumstances where an applicant might want to consider option B: (1) if you somehow procrastinated to the eleventh hour and have no time to write an original essay or (2) you have written something you are so proud of that it could have won an award (and maybe it did). Just make sure it is what admissions is asking for (a persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological, or historical evidence)⸺if not, you’re better off scrambling to write a response to one of the Option A prompts!
No explanation necessary! If you think that this essay will be the best way for you to reflect yourself to Amherst admissions, then feel free to use it here. If it’s so nice, why write it twice?