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Essay Prompts - Amherst College

Listed below are the essay prompts for incoming freshman students.

Required:

1. Common App personal essay (250-650 words)

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

3. In addition to the essay you are writing as part of the Common Application, Amherst requires a supplementary writing sample from all applicants. There are two options for satisfying Amherst’s supplementary writing requirement: Option A or Option B. You may respond to one, but not both, of these options.

Before deciding, carefully read the descriptions of both Option A and Option B below, including the special Option B instructions for applicants who have elected to respond to the “essay topic of your choice” prompt in the Common Application writing section.

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.

  • Prompt 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
  • Prompt 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.
  • Prompt 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.
  • Prompt 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

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.

Optional:

1. Optional research questions:

  • 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)
  • Where, when and under whose mentorship did you conduct this research? (Provide mentor’s name, title and institutional affiliation.)
  • If your research has been submitted to any national competition (e.g., Siemens, Intel) and/or accepted for professional publication, please provide additional details.

 

*College essay prompts were compiled from university websites, the Common Application, and the Coalition Application. Essay prompts are subject to change and we encourage students and families to confirm all essay prompts with the institution.

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