Bowdoin College Application Essay Prompts
How did you first learn about Bowdoin? (limit 140 characters)
The first thing that should capture your attention is the 140 character limit to answer this question. Given such tight constraints (no longer than a tweet!), it goes without saying that Bowdoin is not searching for an extremely in-depth response to this question. Simply and straightforwardly stating the method through which you learned about the college will suffice for this question; however, if you wish, you can add some embellishment. If you can express strong interest, leave a humorous response that will make adcoms laugh, or communicate why it is the perfect school for you within the constraints of 140 characters, we encourage you to do so!
For instance, if you learned about Bowdoin College at a college fair your sophomore year and you’ve been enraptured ever since, consider responding along these lines: “I learned about Bowdoin at a college fair as a sophomore. Since then, my research has only strengthened my conviction that I belong here.”
Though character restrictions prevent you from detailing why you belong at the college (thankfully, you have the other component of the writing supplement to do that), a response like this is effective because it communicates to adcoms that you’re both committed enough to have conducted extensive research, and passionate about the campus culture. While your response to this question likely won’t have a significant impact on your application, it never hurts to demonstrate your interest in and passion for a school.
In an effort to understand your interests and aspirations for college, we ask you to select one of the three topics below and provide a response of up to 250 words.
Bowdoin students and alumni often cite world-class faculty and opportunities for intellectual engagement, the College’s commitment to the Common Good, and the special quality of life on the coast of Maine as important aspects of the Bowdoin experience.
Reflecting on your own interests and experiences, please select and respond to one of the following topics:
The Common Good
Connection to Place
This prompt is challenging because unlike most, it doesn’t ask any specific questions — the only explicit guidance you’re given is to reflect on your own interests and experiences and respond (in 250 words). But how do you respond? Thankfully, Bowdoin gives us some clues throughout this prompt about what they’d like to see in an essay for this prompt.
Understanding the Question
Firstly, you should notice that Bowdoin is asking you to respond to this prompt “in an effort to understand your interests and aspirations for college.” There are two things to consider here: first, that the school wants to learn more about your interests, and second, that they want to understand what you hope to eventually accomplish in college, and how a Bowdoin education will allow you to do so. Thus, in writing your essay, your primary objective should be to clearly describe what you intend to study and why the college is the best place for you to study it.
The fact that these three aspects of the Bowdoin College experience –“Intellectual Engagement,” the “Common Good,” and “Connection to Place” — are highlighted here is also significant. These are clearly three qualities of which the school is extremely proud and of which they hope students will take the fullest advantage. Before writing, you should make an effort to research how each of these factors into the student experience. This will help you later on when determining which of the three factors will be most important to you in achieving your goals at the college.
Selecting Experiences and Aspirations to Write About
Once you understand the role that these topics play in defining student life at Bowdoin, it’s time to choose which aspect of the experience is most significant to you and would best empower you to accomplish your goals. But before selecting a topic, you first have to to decide on the experiences, interests, and aspirations you plan to speak about in your essay.
You may find it helpful to jot down your most educationally formative experiences, and how those have impacted your academic and extracurricular goals.
For example, maybe growing up near the ocean, you are accustomed to observing all sorts of marine life year-round. You’re fascinated by the impact that time and seasons have on the delicate ocean ecosystem, and you’ve decided to study biology in college to better understand the science of life on earth.
Or perhaps you read a Vonnegut novel in English class your junior year, and it had such a potent effect on you that you’ve decided to major in English in order to create stories that also have the ability to change people’s lives. Whatever the experience, no matter how mundane or silly, write it down; even seemingly dull or unintellectual experiences can make for great essay topics.
Once you’ve reflected upon your most formative experiences, you should also put some thought into what your aspirations are and how you plan to use your college education to achieve them. Specificity is key; you will have trouble describing exactly how a Bowdoin education will enable you to achieve your goals if you don’t have a clear idea of what your goals are.
Students who are currently undecided on their career path can choose to speak on an area that is of particular interest to them, even if they’re unsure whether they want to enter into that field in college. Alternately, they can speak on their aspirations for college that aren’t academic in nature, or could apply to various academic fields: for example, a desire to develop strong writing or research skills.
Making Sure You’re Unique
When brainstorming for your essay, it is of the utmost importance to discuss experiences that are highly unique to you. Since this prompt asks you to frame your interests and aspirations in the context of a Bowdoin education, it is in some ways similar to a “Why X school?” essay — the major difference is that you’re only at liberty to discuss one of three aspects.
Since there is no way to be unique in your discussion of what about the college appeals to you, you must strive to differentiate yourself when discussing why that aspect of Bowdoin appeals to you. As such, try to describe experiences and aspirations that will leave a lasting impression on adcoms.
Very specific, detail-rich descriptions of experiences and passionate explanations of your aspirations are the best way to do this. If adcoms can understand exactly what shaped the development of your goals, and you can make a clear connection between these goals and the school, you will have put forth a more compelling case for your admission than a student who speaks only in very general terms about her aspiration and how it relates to Bowdoin College.
Tie Your Experiences into a Topic
When you’ve finished brainstorming experiences, the goal is to be able to tie these experiences into one of the topics. If you find that some of what you brainstormed previously is difficult to tie into an essay topic, you can cross that off your list. Ideally, the experiences and aspirations you speak about should clearly relate to one of the topics.
For example, if you consider yourself an intellectually curious person who seeks to learn for learning’s own sake, the intellectual engagement Bowdoin offers its students may appeal to you. If you want to change the world with your college education, you are probably especially interested in college’s investment in the common good. If you find your life has always been defined by your environment and that you could find unique solace and sense of belonging on the coastal Maine campus, it is most likely your connection to the place that will shape your experience.
Once you’ve selected the experiences, aspirations, and aspect of the Bowdoin experience that you’ll write about, the only thing left to do is write! With such a limited word count, it’s important to ensure that every word you include communicates something significant about yourself to the school.
A great way to start your essay is by telling an anecdote that sheds light on your interest or skill in your desired field, though you can also begin with an unexpected statement that grabs the reader’s attention, a thought-provoking rhetorical question, or any number of clever hooks.
If you find it difficult to work in a hook without taking up too many precious words, feel free to jump right into the body of your essay. As you write, consider using rhetorical devices and interesting word choice to lend your writing a unique voice that will stick in readers’ minds.
With the advice above, you should be well on your way to writing a Bowdoin College essay that will set you apart. Good luck!
While technically optional, we at CollegeVine highly recommend that you take the opportunity to respond to Bowdoin’s “Offer of the College” prompt.
The Common Application allows you to select 1 of the 7 lines included in Bowdoin’s Offer and provides a section for you to elaborate in a 250-word response. The key to writing this response is to demonstrate how you align with Bowdoin’s values by using relevant and poignant examples. Overall, the response is open-ended, as Bowdoin wants you to go with your gut and focus on which line is most compelling to you. The purpose is not for you to explicitly analyze the text word by word; rather, Bowdoin intends for you to use your chosen line as a springboard for further rumination.
For example, if you choose “To be at home in all lands and all ages,” you could discuss how you are excited to expand your horizons from living in small town to absorbing all of the cultures and perspectives that life at Bowdoin has to offer. Whether you want to have challenging discussions about society with international students or prefer to physically go to another country to deepen your studies, there are many examples you can use to show your enthusiasm for a global and unifying experience. As you write, don’t forget to tie your reflection to tangible experiences that demonstrate the root of your interest.
Alternatively, if you choose the line “To count nature a familiar acquaintance,” you may want to discuss “Nature” as it pertains to conservation initiatives or you could take a more unorthodox approach by discussing your own place in Nature. Oftentimes, we separate humans from nature, as technology becomes increasingly prominent in the world; however, it could be interesting to discuss how innovation and learning are still deeply rooted in natural forces.
“And…Art an intimate friend” seems an obvious choice for artistically-minded people, but there are nuanced ways to handle the prompt. Instead of discussing art directly, you could describe your own creative/innovative thought process and how they play a role in your goals. Further, you could develop that idea by tying in concrete extracurriculars at Bowdoin, explaining how you would like to deepen your artistic skill-set to be a more diverse creator at Bowdoin. On the other hand, you could discuss how “expression” plays an integral in your life and use examples of art, dance, music, or writing to explain how and why you are expressive.
The line “to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own” has a lot of merit when looking forward to college. While you are likely a successful high school student in multiple regards, it is time for you to raise your bar and expand your horizons, to learn from people more experienced than you. Entering an environment in which your ideas will be challenged is refreshing and transformative. In addition, being open to criticism and change will allow you to confidently select new paths, as nothing is laid out so directly anymore. Feel free to discuss how you want to be challenged, as well as times when you have been in awe of others work.
“To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake” is a relatively straightforward springboard, as it leaves open opportunities to discuss impactful works you’ve read. You may want to provide insights into what books and writing mean to you. It is incredible that people’s life experiences and obstacles all contribute to words that resonate through time. How will you learn from the past and use others knowledge to make decisions?
Friendship is often a common theme of college. By choosing “To make hosts of friends… who are to be leaders in all walks of life,” you can touch on how your own friendships up until this point have molded you into a leader. Explain what you value in a friend or relationship, whether it be honesty, transparency, loyalty, or diverging ideas. Don’t be afraid to include personal or intimate information about your best memories or experiences. College is all about the late-night, deep conversations that shake the way you look at the world, so show Bowdoin that this type of relationship is something you strive to cultivate.
“To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends” can be understood in a variety of ways. One take is to discuss the concept of community collaboration, as in college individuals come together to accomplish tasks greater than oneself. You could discuss the most important communities in your life, how a common goal can compel people to work alongside each other. One strategy is to discuss a vital “common end” that you care about. For example, if gender equality is very important to you, go ahead and explain why, as well as what you would like to do to address it at Bowdoin.
The Bottom Line
As you write your Bowdoin supplemental response, keep in mind that each question is designed so that a different aspect about yourself can be shared with the applications committee. If you get stuck, ask your friends and family what the most unique things about you are and then connect these memories or characteristics to your past accomplishments, future goals, and of course, future at Bowdoin College.
Also, don’t be afraid to write an unconventional essay. If you have any questions about the Bowdoin supplemental essays, feel free to contact us about CollegeVine’s mentorship or essay editing opportunities.
Best of luck, and happy writing!
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