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Bowdoin College 2019-20 Supplemental Essay Guide

Regular Decision: 

Bowdoin College 2019-20 Application Essay Question Explanations

Don’t let the looks of this short, quirky supplement fool you: it will push you as a writer. But why should we expect any less from one of the best liberal arts colleges (according to US News and World Report)? To tackle this tricky supplement, give yourself plenty of time to think, tinker, and wordsmith.

The Requirements: One essay of 250 words, one short answer of 140 characters, and one additional info essay.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball, Short Answer, Additional info

How did you first learn about Bowdoin? (Limit 140 characters.)

Who knew 140 characters would still be relevant in a world of #longtweets? In case you don’t remember the prehistoric days of Twitter’s more limited character count, we’ll give you a tip: 140 characters is still enough space to write a full (if succinct) sentence. In other words, this short answer question is still an opportunity for you to show admissions a glimmer of personality or new information. Your answer should go beyond simply the name of the person or publication that first informed you of Bowdoin’s existence. In fact, you might even be able to sneak in one of the key reasons you’re applying. If your dad is an alum, maybe you can explain how you grew up hearing stories about this paradise in Maine. Or maybe you’re a hockey player with a penchant for poetry and your English teacher encouraged you to pursue both at Bowdoin. Believe it or not, each of those sentences came in under the character count!

Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin’s “The Offer of the College.”

To be at home in all lands and all ages;
to count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
and Art an intimate friend;
to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work
and the criticism of your own;
to carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
to make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends –
this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.
-William DeWitt Hyde, 7th President of Bowdoin College, 1906


Which line from the Offer resonates most with you? (Select an option.)

Bet you weren’t expecting to take an English exam on your application! This is really a two question prompt, so skip down to the next question for our full walkthrough.

Optional: The Offer represents Bowdoin’s values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you. (Limit 250 words)

Gotcha! This optional prompt (as is the case with most optional prompts) is lowkey not optional. It’s a key opportunity for you to tell admissions more about who you are, so take it! Plus, if you answer the first question, you ought to be able to defend your answer in the second. So here’s another crucial tip: although Bowdoin has given you a multiple choice question, there’s actually no right answer. Or rather, the only right answer is the one you choose genuinely, and without overthinking it. We know it might sound out there, but go with your gut. What line leaps out at you right away? Which lines connect with your life? Us, personally? We love the idea of “the keys of the world’s library,” a line you could take quite literally or more figuratively. A student writing about this line might have a longstanding love of actual libraries. Maybe you’ve always retreated to the library as a sanctuary, and to you, this line means that a college education will turn the whole world into your sanctuary and make you feel brave. On the other hand, maybe you see it as an invitation to explore: to study in other countries and learn from people in all fields. Either way, you can make your case with evidence from the text and your own life. The point is, you don’t have to give a full-scale close reading; tell a story about yourself instead.

Optional: If there is additional information you feel will support your application, you are welcome to include it here.

Okay, remember what we said before about optional essays? This is the one case where you should proceed with caution. Additional Info essays like this one are mainly intended for students who have some blemish on their record that requires further explanation: a slump in your grades, an uncharacteristically low score on an exam, a long absence from school. It’s a chance to tell your side of the story and ensure that these statistics don’t define you in the eyes of admissions. Additional Info essays can deal with sensitive issues like grief, illness, and mental health, so it’s important that you feel comfortable telling your story. As is the case with almost any essay about a major obstacle or challenge, we encourage you to focus on your personal growth and successes. No need to dwell on or relive what may have been an incredibly difficult time in your life. What have you learned and how have those lessons made you who you are today? For more information on writing about sensitive topics, check out our video tutorials on grief and other so-called taboos.

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