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Bowdoin College 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Guide

Bowdoin College 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: One essay of 250 words, one essay of 650 words, and one short answer of 140 characters.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball, Short Answer, Diversity

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.

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 not optional in our eyes. 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: Writing About Navigating Differences

Bowdoin believes that only through building a more diverse and inclusive campus community will the College best prepare graduates to be contributing and useful citizens of the world. Every graduate of this institution should be confident in their preparation to be able to navigate through differences and in all sorts of situations. A Bowdoin education does not guarantee these skills, but it does impart a set of tools necessary to bravely enter unfamiliar conditions with the confidence to deal effectively with ambiguity.

If you wish, you may share anything about the unique experiences and perspectives that you would bring with you to the Bowdoin campus and community or an experience you have had that required you to navigate across or through difference.  (250 words)

Admissions wants to know what has made you into the person you are today and how those experiences will affect the way you engage with and contribute to the Bowdoin community. Start by thinking about the kinds of experiences you’ve had in the communities you’ve been a part of thus far. Then, once you’ve identified the life experience(s) that has had a meaningful impact on you, think ahead to how that will affect your time at Bowdoin. 

If you opt to write about an experience where you had to navigate through a difference, be sure to summarize the experience as succinctly as possible; that way, you can focus on reflection and what you learned from it. Admissions wants to invite students to campus who are excited about the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and won’t shy away from newness and difference.

Whichever route you go, make sure your response to this prompt shows that you have put some serious thought into the experiences that have shaped you and how you will apply those lessons and experiences to your time at Bowdoin next fall.

We try our best to make sure our guides are as up to date as possible, but we still recommend confirming each prompt and word count with the school in question.
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School Stats:

State: Maine
Acceptance Rate: 9%
Undergrad Population: 1,915
Tuition: $64,304
Supplemental Essay Prompt Guides:
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