How to Write the Boston College Essays 2020-2021
This post has been updated! Check out our 2021-2022 BC essay guide.
Boston College, often referred to as BC, is a private Jesuit Catholic research university located just outside Boston in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Adorned with historic gothic architecture, the campus boasts a certain beauty that isn’t always found on other college campuses.
Situated in a quaint residential area, BC offers students the benefit of having a small college town feeling while also giving students access to metropolitan Boston just 6 miles away. Ranked at #37 by U.S. News and World Report, with a 28% acceptance rate for the class of 2024, admission to Boston College is quite competitive.
Boston College requires you to complete several additional essays, which may seem daunting at first. However, CollegeVine is here to help by offering our guide on how to tackle Boston College’s application! Want to know your chances at Boston College? Calculate your chances for free right now.
Want to learn what BC will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering BC needs to know.
Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompts
All applicants, except those applying for the Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) major, should respond to one of prompts #1-4 listed below. Students applying to the HCE major must respond to prompt #5 only. (400 words)
Option 1 (all applicants): Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?
Option 2 (all applicants): When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community?
Option 3 (all applicants): Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?
Option 4 (all applicants): Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?
Option 5 (For Human-Centered Engineering major applicants only): One goal of a Jesuit education is to prepare students to serve the Common Good. Human-Centered Engineering at Boston College strives to develop people who will integrate technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective to address societal challenges and opportunities. How would a Boston College engineering education enable you to contribute towards these goals?
Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration? (400 words)
A great way to start brainstorming for this prompt is to consider all the songs, books, speeches, and poems that speak to you and evaluate their effect on your life. You should try to choose something that sparked a change in you or gave you some insight. This part of the process shouldn’t be too effortful; if you’re choosing this prompt, there should be a work of art that stands out to you as having a special place in your life. While the key topic of this prompt is “great art” (in the form of a song, poem, speech, or novel), you should also make sure the work of art can be framed in terms of the insight or inspiration you gained from it.
Perhaps you are passionate about writing and drew inspiration from Toni Morrison’s Beloved through her use of dark themes and magic realism. You could discuss how her style inspired you to pursue similar themes in your own work and helped you unearth your own personal voice.
If you choose a speech, try to avoid choosing speeches such as the “Gettysburg Address” or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” While these are powerful speeches, they are quite cliche and will not make your application stand out. If you often watch Ted Talks, you could absolutely use one of these speeches if any of them have had a significant impact on you. Or perhaps you were inspired by Halsey’s moving speech addressing abuse and struggle during the Women’s March. If you faced similar struggles as those mentioned in this speech or any speech regarding struggle, you could create a powerful personal narrative by connecting your own personal experiences to those discussed in the speech.
Similarly, for songs, you want to avoid cliche themes such as in Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. These topics are often overdone and you are better off choosing a different medium (book, poem, etc.) or a different prompt. If you do choose to go with a song, one way to approach this would be to evaluate whether any songs have allowed you to overcome a difficult period in your life. Many people derive comfort from music, so if there was a particular lyric that stood out to you or a particular melody, here would be a great place to discuss that.
Whichever topic you choose to analyze, make sure you discuss the personal impact. Your chosen title must have inspired you in some way, whether it be introducing you to a new perspective or emotionally empowering you.
As you structure your essay, consider how the piece of art has brought change to your life. What was your situation when you encountered the work? This could be a fitting place to start; from there you can discuss your impressions of the work and how you engaged with it. Finally, you can talk about its lasting effects on you. After the initial stroke of insight or inspiration, how has your relationship with the piece matured?
When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community? (400 words)
This prompt is a classic example of what CollegeVine calls a “Diversity Essay.” The goal of this type of prompt is to give admissions insight into the qualities that make you unique so that they can compose a harmonious and diverse college community.
When asked about their background, many students immediately jump to stories about their ethnicity, cultural background, or sexuality. While these topics are absolutely valid for a diversity essay, make sure you go beyond stereotypes and cliches if you choose to write about one of these aspects of your identity.
- If you write about your ethnicity or nationality, avoid writing about the struggles you had “fitting in” or coming to terms with your identity, as this theme is super common. Try to get more granular. For instance, a French-American student might specifically discuss the more laid-back French approach to life. In France, people take more time to see their friends, enjoy their meals, and appreciate the moment. That’s why this student would plan fun activities like picnics at her stressful NYC high school. Of course, the risk would be that colleges think she’s not a serious student, but if her grades are excellent, this topic would be fine. She could conclude the essay by saying that she knows college is stressful, and that maintaining a balance is important. At BC, she hopes to continue to plan community events, like a fun run around the nearby reservoir, as part of the Undergraduate Government.
- Or, if you have lived in multiple countries, you could write an essay discussing the unique perspective you gained from immersing yourself in various environments, something that can’t be gained from ordinary traveling. Just avoid talking about your cultural experiences in more general terms. If you have a particular story about an experience living away from home, here would be a great place to highlight its significance. An example of this could be an interaction you had with a local that inspired you or changed your perspective. Make sure, however, to connect any stories to how you will contribute to Boston College’s greater community.
Don’t forget, there’s a world beyond ethnicity, culture, race, and sexuality, too! You can write about any unique experience or aspect of your identity, as long as it has shaped your perspective in a way that you believe will enrich Boston College’s community. Here are a few examples:
- A defining moment or achievement in your life. Maybe you’re extremely shy and have a fear of public speaking, but found your voice when your English class put on a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and were chosen to play Viola.
- A passion, such as music, art, athletics, or academic. For instance, if you’re a female in a predominantly male activity or vice versa, you can discuss any stories or experiences you have surrounding this issue. If you’re a male figure skater, you can discuss your desire to remove any stigmas regarding masculinity and your hopes to share this passion with Boston College’s community while also changing any negative, predisposed perceptions people may have.
Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why? (400 words)
As you digest what this prompt is asking for, note that this is not just a standard “Create Your Own College Course” prompt. This one is asking you about what kinds of issues you’d choose to investigate in a college course more than it’s asking you to come up with the structure for the course. Your main task is to define a problem/question and explain why you think it’s an important topic of inquiry.
This speculative prompt demands some creativity. Consider some problems you’ve witnessed in the world or issues that you’re passionate about: timeless and modern, big and little. They could be climate change, the meaning of progress, discrimination, the history of money, or even secrets.
An example could be a course discussing the negativity surrounding discussions of mental health. Perhaps you’ve observed that members of your community shy away from discussing topics of anxiety or depression out of shame or fear. As a result of this, you’ve found that people have become unaware and uninformed, causing them to misunderstand those who do suffer from mental health issues. Perhaps you chose this because you, or someone close to you, has personally experienced this shame, making it exponentially more difficult to communicate these issues effectively.
Another example could be the persistence of plastic straws in the environment. An often overlooked issue, you want to analyze the complications that these plastics have on our wildlife, as plastic straws are widely discarded.
The secondary task of this prompt is to package this question as a course. Adding elements like a title and a structural outline will make your choice more creative and show that you have an understanding of what constitutes a successful course. In the first example, you could title the class “Mental Health: Why the Conversation Matters,” and describe your intention for this class to spread awareness and teach students a more effective way to approach and support those who suffer from these challenges. In the second example, you could add some creativity by titling the course “Why We Need to Stop Sucking.” Then describe how the course would give an overview of the history and environmental impact of plastic straw use, and then transition to a critical engagement with consumer activism and its limits.
If you’ve had direct experience with the issue, you should definitely include this in your response. At the same time, don’t shy away from discussing issues that you may not have had any personal involvement with.
In order to further jumpstart your brainstorming, here are some ideas for course titles:
- The Environmental Reason Behind California’s Growing Wildfires
- Poverty in the United States: An Economic Analysis
- Women in the Workforce: An Analysis on Maternity Leave
Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good? (400 words)
The key words in this prompt are “character formation,” “values,” and “common good.” With Boston College being a Jesuit institution, personal values and beliefs are highly significant in the school’s community. You want to connect your personal values to BC’s higher values by demonstrating how an education at the university will strengthen your goals in such a way that will contribute to the common good.
For instance, if you’re passionate about medicine, you can discuss how BC’s courses in ethics will allow you to approach medicine more holistically. Rather than simply focusing on the science behind practicing medicine, you want to use Boston College’s resources to develop a more patient-driven approach, allowing you to be more compassionate with your future patients. You believe that this will contribute to the common good by allowing you to put others before you, enabling you to practice with a more humanistic approach.
If you have had to make a difficult moral decision in the past, you could also discuss this. However, make sure that your topic is appropriate, meaning that it does not involve anything illegal or anything that could cause you trouble at Boston College. An example of this could be if you’re the captain of an academic team and had to dismiss a teammate due to cheating allegations during a competition. Perhaps you plan to take these values with you to Boston College by practicing unbiased and fair leadership.
Regardless of the topic you choose, make sure that your narrative highlights strong personal values such as, but not limited to, selflessness, empathy, or community. You must draw the connection between the values that have shaped your life today and the ways in which you will strengthen and apply these values at BC. Remember, the prompt asks for how Boston College will assist you in promoting the common good, so make sure to address that.
Option 5 (For Human-Centered Engineering major applicants only)
One goal of a Jesuit education is to prepare students to serve the Common Good. Human-Centered Engineering at Boston College strives to develop people who will integrate technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective to address societal challenges and opportunities. How would a Boston College engineering education enable you to contribute towards these goals? (400 words)
In this essay, your primary goal is to explain how you will use Boston College’s engineering education to “serve the Common Good” (i.e. address issues in society). In essence, this prompt is a variation on the “Why This College/Program?” essay, so check out CollegeVine’s blog post for ideas on how to approach this essay type.
One important piece of advice is to remember that this essay is about you and the program. Don’t just name aspects of the program you’re excited about; make sure you tie them in to your story, values, aspirations, or other qualities.
There’s a lot to consider in this essay, but don’t be intimidated! Dedicating a healthy amount of time to brainstorming and planning will make your essay much stronger. Before you begin to tackle this multifaceted prompt, remember that the structure of your essay doesn’t have to mirror the order in which you brainstorm.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the goals and requirements of the program. Boston College’s Human-Centered Engineering program is a brand-new, interdisciplinary program that gives students a strong foundation in the liberal arts and rigorously prepares them to engineer solutions to global problems. It requires 120 credits, two-thirds of which must be STEM-focused, and one-third of which must be in the liberal arts and humanities. You can read more about the program here.
During the brainstorming stage, pick several specific features of the program that catch your interest: perhaps the idea of working with stakeholder groups on design solutions appeals to your creative quest to solve real-world problems, or maybe the idea of a weekly reflection on the ethics of engineering strikes you as an important practice for keeping yourself accountable to a humanistic perspective. You’ll come back to these components of the program once you’ve identified a central problem around which to base your essay.
Next, think about your goals in conjunction with engineering–this is the first stage of framing that central problem for your essay. Why are you interested in engineering, from a human-impact perspective? What broad human issues do you find most urgent? Although the prompt doesn’t ask you to pick just one societal challenge or opportunity to address in your essay, we advise you to choose one central theme around which to base your essay. Boston College’s Human-Centered Engineering program aims to put human concerns at the center of its training.
In order to get a better understanding of the program’s objectives, it can help to consider what this program strives not to be (and, by extension, what you should focus on avoiding or going beyond in your essay). One page on the Human-Centered Engineering website highlights a couple of contrasting concepts on engineering’s objectives:
- “The engineers of the future will be asked to do more than build bridges. We’re educating innovative thinkers whose broad knowledge and passion for helping others will set them apart in whatever career they pursue.” Boston College’s engineering program strives to get at issues that have a greater human impact than things like building bridges.
- “This is not engineering for engineering’s sake—this is engineering for impact.” As a graduate of the program, you’re not just inheriting engineering endeavors passed down for generations. You’re innovating and creating solutions to problems that today’s engineers might not yet know how to approach–hence the emphasis on creativity and humanistic perspective.
At this point, you should identify a pressing global or community-based human problem you’d like to address. This should be the focus of your brainstorming efforts. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a problem to discuss:
- Personal impact. Your essay will be much more cohesive and strong if you choose a topic that has affected you or a community you’re part of. For example, if your family owned a farm in Texas, where droughts are a recurring issue, you might be passionate about finding engineering solutions to the issue of water conservation. By framing the global issue of water shortage around your family’s experience, you can more effectively argue for the human impact of the issue.
- Breadth. You should choose an example that is broad enough to fall into the category of “societal challenge,” but not too broad. If you choose an example that is too broad or vague, like “world peace,” you will come across as out of touch with the goals of the program. If your first thought was world peace, or some other broad human problem, don’t despair! Focus on finding a more specific concern within that broad context. In the case of world peace, think about a concrete problem that causes wars and disputes between human communities. Maybe it’s access to the internet. Then you can frame this issue as worldwide connectivity and access to technology. You don’t need to know all the details of your solution’s mechanism–that’s the purpose of your education–but your central problem should lend itself to an interdisciplinary, engineering-based solution.
- Current Global Crises. The Human-Centered Engineering website gives you a few ideas for relevant human problems: environment (their example being access to clean water), health (with exposure to air pollution as an example), and energy (exemplified by a shift to renewable energy). It would be a good idea to choose a more specific concern within one of these sectors, but if you have a great idea that isn’t related to any of these ideas, that’s okay! The more creative and specific your idea, the better.
Once you’ve chosen a central problem, go back to the concrete aspects of the Boston College’s program that you found most noteworthy. How can these features support your goals?
You will probably need to go back to the program website and find some more specific resources that will help you achieve your goals.
Let’s take access to technology and connectivity as our example. You might point out that the liberal arts core will help you gain empathy and perspective on the issue; there is an abundance of literature and psychological studies on the ways in which being left behind technologically creates tensions and war.
You might also argue that the weekly ethical reflections will help you consider the human needs that you can address within the issue of access to technology–why should we endeavor to bring up-to-date technology across the globe?
Lastly, the design-thinking modules with stakeholders will help you learn to work with affected parties to create reliable solutions, and this ability to work with stakeholders means you can customize access to technology based on location and connectivity needs.
Note that the prompt mentions how the program “strives to develop people who will integrate technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective” to societal problems. Make sure you address how the program will help you develop each of these qualities when it comes to addressing the societal problem you’ve chosen.
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