How to Write the Boston College Essays 2021-2022
Boston College requires all applicants to write one essay from a choice of five. There is a sixth option; however, only applicants to the Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) Program should respond to Option 6.
Because BC gets many applicants each year with comparable GPAs and test scores, essays are the chief way admissions officers differentiate between applicants. In this post, we’ll cover how you can write a great essay worthy of admission to a top school like Boston College.
Read these Boston College essay examples to inspire your writing.
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Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompts
All applicants, except those applying for the Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) major, should respond to one of prompts #1-5 listed below. Students applying to the HCE major must respond to prompt #6 only. (400 words)
Option 1 (all applicants): Students at Boston College are encouraged to consider critical questions as they pursue lives of meaning and purpose. What is a question that matters to you and how do you hope Boston College will help you answer it?
Option 2 (all applicants): In 2020, we faced a national reckoning on racial injustice in America – a reckoning that continues today. Discuss how this has affected you, what you have learned, or how you have been inspired to be a change agent around this important issue.
Option 3 (all applicants): At Boston College, we hope to draw on the Jesuit tradition of finding conversation partners to discuss issues and problems facing society. Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
Option 4 (all applicants): Socrates stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Discuss a time when reflection, prayer, or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
Option 5 (all applicants): Each year at University Convocation, the incoming class engages in reflective dialogue around a common text. What book would you recommend for your class to read and explore together – and why?
Option 6 (Human-Centered Engineering Applicants): One goal of a Jesuit education is to prepare students to serve the Common Good. Human-Centered Engineering at Boston College integrates technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective to address societal challenges and opportunities. What societal problems are important to you and how will you use your HCE education to solve them?
Students at Boston College are encouraged to consider critical questions as they pursue lives of meaning and purpose. What is a question that matters to you and how do you hope Boston College will help you answer it? (400 words)
In his seminal interview with Life magazine, Albert Einstein posited that the only important thing in life “is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
We all have them—critical questions that aim to unravel the very fabric of the universe. These can be questions that motivate you, questions that make great late night conversation with friends, or an inquiry you’ve never thought to articulate before.
A critical question does not have to be the largest query in or about the universe; however, as Einstein states, the question should strive to “comprehend a little of this mystery [of life].” For this prompt, your critical question should:
a) be an essential question that fuels you
b) relate to your academic pursuits at Boston College
To begin writing this essay, here are a few steps to help!
There are many potential ways to begin brainstorming for this prompt. If you are already set on a major, you could try drafting a list of three to five questions that pertain to the field of study you are interested in pursuing.
For instance, if you were studying English and had a passion for history, your critical questions might be:
- How do we expand the American literary canon to make room for historically marginalized voices?
- How do we account for the erasure of female voices in Early American literature, and how do we recover lost texts?
- How do we make publishing equitable and accessible to all writers, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation?
If you are undecided about what major to pursue, you could create a topic web of subjects/areas of study that are important to you. For instance, for your themes, you might list “the environment, theatre, world hunger, animals, and equal access to education.” Under these topics, draft a list of three to five critical questions.
It is imperative that these critical questions don’t have an “easy” answer or become so general that they become impossible to address in 400 words.
For example, if I am writing about the environment, a surface, non-critical question might be, “What are the leading causes of deforestation?,” whereas a critical question might be “How can we incentivize sustainable land use regulations instead of allowing global companies to continue profiting off the deforestation of the Amazon?”
2. Pair Your Question to Specific Resources at Boston College
Now that you have several critical questions, it’s time to do some research! As the prompt states, you must discuss how an education at Boston College, specifically, will help you begin to answer this critical question.
Let’s use the same critical question we established earlier:
How can we incentivize sustainable land use regulations instead of allowing global companies to continue profiting off the deforestation of the Amazon?”
Now, it’s time to go down a wormhole and explore everything Boston College has to offer in regard to your critical questions.
You might be asking yourself, “where do I even start?” Great question! A great place to begin is by locating a major that either directly or tangentially relates to your critical questions. For example, for the question about deforestation, you might explore Boston College’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Program, specifically their course offerings “Geoscience and Public Policy,” “Powering America: The Past, Present, And Future Of Energy, Technology, & The Environment,” or “Making the Modern World: Design, Ethics, and Engineering.”
Next, you might choose to check out the hundreds of extracurriculars Boston College has to offer, such as “Conversations About Social and Environmental (CASE) Impact,” “Environmental Law Society – ELS,” and “Outdoor Club.”
Your goal is to make this essay as specific to Boston College as possible, therefore all of your examples should be an identifiable, unique aspect of Boston College.
3. Synthesize Your Critical Question and Your Research
Now, you are equipped to write the actual supplement.
This supplement is similar to the traditional, archetypal Why This Major Essay; however, with the inclusion of a critical question, there is a fun twist!
To begin, introduce your critical question in an engaging way.
A common, forgettable essay might begin:
My critical question is: How can we incentivize sustainable land use regulations instead of allowing global companies to continue profiting off the deforestation of the Amazon?” I became interested in the environment in fourth grade after watching An Inconvenient Truth. Now, I want to study environmental studies at Boston College…
While this is all factually correct, there are more dynamic ways to share the same information! One of the most important elements of the essay is a strong hook. You might begin with a bold claim, an immersive anecdote, or an interesting question.
A successful reworking of the same essay might look like this:
By the time you finish reading this sentence, fifteen football fields worth of trees will have been deforested. Whenever I find myself with the clock, observing the second hand make its ubiquitous rotation around the clock’s face, I’ll try to visualize the sheer magnitude of the Amazon rainforest’s destruction. I’ll try to picture the snapping of branches, and attempt to imagine the sound a bulldozer might make plowing through a field of trees; however, it quickly becomes overwhelming. Ever since the fourth grade, when I led a highly successful grassroots movement with my fellow ten-year-olds to implement recycling and composting bins into each elementary school classroom, I have had an unwavering commitment to the environment. This interest has shifted from a passion to a future professional endeavor. Through my studies in environmental science and finance, I strive to help answer the question that haunts my brain for most of the day: How can we incentivize sustainable land use regulations instead of profiting off the deforestation of the Amazon? By attending Boston College and majoring in Earth and Environmental Sciences and Economics, I could begin to answer this question. Whether I’m taking “Powering America: The Past, Present, And Future Of Energy, Technology, & The Environment,” or initiating a conversation about the politics of deforestation with the Outdoor Club, I know that a multidisciplinary education at Boston College will catalyze my career as an environmental activist by….
In a short amount of time, you must set up your passion for a subject, your critical question, and how the pursuit of an answer will fuel your experience at Boston College.
When writing this prompt:
- Be as specific to Boston College as possible
- Engage your reader with a dynamic “hook”
- Use specific and unique examples
In 2020, we faced a national reckoning on racial injustice in America – a reckoning that continues today. Discuss how this has affected you, what you have learned, or how you have been inspired to be a change agent around this important issue (400 words).
In the year 2020, the United States experienced a national reckoning with racial injustice that destabilized the archaic foundation of systemic racism on which this country was built. Catalyzed by the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, and so many countless others, The Black Lives Matter movement led protests all across the country to march for equity, justice, and freedom.
It is important that this prompt be taken very seriously. If you do not have a specific experience with this movement, it will be very hard to have a substantial answer to such an important question. This question relies on your experience with the racial justice movement and involves elucidating the ways this movement has specifically affected you.
To begin writing this essay, reflect upon the year 2020. Where were you? Perhaps you were just outside the city limits of Minneapolis and drove to George Floyd Square to protest police brutality. Maybe you took to the streets in Chicago and walked from Wrigley Field all the way down North Clark Street. Or, perhaps, you did not immediately take action, but after educating yourself, you led a fundraiser to benefit Critical Resistance or My Block, My Hood, My City.
These are some helpful hints to writing this essay.
- If you are not a BIPOC applicant, you should exercise your best judgement about language and diction. This prompt has the potential to turn into an archetypal “white savior” essay. You should avoid any generalizations or centering yourself in the narrative of racial injustice. That does not mean that you cannot have a specific or meaningful contribution or experience with the movement; however, when describing it, be careful to not fall into hegemonic power structures.
- Avoid triggering or untasteful descriptions or depictions of violence. Although a graphic description may be powerful, you never know the identity or experience of the reader.
- Avoid detailing information that could get you in trouble. As Audre Lorde stated, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” While there is no judgement on how a group of historically oppressed and marginalized people should protest, this is a college essay, and descriptions of vandalism or other acts that are traditionally outside the legal norm could affect your reader in ways that you did not intend. Paint yourself in the best light possible, and exercise caution when writing descriptions of tagging, violence, or destruction.
- Take time for yourself while writing.
- Be specific. Talk about yourself, and not others. When talking about a large movement, it can be easy to summarize or generalize. This specific prompt asks for your personal experience with the movement. Ask yourself: when did I first become involved? Why did I become involved? What did it feel like at the time? How does it feel now?
- Remember change can happen in small ways. Although, especially when writing, it is easy to amplify or augment our contributions, for this essay, a small act of change or resistance is all that is necessary. Instead of making it seem like you helmed an entire nationwide movement, focus on the small acts of change you initiated.
At Boston College, we hope to draw on the Jesuit tradition of finding conversation partners to discuss issues and problems facing society. Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person? (400 words)
Good conversations fuel us, and are often hard to find. As the renowned author, Truman Capote, once remarked, “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.”
This essay can be about any conversation partner, and is accessible to all candidates.
To begin writing this essay, here a few helpful steps:
Reflect on some of the scintillating conversations you’ve had. Perhaps a few of them are memorable and clear. If not, take some time to create a list.
Our memory is often triggered by location. Some of the best conversations are married with a specific location–perhaps a great conversation you had was had on your morning run with your brother, or with your cousin on your back porch. Content, location, and your conversation are all essential to this prompt.
Your conversation partner should be someone that you know well enough to sustain the bulk of an entire essay.
2. Track The Conversation
How many conversations have you had with this person? Is each conversation about a similar theme?
For example, one applicant’s essay might track conversations they have with their father about music. They might reflect and make a list of all the songs that they have talked about with their father, jot down some specific dialogue in each conversation, and reflect upon the impact of said conversation.
It is important that these conversations be substantive. While talking about video games could be very interesting, what about that conversation impacted you?
3. Begin Writing!
Lure your reader in with a strong introduction and first sentence!
A basic essay might rehash the language of the prompt, such as:
My favorite conversation partner is my dad, because he and I love music. Sometimes, we stay up late talking about different songs of his youth–old songs that I have never heard before. Oftentimes, he will reveal a hidden meaning behind the lyrics.
While this is answering the prompt, the response is formulaic and could be way more dynamic. Get creative! You could begin with a bold claim about your conversation partner, such as:
My father is a good but complicated man who, as of late, seems to only appear at night.
You could begin with a summary of what you talk about:
When I hear the opening power chords of the Eagles’ “The Last Resort,” I hear the voice of my father. It is important to note that my father is not Don Henley, merely a fan, yet his baritone voice narrates the hidden meaning of the lyrics, underscored by Schmit’s bass guitar.
Or with a strong statement:
It’s become an unspoken rule– a silent law– to never attempt to initiate a conversation with my father while he is listening to his music. We talk after an album or after a song ends. Monolithic grunts are the only acceptable verbal form of acknowledgement while listening, accompanied by a thumbs up, a fist pump through the silent air, or a mere upward curl of the lips, as if to say, “I like this one.”
4. Have a great conclusion.
Although the prompt follows the Jesuit tradition of “discussing issues and problems facing society,” your conversation does not need to solve any of these problems or issues, or attempt to, yet it should be meaningful.
Your conclusion should be a time for you to reflect upon your conversations and your conversation partner. Have they changed your way of thought, or made you see something differently? Can you not think about a particular topic without thinking of a particular point they made?
It is hard to address a major societal change in a couple of hundred words; however, a change can be as small as a change of opinion or a change of heart.
Socrates stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Discuss a time when reflection, prayer, or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you. (400 words)
As a Jesuit institution, “Boston College seeks to provide an education that will promote integration of the intellectual, social, religious, and affective dimensions. It urges students to reflect deeply on who they are and how they want to live their lives. In addition, Boston College encourages members of its community to be attentive to their own experiences, to reflect on them, and to use their talents to respond to the world’s needs, based on the conviction that God can be found in all human activity, especially in the search for truth and meaning.”
Reflection, as well as a search for truth/meaning are embedded into the very foundation of the school.
This prompt is asking two things:
- Discuss a prayer, reflection, or introspection.
- How did this prayer, reflection, or introspection clarify or allow you to understand something important to you.
1. Reflect upon a prayer, a reflection, or introspection
If you are a spiritual person, you have most likely prayed. You might have prayed for clarity, for someone’s health, for salvation… However, this specific essay needs to involve a prayer that has changed your point of view or led to a greater understanding.
The same goes for a realization or introspection. How has one of these meditations changed your outlook, given you an insight, or allowed you a deeper understanding?
If you are struggling to think of an example, it may be more fruitful to reverse engineer the prompt: what was a pivotal moment of clarity, realization, or understanding?
2. Begin Writing!
You might begin with the prayer itself, or even before the introspection; regardless, your essay should have a clear progression from a specific example of a prayer, reflection, or introspection to a moment of clarity or understanding.
Each year at University Convocation, the incoming class engages in reflective dialogue around a common text. What book would you recommend for your class to read and explore together – and why? (400 words)
If you are an avid reader, this is the essay for you! Even if you are not, there may be a work of literature so meaningful that you want to write a supplement about it.
A great way to start brainstorming for this prompt is to consider all the texts that speak to you and evaluate their effect on your life. You should try to choose a book that has sparked a change in you or given you some insight. This part of the process shouldn’t be too effortful; if you’re choosing this prompt, there should be a text that stands out to you as having a special place in your life. While the key topic of this prompt is a text that could potentially inspire reflective campus-wide dialogue, you should also make sure the work of art can be framed in terms of a personal insight or inspiration you gained by reading it.
In terms of selection, try to choose a text that is “off the beaten path.” Texts that have already dominated a lot of international or national airtime (classic books, Harry Potter, etc.) will make your essay less memorable, merely because there are already discourses on campus about this work. That is not to say that you can’t write an essay about a classic text; however, if you choose to select a classic, make sure that you are infusing your essay with a new, revolutionary insight.
You may choose to discuss a newer work of fiction, like Ling Ma’s Severance for its discussions of pandemic, and the way that dystopian fiction has the potential to reveal coincidental truths about future events. Or maybe you choose to write about Andrew Sean Greer’s Less for its ability to treat tragic subjects with tasteful humor and levity–something that you aspire you to bring to a community.
You could choose to write a work of nonfiction, like The Sixth Extinction. It could be a video essay, like John Bresland’s “The Seinfeld Analog,” and its critique about national consciousness and attention span. Or a work of poetry, like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.
Regardless of what text you choose, as you structure your essay, consider how the piece of literature has brought change to your life.
Where did you originally encounter this 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? How might Boston College benefit from discussion about this book? What conversations might it start?
Option 6: (Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) Applicants)
One goal of a Jesuit education is to prepare students to serve the Common Good. Human-Centered Engineering at Boston College integrates technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective to address societal challenges and opportunities. What societal problems are important to you and how will you use your HCE education to solve them? (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.
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 into 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 on the BC website.
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.
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 functional design.
- “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.
Where to Get Your BC Essay Edited for Free
At top schools like BC, your essays are your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar grades and test scores. After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to judge your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt.
You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!