How to Write the Boston College Essays 2023-2024
Boston College only requires applicants to write one essay, but you may choose from four different prompt options. If you are applying to BC’s Human-Centered Engineering major though, you won’t have the luxury of choosing a prompt and will be required to answer a HCE specific question.
With BC receiving thousands of qualified applicants each year, all with strong test scores and extracurriculars, you will need your essay to stand out and tell a compelling story about yourself in order to impress admissions officers. No matter which prompt you choose, we’ll explain how you can write a great essay to get into Boston College.
Read these Boston College essay examples to inspire your writing.
Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompts
We would like to get a better sense of you. Please respond to one of the following prompts (400 word limit). Applicants to the Human-Centered Engineering major will select the fifth prompt.
Option 1 (all applicants): Each year at University Convocation, our incoming class engages in reflective dialogue with the author of a common text. What book by a living author would you recommend for your incoming class to read and why would this be an important shared text?
Option 2 (all applicants): At Boston College, we draw upon the Jesuit tradition of finding worthwhile conversation partners. Some support our viewpoints while others challenge them. Who fulfills this role in your life? Please cite a specific conversation you had where this conversation partner challenged your perspective or you challenged theirs.
Option 3 (all applicants): In her November 2019 Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi warned viewers against assigning people a “single story” through assumptions about their nationality, appearance, or background. Discuss a time when someone defined you by a single story. What challenges did this present and how did you overcome them?
Option 4 (all applicants): Boston College’s founding in 1863 was in response to society’s call. That call came from an immigrant community in Boston seeking a Jesuit education to foster social mobility. Still today, the University empowers its students to use their education to address society’s greatest needs. Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you and how might you use your Boston College education to address it?
Option 5 (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?
Each year at University Convocation, our incoming class engages in reflective dialogue with the author of a common text. What book by a living author would you recommend for your incoming class to read and why would this be an important shared text? (400 words)
Readers, this one’s for you! This prompt wants to know about the material you consume outside of class to learn more about the topics you find interesting and relevant. The key to making this essay successful is picking the right book, so here are a few things to consider when choosing your selection:
- Who’s the author: It says it right in the prompt: “book by a living author”. As much as you might find one of Dickens’ novels fundamental to the human experience or Nelson Mandela’s autobiography to be a critical lesson on empathy, you can’t choose authors who are no longer alive.
- How familiar you are with the book: Pick a book you’ve either read recently or that was so impactful you can recall the plot and the deeper meaning of it. You’ll need to be confident about what you are writing, so it’s far better to pick a book that seems less “impressive” or “academic” on the surface that you know and love than a book you picked up last week for the purpose of writing this essay.
- Don’t be basic: There are many impactful books by talented authors in the cultural zeitgeist that will be popular choices for many students. You don’t want your essay to be the tenth one on The Handmaid’s Tale that admissions officers read that day. Try and pick something you wouldn’t be assigned in English class or that you wouldn’t find on New York Times bestseller lists.
- Make it align to you: The most important task when choosing a book is to make sure it relates to you in a way that you can highlight your interests or characteristics in the essay. Although the prompt might seem like it’s about a book, in reality, this essay is still about you. If you love politics, you might choose a politician’s autobiography or a book examining the state of democracy. A student interested in psychology could choose a dystopian novel and explore the psychological mechanisms at play in the society.
- Does it have a broad appeal?: Yes, your choice should relate to you, but it will also theoretically be read by the entire class, so it needs to have a broader appeal. Does your book highlight societal issues or have inspiring characters that everyone could learn a lesson from? Make sure you are able to demonstrate why this is a book everyone should read, not just people interested in the topic.
- Be judicious: Don’t pick the first book that comes to mind. Take your time in figuring out a list of 10 or so books you think could be good choices and then narrow it down from there. For each book, ask yourself questions like, “What is the core theme of this book?”, “How is society reflected in the ideas of this book?”, “How does this topic relate to me?”, and “Why do I find this author influential?”. Not only will this help you figure out which book speaks to you the most, it will also provide you with a solid basis to start planning out your essay once you choose a book.
Once you’ve picked a book, it’s time to start writing. There are two main points you need to cover in your essay: why this book is meaningful to you and why it would be meaningful for your peers. Your essay needs to be centered around answering these two questions and convincing admissions officers, who might have never even heard of your book, that it has an impactful message.
A natural way to approach your essay would be to open with a hook—maybe a quote from the book, an image of you snuggled up in your reading nook enjoying it for the first time, or a description of the frayed and browning edges and faded cover with a cracked spine from rereading it over and over—then discuss why this book is important to you, and finish with why other people should read it.
Of course, you can change up the structure (creative formats are always welcome when it comes to college essays), but we will go into more detail based on the more traditional approach.
Why Is It Meaningful to You?
As we said above when picking a book, you need to have a personal connection to your novel of choice. Whether you see aspects of your personality in the main character, the subject matter influenced your independent research project, or the author’s depiction of the challenges they have overcome have inspired you to face adversity, you need to show admissions officers why this book is important to you.
Let’s look at an example of how a student might demonstrate their connection to a book:
“I can’t shoot an arrow. I’m terrible at braiding my hair. I’ll be the first to admit I’d last maybe two hours tops in the Hunger Games, and yet, I am Katniss Everdeen. In a world full of injustice, corruption, violence, and abandoned hope for the future, someone has to take a stand. We might not be fighting for our lives in an arena, but we were fighting for our lives on the streets of Washington, demanding reproductive freedom. I wrote letters to members of Congress, and nothing happened. I posted on social media over and over again, and nothing happened. I cried myself to sleep, terrified of my future resting in the hands of male politicians, and nothing happened. So I spread my wings, took to the streets, and decided to make something happen. Standing side by side with the girls from my Human Rights club, my throat satisfyingly sore from the hours of chanting, I became the Mockingjay.”
Notice how the focus in this paragraph is on the student and her experience related to the book, rather than on The Hunger Games on its own. If you choose this essay, it’s crucial to remember it still has to achieve the goal of any other college essay: showing admissions officers who you are.
You don’t just have to write about how you are related to a character to show the admissions committee your interests and personality. A student interested in cell biology might write about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and how they never thought about the origin of cancer cells when they were conducting research. In this example, the student could explain their research and delve into the ethics behind medical research that reading the book opened their eyes to.
Why Is It Meaningful to Society?
The last step in this essay is to pull back from your experience and connection to the book and explain why it would appeal to your peers. A great way to go about this is to find social commentary or critical lessons within the book that would resonate with people your age.
Maybe a student picked John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down because he admired the way it handles difficult conversations about mental health. Because he’s passionate about mental health, he knows that many teenagers are suffering and could use a healthy depiction of mental health to start conversations and foster community, therefore reading this book would be beneficial.
Another student who suggested Michelle Obama’s Becoming could write about the pressure everyone her age feels as they experience huge life changes and enter a new uncertain time in their life. She might feel that the book’s message that growth is continuous and you shouldn’t be confined by society would resonate with her peers just as much as it did with her.
As long as you are able to connect the ideas in the book to something bigger than yourself, you will be able to demonstrate why it’s important for other people your age to also read it.
At Boston College, we draw upon the Jesuit tradition of finding worthwhile conversation partners. Some support our viewpoints while others challenge them. Who fulfills this role in your life? Please cite a specific conversation you had where this conversation partner challenged your perspective or you challenged theirs. (400 words)
This prompt provides you with an opportunity to try your hand at storytelling. Paint a picture for the reader: who are you talking to, how often do you talk, where are you located, was this a unique conversation or an example of a typical debate between you two? The more your essay reads like a page out of a novel, the better.
You’ll definitely want to include lines of dialogue in this essay, but don’t let the entire thing read like a text message chain. Include supplemental details like you and your partners’ inflections, your body language as you were talking, and what was happening around you. For example, this isn’t revealing much to the admissions committee:
“I got another C.”
“Mom?” A timid voice squeaked out the back of my throat, hoping to go undetected. My mom didn’t even bother to look up from the pile of papers sprawled out in front of her.
She sounds busy—this can wait. I’ll just tell her tomorrow (or never). But something got the better of me and I sheepishly admitted the truth:
“I got another C.”
Beyond just the structure, it’s important to consider whom you will pick as your conversation partner. Remember, the prompt is looking for a particular conversation that challenged someone’s perspective, so don’t pick someone you always agree with. It should be someone you know well enough to recreate their side of the conversation—since you likely won’t remember what both of you said word for word.
The conversation you choose can be as serious as challenging a family member’s prejudiced ways or as lighthearted as convincing your friends why Star Wars is better than Star Trek. For this essay, the topic is not as important as how you present the conversation. But how should you present it?
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.’”
After one of these strong beginnings, move into some dialogue and get to a point of conflict. We don’t mean physical conflict, rather where a disagreement in ideas is revealed that shows competing perspectives:
“‘I don’t know Dad. The Eagles are fine but they’re no Led Zeppelin.’ Uh oh, wrong move. My dad’s head swiveled like an owl eyeing its prey. I braced myself for the onslaught of song titles, Grammy nominations, and band drama headed my way.
‘You’re entitled to an opinion. Just not the wrong one.’ The dangerous glint in his eye should’ve frightened me, but it only egged me on.
‘Seriously?! Stairway to Heaven is the ultimate rock song of the 70s.’
‘Ever heard of something called Hotel California?’ His hands flailed in the air, extenuating his point.”
Notice the effect of realistic dialogue and descriptions? The reader feels like they are standing on that porch watching this argument unfold. You want to draw the reader in with a conversation that feels natural and fitting for the people involved and the topic being discussed.
The admissions committee don’t just want to see conflict, they want to see the way you handle new ideas and approach difficult conversations. This is where you have to demonstrate how either your perspective changed or you changed the other perspective.
“After rounds of back and forth, shouting lyrics and Billboard chart numbers at each other, I came up with a better solution.
‘Ok dad, how about this: We’ll listen to Stairway to Heaven and Hotel California back to back and each pick something good from both songs.’
As the opening guitar chords started, I was transported. Except it wasn’t the intro to Stairway to Heaven I know and loved—it was Hotel California! Soon, my head was bopping along to the drum kicks and I found myself singing at the top of my lungs.
‘Welcome to the Hotel California!’ We sang in unison.”
A nice conclusion to this essay should address you or your partner’s new perspective. Maybe you learned a lesson from how you handled disagreement. Or maybe you are looking forward to your next conversation where you can prove your point once again.
In her November 2019 Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi warned viewers against assigning people a “single story” through assumptions about their nationality, appearance, or background. Discuss a time when someone defined you by a single story. What challenges did this present and how did you overcome them? (400 words)
This prompt option is similar to a “Diversity” prompt, but you aren’t limited to just discussing racial and ethnic diversity. Anyone who has been stereotyped or judged for something outside of their control before could write a compelling essay to answer this question.
Here are a few ideas of possible essays students could write about in response to the prompt:
- A student faced microaggressions because of the color of his skin
- People assumed a student was LGBTQ+ because they were part of the theater club at their school
- A girl who was called a dumb blonde felt discouraged to answer questions in her math class
- A boy’s teachers assumed he would excel because his older brother was at the top of his class
- A student was subjected to harmful stereotypes because of their religion
As you can see, there are many different avenues to take when answering this prompt. The important thing is to describe how you were defined by a single story, show the impact that had on you, and demonstrate how you overcame or fought back against your single story.
The best way to start this essay is with an anecdote. Place the reader in your shoes so we can understand what you went through. The key is to show the reader with vivid imagery:
“‘Adios mama.’ I hung up and slipped my phone back into my bag, only to be greeted by three sneering faces when I looked up again. ‘Hablasss inglesss?’ Their American accents and teasing tone drew out the words so they were barely recognizable to a native Spanish speaker. ‘Tu estás en los Estados Unidos.’ Another boy chimed in over his friends’ snickers.”
Once you’ve established the discrimination you’ve experienced, explain the impact that had on you. Did it mess with your performance in school because you were afraid to be criticized for your accent when you answered a question? Did you feel insecure about your looks and that made you try new hairstyles and outfits until you barely recognized yourself anymore? Did you stop participating in an activity you loved and feel unfulfilled?
It’s really important to go a step beyond the comments and treatments you received from others and explore how you were emotionally and mentally impacted by being siloed into a single story. This is where the depth of your essay will come from and what will distinguish it as either strong or weak.
While this essay does handle challenging topics, it’s not meant to be a depressing recount of discrimination you’ve faced; it’s meant to demonstrate your resilience and ability to overcome a difficult situation. Save at least half of your essay to tell the story of how you fought back and overcame the challenges of being assigned a single story.
Be as detailed as possible when discussing how you overcame your single story. The admissions committee is curious to see your methods (did you ignore and rise above the comments or talk back and deny them) and your thought processes (what was your motivation behind standing up for yourself, was there a final straw that pushed you over the edge, did you turn to others for advice, etc).
Finally, it’s a good idea to include self-reflection in this type of essay. Consider some of these questions to guide your reflection: How is your unique background an asset? How has your personality been shaped by your experiences? Are you still fighting being assigned a single story? How can you prevent this from happening in the future?
By reflecting on your diversity, you will demonstrate your ability to think critically and show the admissions committee the unique perspective you’ll bring to the school.
Boston College’s founding in 1863 was in response to society’s call. That call came from an immigrant community in Boston seeking a Jesuit education to foster social mobility. Still today, the University empowers its students to use their education to address society’s greatest needs. Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you and how might you use your Boston College education to address it? (400 words)
This prompt is a combination of the “Global Issues” and “Why This College?” essay archetypes. You need to both address a societal issue that is important to you and discuss how the tools and resources at BC will help you solve it. But don’t fret—you can get it all done in 400 words.
You’ll likely want to pick this option if you are civically minded, have experience volunteering or participating in political extracurriculars, or if you are interested in pursuing something in the realm of politics. Here are the steps we recommend to help you write this essay.
Pick an Issue
The first place to start when brainstorming for this topic is to pick an issue that is near and dear to you. Ideally, this should be something you either have prior experience with from an extracurricular or volunteer work, or it should be a topic that affects you or your community that you can speak extensively about.
Avoid choosing an issue as broad as climate change or world hunger. Instead, narrow these down into more manageable issues like rising sea levels or food deserts in rural communities. By staying focused on a sub-issue, you can really delve into the causes and solutions for that particular topic—resulting in a more cohesive and engaging essay.
Explain Your Connection to the Issue
This part of the essay is incredibly important; it’s basically the “so what?” for why you care about this topic and others should too. It’s a good idea to include an anecdote to demonstrate how you have experienced this issue in your life.
For example, a student who is writing about high incarceration rates in the U.S.might write about friends and community members who have been incarcerated and how angry that made them feel. Another student might choose to write about the issue of deforestation and how he’s been volunteering to plant trees since he was 12 to try and combat the issue.
Whatever your connection is to the topic, make sure that your response covers the personal impact the issue has on you. In the case of the student writing about incarceration, they should definitely describe how members of their community have been affected, but this is their college essay, so we want to know how they have been affected. How do they feel knowing their community is being ravaged by this issue? What did it feel like to lose a friend to the justice system for a crime they didn’t commit? By highlighting the personal effects, you will make your essay stand out.
How Have You Addressed This Issue Already
Since you are picking a local or global issue that is in some way relevant to your life, chances are you’ve probably already taken some action to try and find solutions. Show the admissions committee that you are a driven individual who’s committed to doing good through your past actions.
Include how you collect old computer parts and repurpose them in your repair business to cut down on technological waste. Explain how you organized donation drives at your school and church to collect essentials for Ukrainian refugees. Demonstrate your commitment to improving female literacy through your work as a volunteer tutor at a local children’s center.
Discuss BC Resources
This is where the “Why This College” part of the essay comes into play, and since BC doesn’t give you another opportunity to explain what specific programs and resources appeal to you, make sure to highlight that in this essay.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing college-specific resources
- Do your research: It only takes a bit of your time to look up the special programs, classes, professors, and clubs offered at a school, but it makes a world of difference in making your essay stand out. Demonstrate your interest to the admissions committee by including details you could only find on a specific webpage or by attending an info session.
- Don’t namedrop: Saying you want to work with X Professor or take these three classes is meaningless if we don’t know why. When you are including the names of school-specific opportunities, back it up with details.
- Connect the resources back to you: How does this professor’s research relate to your interests? How will working in this lab help you get closer to your goals? Make sure that every school opportunity you discuss is tied back to you in some way.
- Less is more: It’s far more effective to find three or four resources at the school that align perfectly with your interests and you can thoroughly explain rather than squeezing five or more in without giving any explanation to their importance.
The resources that you pick should align in some way to the issue you discussed. For instance, if the topic you want ot address is the Black Lives Matter movement, it would be a good idea to say something like, “The Comparative Social Movements class will help me understand the tactics past movements used to succeed, while helping Professor McGuffey with his research on race, gender, and sex will help me better understand the ways intersectionality defines the Black experience.”
Wrapping It Up
For an essay about addressing a societal issue, you’ll want to end on a positive note. Show admissions officers that you are forward-thinking and know exactly how you can solve a pressing issue with the resources BC has to offer.
Option 5: (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
Do you want feedback on your BC essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!