How to Write the Boston College Supplemental Essays 2017-2018
Boston College (nicknamed BC) is a private Jesuit Catholic research university located about six miles out of Downtown Boston, in the quaint Chestnut Hill neighborhood. The campus is adorned with beautiful Gothic architecture and features around 9000 undergraduate students, falling in the middle between small liberal arts colleges and large public universities.
Boston College is currently ranked 31st in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report university rankings, and admission is quite competitive, with a current acceptance rate of 29%. Famous Boston College alumni include actress Amy Poehler, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and Heisman award-winning quarterback Doug Flutie. Additionally, sports are a strong pride of point for the university: The men’s ice hockey team has won five national championships in NCAA Division 1.
Boston College requires you to respond to just one of the many essay prompts, all of which are quite thought-provoking. The prompts may seem daunting at first, but we here at CollegeVine are here to help you tackle these essays to the best of your ability.
Boston College Application Essay Prompts
Before looking at any prompts, keep in mind that besides the Common Application essay, this is your only other major opportunity to expound on where you shine as an applicant.
Choose your essay carefully (400 words max), and think about which prompt will allow you to best address critical parts of your identity that have not been talked about in depth in the rest of your application.
Human beings have a creative side that tends to shine most when we are truly invested in the world around us. Describe a situation when you responded effectively to a particular need and found yourself at your creative best.
This prompt takes two common essay prompt topics — service and creativity — and squashes them together, allowing for a much more nuanced, thoughtful essay.
Since this prompt has two components to it, you can choose which of the two you’d like to write from. If you focus on the “invested in the world” theme first, start by writing about a time where you noticed a societal need, and then describe how you engaged with that problem innovatively. On the other hand, if the “creative best” part speaks to you more, you should brainstorm your creative tendencies and passions first, and then note how you used those to tackle a problem you were passionate about.
Another way to address this prompt is to write about how you integrated disparate parts of your identity to better address a societal need. Is it physics and music? Basketball and education? Poetry and the environment? This is the perfect prompt to describe your multifaceted identity.
Here are some examples:
- You have a passion for computer science, as well as a passion for helping those with mental disabilities. You are able to land an internship with a local startup that focuses on building educational resources for those with disabilities, so you join their software team, excited to tackle your two greatest interests. However, you quickly learn that the job is incredibly challenging; not only are you the youngest person on your team, but you are also inexperienced in gauging how those with disabilities actually learn. You are overwhelmed when starting your job but eventually learn enough on the job to assist in creating an optimal geometry course module.
- You love listening to hip-hop music, as well as helping younger students in their language arts skills. You notice that the elementary and middle school students you work with have zero interest in expanding their vocabulary through traditional methods, but are all in love with hip-hop music. To get the kids interested in vocabulary, you subsequently create an online platform that allows students to increase their vocabulary skills through listening to hip-hop, pinpointing certain lines that have vocabulary words that these students learn.
Experience teaches us the importance of being reflective when making major decisions. Share an example from a recent event when a leader or an average person faced a difficult choice. What were the consequences of the decision? Would you have done the same?
This essay prompt gives you the rare opportunity to project beyond yourself to someone whom you admire (of course, you will eventually bring the essay back to yourself). Do you have a specific politician, celebrity, family member, or neighbor you admire who had to go through some tough difficulties? If so, detail their experiences.
It is key to remember that the person you choose to write about will directly reflect back onto who you are. For example, if you choose to write about Elon Musk, chances are the admissions officer will assume that you are someone who cares about big ideas and innovation; writing about Lebron James, however, will say something completely different about you.
Another way to approach this prompt is through looking for an event or decision first. Think big, like the Cuban Missile Crisis (the word “recent event” is purposefully very vague), or relatively small, like a family decision to move to a new city. Think of decisions that someone like you could’ve made, but don’t feel limited by your own age, gender, or race.
After describing the person and event in your essay, talk about the consequences of said decision, being concise as to not detract too much from talking about yourself.
The final part is personal reflection: Does the decision reflect your own character, and why or why not? Feel free to brag a little about talents and skills that you have, whether they be grit, leadership, ambition, humility, compassion, or others. If possible, talk about a similar tough choice you’ve had to make in your own life, and explain why you would or wouldn’t repeat that decision. Place yourself in a position of empathy with the person you are talking about, and make sure to understand his or her rationale before explaining yours.
You want to have enough background information in your essay, making sure that the admissions officer reading it has a firm contextual grasp of the situation.
Here are some examples of recent difficult decisions made by both famous and “ordinary” people:
- John McCain flew from Arizona to Washington D.C. right after having brain surgery, going against his party by voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act. The vote and discussions stretched on for hours, and finally, at one in the morning, he dealt the final blow to seven years of Republican efforts. If accessible healthcare is something you are passionate about, you could talk about how you would do the same, having seen with your own eyes families becoming homeless because they could not afford medical payments. You could then tie this into your own future goal to work on public health issues in the federal government.
- When asked during an interview with ABC’s “This Week” about his most difficult decision during his time in office, former President Barack Obama cited the deployment of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, after promising to de-escalate the war in the Middle East and pull American troops out. You acknowledge that Obama was stuck in an incredibly difficult situation, but if you were president, you would’ve pushed relentlessly to bring American troops back home.
- 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh was struck with blood clotting issues just as he was about to take control of an emerging Miami Heat team. Bosh desperately wanted to return to the basketball court to live out his greatest passions, but the medical staff urged him to not play. Eventually, the NBA ruled that his blood clots were career ending, so Bosh retired, knowing he could die from a blood clot incident. Now, Bosh enjoys valuable time with his family and pursues hobbies like computer programming, but will never play professional basketball again. You yourself are a varsity basketball player, and could not imagine a world in which you are unable to play basketball. Even so, if you were in Chris Bosh’s shoes, you know you would have to do the same — your family, religion, and goals to work in politics are more than enough reason to give up basketball to continue living.
- Someone you know is thinking of changing his last name to his mom’s maiden name, due to having an abusive and absent father and wholly siding with his mother in family matters. However, he knows that he will be financially cut off from his family if he does so, as his father is the primary breadwinner. Growing up in an abusive family yourself, you know that you would do the same since being financially independent and secure is one of your main motivations in life.
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?
Here, Boston College is again forcing you to think critically and introspectively at the same time: What are some of the great questions and problems that the world faces today, and what are the specific problems and questions you want to tackle? Don’t feel forced to dig up the greatest problem or the most looming question in this entire world, but rather find an issue, albeit a relatively major issue, and talk about why and how you want to tackle it. This could be the problem of racism, income inequality, climate change, super bacterias, or artificial intelligence, as long as you have some kind of investment into the issue area.
Because you are creating a college course in this essay, talk some more about what specific sub-areas of the problem you would talk about through the semester. It would be a positive if you’ve had some experience dealing with the issue, but don’t be afraid to tackle an issue you haven’t tangibly explored before, as long as you explain why you have chosen the topic you did and why you are invested in it. If you need inspiration, check out online course catalogs for not only Boston College, but all other colleges, many of which are easily accessible.
Here are some examples:
- Maybe your two passions lie in English and computer science. With English, you want to tackle how literature can answer some of the world’s most existential questions, and with computer science, you specifically want to talk about artificial intelligence as part of humanity’s future. Thus, you create a class called Literature and Artificial Intelligence: How Narratives can Inform us of a Looming Future. Maybe you talk about how growing up, your favorite books were R.U.R. and 2001: A Space Odyssey and how you always found yourself writing up science-fiction stories. In the computer science realm, you can talk about how you have always been coding and doing your independent side projects, but you want to navigate the computer science world in a much more humanistic way. You want to integrate these two fields to think about artificial intelligence outside of traditional methods, veering into imaginative narratives by authors from decades ago.
- Maybe you believe that housing discrimination is one of the great problems America faces, especially in regards to creating disparate chasms in racial wealth. Growing up in an urban area, say New York City, you saw your neighborhoods essentially segregated, in which certain people could buy houses in your area and certain people couldn’t, but wasn’t actually conscious of the phenomenon and its consequences until recently. In high school, you worked with a local non-profit that advocated for fair housing. Thus, you want to address the problem from an academic lens: the history of housing discrimination, how it takes place in current government policy, and the best ways to subvert it. Thus, you name your class Housing Discrimination in New York.
Here are some additional quick takes on college course titles, which would have to be explored much more deeply in an actual essay:
- The Impacts of Diversity in Education and the Workforce
- Are China and the United States Headed for an Inevitable Clash? A Contextual Analysis
- Alternate Realities? The Workings of Quantum Entanglement
- Computer Environmental Science: Coding to Fight Climate Change
- Is Sasquatch Real? An Sociological Investigation into Urban Legends
Jesuit education stresses the importance of the liberal arts and sciences, character formation, commitment to the common good, and living a meaningful life. How do you think your personal goals and academic interests will help you grow both intellectually and personally during college?
In this prompt, admissions officers are looking to both demystify what a Jesuit education is as well as allow you to advocate on behalf of your own values, fitting your personal and academic goals into these Jesuit tenants. “Personal goals and academic interests” are relatively easy topics to approach (just talk about yourself), but fitting that into the Jesuit ideals will be the challenge. The objective of this essay is to move your goals and interests forward into the years you will spend in, possibly, a Jesuit college like BC.
The prompt lists four different subsections, so feel free to touch on one of them or all of them. However, just be wary that if you choose to tackle a multitude of these ideas, your substance and depth may take a sharp hit.
With “the importance of the liberal arts and sciences,” admissions officers want to see a passion for the wide gamut of learning as not just a career preparatory tool, but a rigorous process to tackle the great problems our world faces. If you want to be a chemist and study chemistry, but also want to fully take advantage of a liberal arts curriculum and a more humanistic approach to chemistry, talk about how you are also passionate about classes like Roman Religion and Introduction to African Diaspora Studies, both of which BC offers.
With “character formation,” you could talk about a test of character that you’ve faced or a difficult circumstance you’ve had to overcome. Talk about how that trial influenced your personal goals and academic interests, and how it will continue to do so in college. Maybe you want to major in biology at Boston College because of a close family member that passed away from cancer — you want to fight for not only people like her, but also low income patients in rural areas who may not have access to a state-of-the-art medical facility.
With a “commitment to the common good,” you can easily slide in work that you’ve done to benefit those around you, whether it is through a volunteering organization, a personal project, or an experience away from home. This could then tie into what you want to study and how you want to grow in college to keep pursuing a similar line of work. If you are passionate about education, you could talk about how you want to pursue activities at Boston College like the school’s branch of Project Sunshine, in which you work with kids suffering from medical challenges.
With “living a meaningful life,” think about the values you want to live by. Are they the values espoused by your religion, a personal role model, or your own identity? For example, if you are active in a mosque, talk about how you will join Boston College’s Muslim Student Association to further involve yourself with the Muslim community. Feel free to mention what you want to study and what you want to do after college, as long as you supplement these thoughts with why you want to do them, and what motivated you to do them. Fit these values into the mission of Boston College, and you will be good to go!
The Bottom Line
Boston College is a tough school to get into, period. However, by following these broad guidelines you will be able to better brainstorm your essay and craft a finished piece of writing you are proud of. Answering these prompts is difficult, but ultimately very rewarding, and CollegeVine is committed to helping you along that journey.
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