How to Write the Boston University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019
Found stretched across the scenic Charles River, Boston University (BU) is a private research university found slightly west of Boston’s city center. BU boasts a robust undergraduate body of 16,000 students, but still maintains a strong 10:1 student-faculty ratio.
For the class of 2022, BU accepted only 22% of freshman applicants, and the members of its incoming freshman class, on average, were in the top 7% of their graduating class. In the latest US News university ranking, Boston University ranked #42.
For students matriculating in the fall of 2018 and onward, BU has implemented a new general education curriculum, called the BU Hub. These requirements fall into six different categories: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Historic Inquiry; Scientific and Social Inquiry; Quantitative Reasoning; Diversity, Civic Engagement, and Global Leadership; Intellectual Toolkit; and Communication.
There are also several programs within the larger university that you could apply for: the Accelerated Program in Liberal Arts and Medicine, a seven-year BA/MD program; the Kilachand Honors College, an interdisciplinary liberal arts program; and the Trustees Scholarship, a full ride program.
Overall, as a large, but private university, BU offers a plethora of different avenues for its students to take advantage of. Many of the supplemental essay prompts may seem daunting at first, but we here at CollegeVine will help you tackle them to the best of your ability!
The Boston University Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Please use this space if you have additional information, materials, or writing samples you would like us to consider. (2000 KB PDF file)
Prompt 2: What about being a student at Boston University most excites you? (250 words)
Prompt 3: For Accelerated Program in Liberal Arts and Medicine applicants:
The Accelerated Programs Admission Committee is interested in learning more about you. Please write an essay on why you wish to enter the health professions, including what experiences have led you to this decision and what you hope to gain from your chosen profession. Please make sure your essay is completely distinct from the one you submitted on the Common Application. (750 words)
Prompt 4: For Kilachand Honors College applicants:
Kilachand Honors College offers a challenging liberal arts education grounded in critical and creative thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving. What do you think this approach means? Reflect on what has been missing in your education to date, giving at least one concrete example to support your response. How would Kilachand’s interdisciplinary curriculum fulfill your academic, creative, intellectual, and/or professional goals? (600 words)
Prompt 5: For Trustees Scholarship applicants:
“Please select one of the questions below and respond with an essay explaining your perspective. (600 words)
Option A: The list of works banned throughout history is long and sometimes surprising. Examples include the Bible, King Lear, The Origin of Species, Mein Kampf, Lolita, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Isaac Asimov wrote: “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” Do you agree? Is such censorship ever justified? If so, who or what should determine which books are read and which are forbidden?
Option B: Economists describe a “moral hazard” as individuals’ tendency to take greater risks when they believe that they will not bear the full cost of their actions. Some may be less careful driving, for instance, if they know that their insurance provider will cover potential accidents, while the uninsured will drive with more caution. A recent study similarly suggests a correlation between greater access to Narcan, the drug used to reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses, and a rise in the use of opioids. In your opinion, should the concept of moral hazard affect public policy? If so, what are the relevant factors policymakers should consider in assessing questions of public safety and individual responsibility?
Option C: “The perfect search engine,” Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin has said, “would be like the mind of God.” In your opinion, will science and technology eventually allow us to know all things knowable? Are there limits to what the perfect search engine will reveal, or might it indeed become like the mind of God?
Prompt 6: Please submit a short essay to the following statement: “Something that’s not on the resume.” Give us a glimpse of a passion, dream, or mental pursuit that absorbs and delights you. (300 words)
Because of the sheer volume of applications college admissions officer comb through, you don’t want to burden them with even more writing unless it is absolutely necessary. Be wary of posting long school essays that might be strong in writing quality, but may not be the best for an admissions reader to dig through. Images of art should be sent through the arts portfolio section, not here.
“Additional information” usually means extreme circumstances that you may have not had the opportunity to place anywhere else. Overall, however, if you feel very strongly compelled towards a certain piece of writing that describes you in a way that cannot be described elsewhere, you should by no means limit yourself.
The key to these “Why X School?” prompts is to first lay out the specific aspects of the school that excite you and then supplementing these aspects with how your personal traits and qualities would make an excellent fit. Most importantly, you want to thoroughly research the aspects of BU that excite you and would be a good fit for you.
You should definitely research the wealth of academic programs BU offers for its undergraduates. Here are some possible avenues:
1. You could dote on BU’s extensive undergraduate research opportunities. Maybe you have always been interested in studying mental illness, as it is something you had to reckon with your entire life. You could talk about BU’s Approach Motivation and Participation (AMP) Lab, where you would have ample opportunity to interact with participants dealing with things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
2. If you want to study business and are applying to the Questrom School of Business, you could talk about wanting to join the Questrom Honors Program, where you would be given unique opportunities to attend seminars on niche business topics of your interest, like green technology and intellectual property, and participate in networking events with alumni. Remember to talk about your own experiences in business, whether in DECA or starting your own business, and mention why Questrom would be a perfect continuation of your current desires.
3. If you know you want to study abroad during college, you could mention BU’s comprehensive study abroad program. Say you know you want to study international relations with a focus on Francophone countries—you could then talk about how you would apply for the fall Sciences Po program in France, and build your understanding of American-French relations through taking classes on both sides of the Atlantic.
If you have visited the campus or have attended a summer program at the university, you should definitely note that in the essay. Include sensory details and specific moments, whether it was visiting certain halls you could see yourself learning in, lying down in “BU Beach” and catching the breeze, or simply sitting down in the grassy fields and observing the great diversity on campus.
You could also talk about Boston more broadly as an urban environment you feel like you would thrive in. You could mention Boston, “America’s College Town,” and how its hustle and bustle differs completely from the quiet, suburban neighborhood you grew up in and want to get away from. However, you shouldn’t talk too much about the city, as it detracts from specific aspects of BU itself, and can verge on being generic and applicable to all the other Boston colleges.
You should apply to BU’s extremely selective seven-year BA/MD program if you are certain you want to become a doctor. You also ideally want to have clinical and research experiences you could talk about in this essay. This 750-word prompt certainly asks many different questions, so you should make sure to read through the questions carefully and answer every prompt.
Chances are, if health and becoming a doctor are a big part of your identity, you probably would have at least mentioned it in your Common App. You could always modify your Common App personal statement just for BU, and then revise it for the rest of your colleges if you feel trapped.
First, to answer the “why” part of the program will require a few different parts: why the values of becoming a doctor match your current values, and how you have come to fulfill the prerequisite experiences to become a doctor.
In regards to values, talk about the basic tenets of being a doctor, which include altruism, a commitment to service, a difficult path to the profession, and an excitement for seeing the lives of others improved. Talk about how everything about yourself aligns with these aforementioned values.
You should talk about all of the important experiences you have had that concretized your desire to become a doctor, such as clinical experience (shadowing or scribing), research experience (wet lab or dry lab, authoring a journal article), volunteer experience (working in nursing homes or making gifts for kids in hospitals), etc. You want to make sure that you cite experience in both the patient interaction and the scientific research side of things, maybe one of each.
Because you probably already listed these experiences in the activities section of your Common App, you should refrain from simply listing once again. Use the essay to illustrate specific breakthrough anecdotes that have strengthened your commitment to becoming a doctor.
As a side note, however, you should refrain from talking about the oft-cited cliche of wanting to become a doctor because of an experience seeing a close relative hospitalized. However, if this is an experience critically important to you, you should still mention it, but perhaps not make it the entirety of your essay.
In the last part of your essay, “what you hope to gain from your chosen profession,” talk about why you want to become a doctor over everything else. You could talk about how the unique combination of patient interaction and science research is something you need to thrive as a human, and something you feel like you will get only as a doctor.
In this prompt, you want to reflect on what your ideal college education looks like. The Kilachand Honors College is a rigorous, supplemental program to your already intense BU education, so if you love learning for learning’s sake and want to spend four years cross-pollinating over different disciplines to better comprehend the world, the Honors College may be the right choice for you.
For the first part of the prompt, “what do you think this approach means,” make sure to first research what the program is about because you want to both reiterate and personalize the Kilachand curriculum. You want to familiarize yourself with all the required coursework of the program, and mention in the essay why you would thrive in and enjoy the first year seminars, the keystone projects, and the second and third year classes looking at global issues.
In regards to the second part of the prompt, reflecting on your past education, brainstorm the most counterproductive and uninspiring aspects of your school curriculum thus far. Chances are, your high school curriculum was defined by state and national standards, with AP, IB, and SAT tests that may have felt more like tedious memorization instead of “critical and creative thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving.” You could mention things like a particular moment in math where you felt like what you were learning was so rigid (not what you imagine math to be), or a moment in English where you felt like the AP style essay was no more than a formula where you filled in the blanks (not what you imagine English writing to be).
Talk about how different this experience would be when compared to a Kilachand first-year seminar like “The Ethics of Food,” where you could sit around a table with other passionate first years and mull over the greater issues surrounding global food consumption. Or you could talk about a class like “Biomedical Enhancement and the Future of Human Nature”. Maybe you’re pre-med, and love interacting with others, but want to better understand how technology is changing the fundamental nature of both humans and human interaction.
You could even bring up the community aspect of the program, the third pillar of the honors college, by talking about how you never had a community of people dedicated to learning growing up, and about how you see the Kilachand community (130-150 students per class) as the perfect size to create a mini ecosystem in the greater BU campus. You could talk about how you want a small, liberal arts college-esque intellectual environment without being cloistered away in a faraway rural town.
Lastly, you want to talk about your dreams and passions to answer the last part of the prompt. Make sure to address the “interdisciplinary” nature of these goals, and how you need to incorporate various academic disciplines in order to best carry out your intended career. Maybe this is becoming a chemist, where you want to understand not just chemistry but also the economics of the pharmaceutical industry and the politics of weapon creation. Maybe, this is becoming a visual artist, where you want to understand technology’s morbid impacts on the world, which will help you in your goal of mirroring society through art.
The Trustees Scholarship is BU’s most prestigious merit-based scholarship and provides a full ride to about 20 students. Historically, thousands of students have applied for this scholarship for a handful of spots, so make sure that if this is something you really want, you put serious thought into the essays. These essays diverge from traditional college supplemental essays, and almost veer into the academic, tackling some of society’s greatest moral and ethical questions.
However, 600 words are not nearly enough space to compose a fully formed argumentative essay. The key here is to be concise and to the point. Don’t overindulge in flowery language and long-winded philosophy—stick to answering the question to the best of your ability. If you can have a fresh angle on these societal dilemmas, feel free to give them a try here (as long as they are supported by strong arguments). These essays should reside in a middle ground between personal reflections and academic prose.
Another tip is to proceed with caution. The essay readers may have their own personal views towards these questions, so you may not want to come off incredibly strong on one side or another without strong backing. Moreover, these questions are all designed to provoke multiple lines of thinking, so don’t be dissuaded if you believe your answer isn’t 100% airtight (although it should be as airtight as possible).
Don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect answer to any of these essay questions, as these are questions that are still confounding the smartest people in the world. Just choose the topic you’re the most curious or knowledgeable about, and go from there.
Of the three, this question is probably the most one-sided because of the books that they cite (books that were once banned but are now widely read and distributed), as well as the fact that BU is an institution of higher learning, where freedom of thought and access to learning is paramount. BU’s mission statement even talks about “insistence on the value of diversity.” The mission statement also talks about BU’s commitment to the “liberal arts,” a phrase that has its roots in the Latin liberalis, which means “free.”
However, the answer here is far from straightforward. Although free speech does exist in the United States today through the First Amendment, limits have been placed on speech: the 1969 Supreme Court Case Brandenburg v. Ohio stated that speech is no longer protected under the law once it is proved to incite or produce “imminent lawless action.” You must think carefully about where you stand in this grey line, and if you believe in censorship, how far a book must go into the realm of hate speech and illegal speech to be censored.
If you want to cite evidence backing your claim, make sure they come from sources not too overdone (1984, Fahrenheit 451). There are numerous historical examples of book burning and literature tackling issues around censorship (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Gulag Archipelago), so you can use these examples to enhance your arguments.
The notions of free speech are a linchpin in college campuses today, and so this essay also asks whether or not you’ve thought about these issues. Colleges have often been criticized for being too limited and homogenous in their ideological scope, which is something you also want to think about while writing.
This question is another difficult question to answer, so make sure you either do your research or have a thorough knowledge of political economy before starting off. Although this prompt sounds very specific to the issue, the prompt actually opens up the possibility of discussion quite a bit, down to the very nature of “what is government?”
This prompt will inevitably lead to you talking how much of a role the government should have: should public institutions intervene in influencing individual behavior more or less than it currently does? Should politicians consider more paternalistic behaviors, like, in the case of Narcan, limiting access to Narcan if they believe it will lower opioid overdoses? Or should they be more libertarian, letting the markets and behaviors run their course?
The issue of “public and individual safety” and “individual responsibility” are two politically charged terms that have divided our two major parties for much of their existence. Make sure to tread these lines carefully, and back up your arguments with good examples. The most common use of the term “moral hazard” probably has to do with the 2008-2009 Stock Market Crash, which people in your age group grew up seeing the consequences of. If you choose this example, you would answer the question, “should the government have bailed out the banks as they did?”
This prompt is another thorny, looming question society is seeking to answer.
If you say yes, you could talk about how rapidly search engines and artificial intelligence are improving. You could also talk about the prospect of singularity (when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence) and the possibility for this artificial intelligence to be God. In this case, what do you think society would look like? How would humans live and work in this environment?
If you say no, you might want to take an approach more in line with traditional humanities thought, bringing in philosophical notions of consciousness and the soul, notions that have been contested all throughout history. To have a strong argument, you may even want to bring in the points of an engineer or scientist who has talked about the intellectual limitations in their own field.
A question this prompt does not specifically ask for but implicitly invites, is the “so what?” of this question of technology. You should definitely think of the consequences of such technology on our society, and more generally how rapidly advancing technology is changing what it means to be human. It would be good to end the essay talking about this, painting yourself as someone who cares about how to best live in a human society in the future.
This essay prompt is clear in that it does not want you to talk about your awards, achievements, or academic accomplishments. You could talk about a serious and weighty passion of yours, or you could talk about something more lighthearted. Here you even have the opportunity to introduce a part of yourself you previously considered “unfit” for a proper college application.
Don’t worry too much if this activity sounds unimpressive or “basic” if it is something you are passionate about—college admissions teams here are trying to see the full scope of your humanity, from your academic side to your playful side.
Here are some possible examples:
For example, say that your background is one that is pretty traditionally STEM: you participated in science olympiads, you did science research, you led science honor societies, etc. Here, you have the platform to talk about non-science interests that you have. Maybe you fell in love with pottery after that required art class you had to take freshman year. You never entered any competitions or had success in art fairs, but in your spare time, you love checking into your school’s workshop and sculpting bowls and pots.
If your background is traditionally humanities, you could wax poetic about something completely not humanities, like skateboarding or going to hip-hop concerts or hiking.
Maybe your dream is to become an astronaut, which you had wanted for your entire life but never considered seriously, assuming that nobody actually became an astronaut. However, you’ve spent the past year doing research, and even visited NASA facilities, and your fascination with space travel has always grown. You want to study engineering, and eventually become an engineer, but you will hold this dream of becoming an astronaut for the foreseeable future.
Don’t feel limited in this essay, and have fun with it (within reason, of course). Show the admission team a person who they would love to hang around just because.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing, as well as the rest of your process!
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