How to Write the Bowdoin College Application Essays 2016-2017
Founded in 1794, Bowdoin College is a top-tier liberal arts college located in Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin consistently ranks in the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the United States and is home to many famous alumni. For example, you have alumni to thank for both your American Lit syllabus (Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow both graduated in 1825) and your methods of procrastinating on American Lit homework (Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings attended from 1979-83).
Bowdoin’s high academic caliber, generous need-blind financial aid program, and stunning New England campus draw thousands of applicants every year. Last year, of the 6,716 students who applied, 1,079 were accepted, resulting in an acceptance rate of 16.1%. Accepted students can choose from 33 majors, 4 additional minors, and joint engineering degree programs with Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology.
Students hoping to be among Bowdoin’s 1,839 enrolled students in the fall must demonstrate the academic skill, extracurricular engagement, and intellectual vitality that characterizes Bowdoin’s student body. Though high grades, test scores, and well-developed extracurriculars are a key aspect of any successful application, one of the best ways to truly set yourself apart from thousands of other applicants is the personal essay. In this blog post, we’ll break down how to craft an effective response to Bowdoin’s essays that will truly impress admissions committees.
Bowdoin College Application Essay Prompts
How did you first learn about Bowdoin? (limit 140 characters)
The first thing that should capture your attention is the 140 character limit to answer this question. Given such tight constraints (no longer than a tweet!), it goes without saying that Bowdoin is not searching for an extremely in-depth response to this question. Simply and straightforwardly stating the method through which you learned about the college will suffice for this question; however, if you wish, you can add some embellishment. If you can express strong interest, leave a humorous response that will make adcoms laugh, or communicate why it is the perfect school for you within the constraints of 140 characters, we encourage you to do so!
For instance, if you learned about Bowdoin College at a college fair your sophomore year and you’ve been enraptured ever since, consider responding along these lines: “I learned about Bowdoin at a college fair as a sophomore. Since then, my research has only strengthened my conviction that I belong here.”
Though character restrictions prevent you from detailing why you belong at the college (thankfully, you have the other component of the writing supplement to do that), a response like this is effective because it communicates to adcoms that you’re both committed enough to have conducted extensive research, and passionate about the campus culture. While your response to this question likely won’t have a significant impact on your application, it never hurts to demonstrate your interest in and passion for a school.
In an effort to understand your interests and aspirations for college, we ask you to select one of the three topics below and provide a response of up to 250 words.
Bowdoin students and alumni often cite world-class faculty and opportunities for intellectual engagement, the College’s commitment to the Common Good, and the special quality of life on the coast of Maine as important aspects of the Bowdoin experience.
Reflecting on your own interests and experiences, please select and respond to one of the following topics:
The Common Good
Connection to Place
This prompt is challenging because unlike most, it doesn’t ask any specific questions — the only explicit guidance you’re given is to reflect on your own interests and experiences and respond (in 250 words). But how do you respond? Thankfully, Bowdoin gives us some clues throughout this prompt about what they’d like to see in an essay for this prompt.
Understanding the Question
Firstly, you should notice that Bowdoin is asking you to respond to this prompt “in an effort to understand your interests and aspirations for college.” There are two things to consider here: first, that the school wants to learn more about your interests, and second, that they want to understand what you hope to eventually accomplish in college, and how a Bowdoin education will allow you to do so. Thus, in writing your essay, your primary objective should be to clearly describe what you intend to study and why the college is the best place for you to study it.
The fact that these three aspects of the Bowdoin College experience –“Intellectual Engagement,” the “Common Good,” and “Connection to Place” — are highlighted here is also significant. These are clearly three qualities of which the school is extremely proud and of which they hope students will take the fullest advantage. Before writing, you should make an effort to research how each of these factors into the student experience. This will help you later on when determining which of the three factors will be most important to you in achieving your goals at the college.
Selecting Experiences and Aspirations to Write About
Once you understand the role that these topics play in defining student life at Bowdoin, it’s time to choose which aspect of the experience is most significant to you and would best empower you to accomplish your goals. But before selecting a topic, you first have to to decide on the experiences, interests, and aspirations you plan to speak about in your essay.
You may find it helpful to jot down your most educationally formative experiences, and how those have impacted your academic and extracurricular goals.
For example, maybe growing up near the ocean, you are accustomed to observing all sorts of marine life year-round. You’re fascinated by the impact that time and seasons have on the delicate ocean ecosystem, and you’ve decided to study biology in college to better understand the science of life on earth.
Or perhaps you read a Vonnegut novel in English class your junior year, and it had such a potent effect on you that you’ve decided to major in English in order to create stories that also have the ability to change people’s lives. Whatever the experience, no matter how mundane or silly, write it down; even seemingly dull or unintellectual experiences can make for great essay topics.
Once you’ve reflected upon your most formative experiences, you should also put some thought into what your aspirations are and how you plan to use your college education to achieve them. Specificity is key; you will have trouble describing exactly how a Bowdoin education will enable you to achieve your goals if you don’t have a clear idea of what your goals are.
Students who are currently undecided on their career path can choose to speak on an area that is of particular interest to them, even if they’re unsure whether they want to enter into that field in college. Alternately, they can speak on their aspirations for college that aren’t academic in nature, or could apply to various academic fields: for example, a desire to develop strong writing or research skills.
Making Sure You’re Unique
When brainstorming for your essay, it is of the utmost importance to discuss experiences that are highly unique to you. Since this prompt asks you to frame your interests and aspirations in the context of a Bowdoin education, it is in some ways similar to a “Why X school?” essay — the major difference is that you’re only at liberty to discuss one of three aspects.
Since there is no way to be unique in your discussion of what about the college appeals to you, you must strive to differentiate yourself when discussing why that aspect of Bowdoin appeals to you. As such, try to describe experiences and aspirations that will leave a lasting impression on adcoms.
Very specific, detail-rich descriptions of experiences and passionate explanations of your aspirations are the best way to do this. If adcoms can understand exactly what shaped the development of your goals, and you can make a clear connection between these goals and the school, you will have put forth a more compelling case for your admission than a student who speaks only in very general terms about her aspiration and how it relates to Bowdoin College.
Tie Your Experiences into a Topic
When you’ve finished brainstorming experiences, the goal is to be able to tie these experiences into one of the topics. If you find that some of what you brainstormed previously is difficult to tie into an essay topic, you can cross that off your list. Ideally, the experiences and aspirations you speak about should clearly relate to one of the topics.
For example, if you consider yourself an intellectually curious person who seeks to learn for learning’s own sake, the intellectual engagement Bowdoin offers its students may appeal to you. If you want to change the world with your college education, you are probably especially interested in college’s investment in the common good. If you find your life has always been defined by your environment and that you could find unique solace and sense of belonging on the coastal Maine campus, it is most likely your connection to the place that will shape your experience.
Once you’ve selected the experiences, aspirations, and aspect of the Bowdoin experience that you’ll write about, the only thing left to do is write! With such a limited word count, it’s important to ensure that every word you include communicates something significant about yourself to the school.
A great way to start your essay is by telling an anecdote that sheds light on your interest or skill in your desired field, though you can also begin with an unexpected statement that grabs the reader’s attention, a thought-provoking rhetorical question, or any number of clever hooks.
If you find it difficult to work in a hook without taking up too many precious words, feel free to jump right into the body of your essay. As you write, consider using rhetorical devices and interesting word choice to lend your writing a unique voice that will stick in readers’ minds.
With the advice above, you should be well on your way to writing a Bowdoin College essay that will set you apart. Good luck!