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How to Write the Bowdoin College Essay 2019-2020

Tucked away in the beautiful coastal suburb of Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts college with a superb academic and cultural history. Since its founding in 1802, the college has focused on its mission of preparing students to serve the common good.


As a top-ranked liberal arts college with only 1,800 undergraduates, Bowdoin is a highly selective school, admitting only 8.9% of applicants in the 2018-2019 cycle. Students at Bowdoin can rely on small class sizes, close relationships with faculty, and frequent contact with Maine’s natural beauty.


If you want to snag a spot in at Bowdoin, here’s how to write a standout supplemental essay. Want to know your chances atBowdoin? Calculate your chances for free right now.

How to Write the Bowdoin College Supplemental Essays

Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin’s “The Offer of the College,” written in 1906 by Bowdoin President William DeWitt Hyde.

“To be at home in all lands and all ages;

to count Nature a familiar acquaintance,

and Art an intimate friend;

to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work

and the criticism of your own;

to carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,

and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;

to make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life;

to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends”

– William DeWitt Hyde, 7th President of Bowdoin College, 1906

Required: Which line from “The Offer” resonates most with you? (multiple-choice selection)


Optional: “The Offer” represents Bowdoin’s values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you (250 words)

Note: While the explanation prompt is technically optional, CollegeVine highly recommends that you answer this prompt.


Some DOs and DON’Ts


Let’s start with some overall tips for this essay:


DON’T discuss multiple lines.


250 words does not give you a lot of room to write. Basically, you will have the chance to write one brief anecdote and one or two reflections you have had in the wake of that experience.


As it is unlikely that you’ll have space to write about more than one line from “The Offer,” it’s best to play this one safe and choose only one line to discuss.


DO talk about your past experiences.


By now, you probably have a handful of anecdotes you like to share in college essays. Even though this prompt does not ask you to address your past accomplishments or experiences, it is totally fair game to include those in your response. In fact, reflecting on key moments from your past is a great way to help admissions officers get to know you better.


DO say how attending Bowdoin will help you achieve your goal.


“The Offer of College” piece as a whole suggests that all these great things are the result of a Bowdoin education. So, be sure to connect your favorite line with an experience or change you hope to have during your time at Bowdoin. You should research specific resources at Bowdoin, such as the Outing Club, which would relate to the line “to count Nature a familiar acquaintance.” 


With these basic DOs and DON’Ts in mind, here is an example of a strong response to the Bowdoin supplemental essay required prompt.


Response for “To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever you undertake”


My car key slipped neatly into my palm the summer I turned sixteen, and I will never forget the dizzying pleasure that came from feeling its weight. Looping it onto my all-but-empty key chain, the key represented freedom—to go any distance anytime, as long as I remembered to fill the tank. Driving also represented new levels of responsibility. If used irresponsibly, it had the power to take someone’s life.


Books are not dissimilar to car keys. Reading Hyde’s “The Offer of College” reminded me of that sterling moment when I first felt how much of the world could be mine. In the halls of Bowdoin College Library, amidst the dusty volumes, hides the liberating power of knowledge. It took a man like Chamberlain to win the Battle of Gettysburg; at Bowdoin, I can learn from his autobiography. It took a man like Archimedes to defend the walls of Syracuse; at Bowdoin, I can read his work in an original printed copy. It takes a Bowdoin graduate to advance modern medicine; at Bowdoin, tucked away in a library carrel, I will learn how.


And then, too soon, I will leave for medical school with the words I carry in my mind. Bowdoin College Library will never leave my key chain. Rather, I will add to it—my white coat, a hospital ID card, my voter registration. I will spend my life collecting keys, striving to use them for the good of those I serve.


Analysis of sample response:


This response works well as it creates imagery around the word “keys,” linking it to her key chain, a personal experience, and her future goals. This writer also discusses some of the rare book resources she might use in Bowdoin’s library, showing that she has a real passion for knowledge and that she’s done her research on the school.


With this example in mind, here are some ideas for each line of “The Offer”:



Option A: To be at home in all lands and all ages


This option is a great choice for students who have traveled abroad, studied history, or want to prioritize exploration in the future.


Make sure your essay engages with the contradiction that the prompt implies. It’s hard to feel at home in an environment where you did not grow up! 


Consider what has helped you to feel at home in these situations. How would attending Bowdoin expand your comfort zone to include more lands and ages? Maybe you want to study abroad, or join one of the many groups part of Bowdoin’s Multicultural Coalition.


Option B: To count Nature a familiar acquaintance


Whether you engage with nature as a preservationist, farmer, artist, or outdoorsman, this is a great prompt for someone who already spends time connecting with nature.


On the East Coast, Maine is known for its rugged terrain and rural beauty. Bowdoin takes pride in the nature that surrounds it. That means this prompt gives you the opportunity to connect with the college over your shared love of the outdoors.


If you have not spent a lot of time engaging with nature already, consider choosing another option. If you have been in the wild a lot, spend your essay writing about your experiences in nature and why they’re special to you.


Option C:…and Art an intimate friend


Don’t worry—you do not have to be an accomplished artist to choose this line. If you are an artist, it’s a great pick, but you can also be a film connoisseur, museum goer, or someone with a strong connection to a particular work of art.


For this essay, consider focusing on why it matters to know art intimately, not just to like it. Describe a time when you have connected deeply with a work of art—any medium is fair game, including music. What made your experience of that art special?


Another good point to address is how Bowdoin can prepare you to have greater intimacy with art over time, whether through courses or clubs.


If you are not going into an arts career, why have you chosen to prioritize art anyway? What about art prepares you for the rest of your life?


There’s no need to address all these points, but these ideas give you a place to start.


Option D: To gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own


The working world is full of criticism, both constructive and harmful. Choosing this line reflects a certain wisdom. Tasks need to be done well, and feedback can have a huge impact on the final product, for better or worse.


Not many students can write to this prompt well, so if you think you can, our advice is an enthusiastic, “Go for it!”


If gaining standards for the work of others matters to you, spell out why you think it’s important to hold others accountable for high quality results.


When have you been criticized? How did that go? What did you learn? If criticism has shaped your life story so far, share that story and maybe some of your opinions on how to give good feedback. 


Option E: To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever you undertake


Another way to phrase this line is as follows: How have academic resources empowered you to accomplish your dreams? What would you do if you had Bowdoin’s access to information?


Use this essay to unpack why access to so much information gets you excited about the future.


You may also choose to put a different spin on it. Some students may use this prompt to talk about the internet and why college is still necessary even now that the world wide web is on so many smartphones. Other students might use this essay as a chance to discuss their professional plans and how the college’s resources will prepare them for a lifelong fulfilling career.


Option F: To make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life


There are two main ideas in this line. The first is the concept of friendship. The second is the idea that knowing other leaders is valuable even when their area of influence differs from your own. Feel free to focus on either of these ideas individually or to write an essay about both.


For friendship, let the admissions officers know what friendship means to you. Are you someone who has lots of friends or only a few? How do you choose your friends? Who do you hope to encounter at college?


For leadership, talk about what makes a good leader. What can leaders learn from each other? What are the advantages of talking to leaders from other fields? How will going to Bowdoin connect you with the leaders of tomorrow?


These are some big, theoretical questions, so it’s best to ground your essay in one or two specific experiences you have had. Consider talking about friends and leaders you have known. How did those relationships change your own character?


Warning: Even in an essay about other people, you still want to cast yourself as the main character. Be sure to highlight your own experiences with friendship and leadership.


Option G: To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends


The phrase, “generous enthusiasms,” is practically overflowing with energy. If you’re the kind of person whose energy and commitment doesn’t quit, this line is likely a great fit for you.


Recall a time when you directed your energy towards serving others. It helps if the initiative required teamwork to be successful. In what ways was that a challenging or rewarding experience? Why do you want to develop an enthusiastic commitment to service moving forward?


When it comes to choosing a line from “The Offer,” there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, spend a few moments asking yourself which line hits closest to home, then use this essay breakdown to flesh out your response.


For more ideas, check out last year’s post


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