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How to Write the Bowdoin College Essays 2022-2023

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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. 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 at Bowdoin, here’s how to write a standout supplemental essay. Want to know your chances at Bowdoin? Calculate your chances for free right now.


Bowdoin College Supplemental Essays


Prompt 1

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. It’s another chance for you to demonstrate your interest in Bowdoin and tell your story.


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 count Nature a familiar acquaintance”


I went camping for the first time when I was two. My mom says that I waddled around the campsite, eagerly gathering small twigs for the fire. I was mesmerized by the moon and stars when the night fell. And when it came time to leave, I refused, sitting on the ground until my older sister picked me up and hauled me back to the car. 


I went backpacking for the first time when I was twelve, in Mount Rainier National Park. It was the first time I’d seen a glacier, and I was in awe at the way the golden sunset reflected off the snow, with the pink-blue gradient sky as its backdrop.  


I went back to hike the same trail this summer, and I was heartbroken to notice how much the snow had receded in only five years due to the climate crisis. This only furthered my resolve to major in Environmental Studies to become an environmental policy analyst so I can help protect our natural world.


I’m now seventeen, and I hope to attend a college like Bowdoin where sustainability is a core value, from the institution’s carbon neutrality to regular events like Eco Service Day. In my spare time, you’ll find me with the Outing Club doing what I know best: taking in the views out on the trails. 


Analysis of sample response:


This response provides clear background on the student’s connection to nature and how it’s a familiar acquaintance to them (as mentioned in the line of “The Offer”). The essay is not only engaging through its imagery and storytelling, but it also demonstrates authentic interest in Bowdoin and compatibility with its ideals. 


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.


Prompt 2: Navigating Through Differences


Bowdoin believes that only through building a more diverse and inclusive campus community will the College best prepare graduates to be contributing and useful citizens of the world.


Every graduate of this institution should be confident in their preparation to be able to navigate through differences and in all sorts of situations.


A Bowdoin education does not guarantee these skills, but it does impart a set of tools necessary to bravely enter unfamiliar conditions with the confidence to deal effectively with ambiguity.


If you wish, you may use this space to share anything about your personal background not otherwise captured in your application or your experience navigating through difference. (650 words, optional)

This optional prompt is a combination of the Additional Information Essay and the Diversity Essay (with a twist). Typically, the Additional Information Essay is truly optional and should only be completed if you have something important to include. However, since this prompt also combines it with the Diversity Essay archetype, we strongly encourage you to respond to this prompt to round out your application and demonstrate your interest in Bowdoin. 


This prompt is pretty straightforward if you have unusual circumstances or a significant experience you weren’t able to address on your application. Some potential topics include:


  • Family responsibilities that prevented you from taking on traditional extracurriculars
  • Adapting to a new culture
  • Moving or changing schools
  • Illness
  • Financial hardships
  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Unique extracurricular that can’t be fully explained in the Activities section


For the more serious topics, you don’t need to use a narrative format; you can simply explain what happened and how it impacted you. You also don’t need to use the full word count (in fact, regardless of your topic, we recommend sticking to around 200-300 words, similar to the previous prompt). 


If you don’t have any special circumstances you want to mention, then you should write your essay about navigating differences. Bowdoin wants to admit open-minded students who can meaningfully engage with a diverse campus. From this prompt, they’re looking for your ability to work with people who have different perspectives from yours.


Here are some topic examples:


  • You’re president of the dance team and appointed a committee to design new uniforms. The committee came up with a design that the team loved, but it cost $150 per person. A few members of the team were adamantly opposed to the design and called it ugly, which frustrated the committee. Since the argument was getting heated, you asked to speak to two sides separately. Those opposed to the new design revealed that they couldn’t afford the new uniforms and were too embarrassed to say so. You reassured them that it was nothing to be embarrassed about and suggested to the team that you hold a fundraiser so the new uniforms would be covered for all members.


  • The South Asian Student Association wanted to host a lighthearted watch party for a popular matchmaking show. As a member, this made you uncomfortable due to the show’s blatant colorism and casteism, which you’ve experienced personally. Several others agreed with you, but some disagreed with you because they felt it was simply showing what society looks like today. As a compromise, you suggested that the association go ahead with the watch party but also hold a discussion around the criticisms of the show and what members can do to fight these issues. The majority agreed with this, and the attendees of the event found the discussion really meaningful.


One topic to avoid is where you did not accept or understand a certain group of people in the past, but then you became open-minded. While it’s great that you became more open-minded, you should remember that Bowdoin is a very liberal school, so it may not paint you in the best light if you admit to originally being opposed to certain demographics. 


For this prompt, the goal is to show how you and others were able to work together despite differences in beliefs, backgrounds, ideas, etc. This essay can take on more of a narrative format and can open with an anecdote. Be sure to explain your actions clearly and the results of those actions. If you do that, you’re well on your way to convincing Bowdoin that you’ll enhance their campus community!


Where to Get Your Bowdoin Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Bowdoin 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!

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