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How to Write the Bowdoin College Supplement Essays 2017-2018


We’ve updated this post for 2018-2019

Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts college located in Brunswick, Maine, situated in a quaint suburban campus. With a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,806 students and an acceptance rate of 14.3%, Bowdoin stands as one of the more selective universities and one of few schools with a “Test Optional” policy. The college ranks at #3 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Liberal Arts Colleges, #22 in the same publication’s Best Undergraduate Teaching list, and #13 in the Best Value Schools list.


Bowdoin is known for its small student body, which still offers 100 student organizations and boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. Although the school is small, it still enjoys a $1.4 billion endowment.


The close-knit liberal arts education Bowdoin College provides allows for risk-taking, which is the spirit of a true liberal arts education. The school’s most popular majors include political science and government, economics, and mathematics.


Read on to learn how to tackle the Bowdoin supplement for 2017-18.


Bowdoin College Application Essay Prompts

The Bowdoin writing supplement requires an unusually short response to a basic question and an optional reflection on that prompt. These writings are the perfect opportunity to show off your creative side and demonstrate why you want to make the college your future home. So let’s dive right in!

Required Prompt

How did you first learn about Bowdoin? (140 characters)

This question limits you to a very short response (140 characters are 10 characters less than the length you get for describing one of your Common App activities, and culminate to approximately 1 sentence of 20 words.). Due to its brevity, you must be concise, yet precise. To answer this, you first need to reflect on what you would like to write for the second prompt (though it is technically “optional,” you really need to answer it to impress the admissions officers).


An example of a response you don’t want to write is: “I first heard about Bowdoin when they sent me a letter in the mail.” This is an extremely disadvantageous answer, as it demonstrates lack of creativity, lack of research, and worst of all, lack of effort. 


As a safer option, opt for something more creative in the first answer. Maybe you read about Bowdoin in Michael Shaara’s novel “The Killer Angels” or perhaps you first heard about Bowdoin because your favorite animal is a polar bear (Bowdoin’s mascot). Or perhaps you learned of Bowdoin’s excellence through the reputation of the school’s famous alumni such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franklin Pierce, and superstar Neurosurgeon Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy.

“The Offer of the College” (250 words)


Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin’s “The Offer of the College.”

“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

The Offer represents Bowdoin’s values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you.

While technically optional, we at CollegeVine highly recommend that you take the opportunity to respond to Bowdoin’s “Offer of the College” prompt.


The Common Application allows you to select 1 of the 7 lines included in Bowdoin’s Offer and provides a section for you to elaborate in a 250-word response. The key to writing this response is to demonstrate how you align with Bowdoin’s values by using relevant and poignant examples. Overall, the response is open-ended, as Bowdoin wants you to go with your gut and focus on which line is most compelling to you. The purpose is not for you to explicitly analyze the text word by word; rather, Bowdoin intends for you to use your chosen line as a springboard for further rumination.


For example, if you choose “To be at home in all lands and all ages,” you could discuss how you are excited to expand your horizons from living in small town to absorbing all of the cultures and perspectives that life at Bowdoin has to offer. Whether you want to have challenging discussions about society with international students or prefer to physically go to another country to deepen your studies, there are many examples you can use to show your enthusiasm for a global and unifying experience. As you write, don’t forget to tie your reflection to tangible experiences that demonstrate the root of your interest.


Alternatively, if you choose the line “To count nature a familiar acquaintance,” you may want to discuss “Nature” as it pertains to conservation initiatives or you could take a more unorthodox approach by discussing your own place in Nature. Oftentimes, we separate humans from nature, as technology becomes increasingly prominent in the world; however, it could be interesting to discuss how innovation and learning are still deeply rooted in natural forces.


“And…Art an intimate friend” seems an obvious choice for artistically-minded people, but there are nuanced ways to handle the prompt. Instead of discussing art directly, you could describe your own creative/innovative thought process and how they play a role in your goals. Further, you could develop that idea by tying in concrete extracurriculars at Bowdoin, explaining how you would like to deepen your artistic skill-set to be a more diverse creator at Bowdoin. On the other hand, you could discuss how “expression” plays an integral in your life and use examples of art, dance, music, or writing to explain how and why you are expressive.


The line “to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own” has a lot of merit when looking forward to college. While you are likely a successful high school student in multiple regards, it is time for you to raise your bar and expand your horizons, to learn from people more experienced than you. Entering an environment in which your ideas will be challenged is refreshing and transformative. In addition, being open to criticism and change will allow you to confidently select new paths, as nothing is laid out so directly anymore. Feel free to discuss how you want to be challenged, as well as times when you have been in awe of others work.


“To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake” is a relatively straightforward springboard, as it leaves open opportunities to discuss impactful works you’ve read. You may want to provide insights into what books and writing mean to you. It is incredible that people’s life experiences and obstacles all contribute to words that resonate through time. How will you learn from the past and use others knowledge to make decisions?


Friendship is often a common theme of college. By choosing “To make hosts of friends… who are to be leaders in all walks of life,” you can touch on how your own friendships up until this point have molded you into a leader. Explain what you value in a friend or relationship, whether it be honesty, transparency, loyalty, or diverging ideas. Don’t be afraid to include personal or intimate information about your best memories or experiences. College is all about the late-night, deep conversations that shake the way you look at the world, so show Bowdoin that this type of relationship is something you strive to cultivate.


“To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends” can be understood in a variety of ways. One take is to discuss the concept of community collaboration, as in college individuals come together to accomplish tasks greater than oneself. You could discuss the most important communities in your life, how a common goal can compel people to work alongside each other. One strategy is to discuss a vital “common end” that you care about. For example, if gender equality is very important to you, go ahead and explain why, as well as what you would like to do to address it at Bowdoin.


The Bottom Line

As you write your Bowdoin supplemental response, keep in mind that each question is designed so that a different aspect about yourself can be shared with the applications committee. If you get stuck, ask your friends and family what the most unique things about you are and then connect these memories or characteristics to your past accomplishments, future goals, and of course, future at Bowdoin College.


Also, don’t be afraid to write an unconventional essay. If you have any questions about the Bowdoin supplemental essays, feel free to contact us about CollegeVine’s mentorship or essay editing opportunities.


Best of luck, and happy writing!


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