Skip to main content

Writing the Bowdoin College Supplemental Essays

Ian Brook Fisher

Written by Ian Brook Fisheron November 14th, 2019

I began my career in admissions by walking backwards as a student intern, giving guided tours, interviewing students, and reading applications for my alma mater, Reed College. After graduating, I began full-time work in admissions, reading thousands of applications primarily from the Western United States, especially Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. (I got to eat the best food on my travel!) In my last three years at Reed, I directed admissions for the entire continent of Asia and served as the director of marketing and communications for the admission office, honing our official voice for web, print, and social media. This helped me to develop a sharp eye for what works (and what doesn’t) in college essays. While Reed is not known (at all!) for sports, I was able to find my competitive outlet with the ultimate Frisbee team as a player and, when I graduated, a coach. After nine wonderful years at Reed, I left Portland to pursue a M.A. at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. When I graduated and joined College Coach, I was living in Palo Alto, California, an experience that helped me learn so much about the UC and CSU system and high school programs all around the Bay Area. In the end, I missed the rain too much, and moved back to Portland in the summer of 2016.
Learn More About Ian
The Bowdoin supplement asks applicants to first identify which of the lines from “The Offer of the College,” a poem written in 1906 by Bowdoin president William DeWitt Hyde, most resonate with them. Applicants are then invited to provide an optional short essay of 250 words to reflect on their chosen line and how it has meaning for them. Here’s the excerpt of the poem included in the prompt: 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 – this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life. Now, in the world of college essay supplements, there are optional essays and “optional” essays. This supplement falls into the latter category: it is optional in name only. Bowdoin admits about 15% of its applicants and, while they don’t publish statistics on admit rate for students who do and do not respond to this “optional” prompt, I’d be willing to bet that non-respondents are rarely offered a space in the freshman class. So that means you’re writing it! And if you’re interested in Bowdoin, I think you should be excited to do so. This is a great prompt for two reasons. First, it does a wonderful job of introducing students to Bowdoin. In this short piece, you learn that Bowdoin has over a century of history, that it is defined by its community, that it places value in both humanity and the Earth. Second, the prompt gives applicants so much freedom to provide an answer that is deeply personal. Instead of responding to one narrow question, you have the opportunity to choose from among nine possible options, connecting aspects of who you are to who you might be at Bowdoin. And it’s the person you’re allowed to be at Bowdoin that I would encourage you to emphasize in this short response. Your essay should be aspirational with a hint of retrospective. Find the line that makes you most excited about being a college student and ask yourself why it holds such sway for you. Someone who has never felt the freedom of conducting an independent research project in a well-stocked chemistry lab might be drawn to the line about having “…resources behind you in whatever task you undertake.” A student who grew up in a concrete jungle might look forward to four years of learning in Nature, and the relationship with the natural world that can be developed in the upper right of the United States. It is the rare essay supplement that finds its way to being deeply personal, and you should be excited at the space you’re given here to share what you most look forward to about life as a Bowdoin undergraduate. The spirit of this piece is poetic, but you needn’t provide any kind of literary analysis here. It’s a version of “Why Bowdoin?” but won’t require research into courses or professors or the number of clubs available to incoming freshmen. It’s 250 words where you’re invited to imagine what college might mean to you—how your life might be different for the next four years—and the flavor of the opportunities that might be your most prized. Enjoy sharing that excitement with the Bowdoin admission office! Essay-Pitfalls-CTA


Interested in learning more about how our college admissions counseling services can help your student succeed?

Call 877-402-6224 or complete the form for information on getting your student started with one of our experts.

Inclusion Matters Here Pride Flag