How to Write the Bowdoin Supplement 2019-2020

Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine. It is an iconic school, a beloved school, and a small school. Very small by some people’s standards. Bowdoin has only 1800 students, and Brunswick itself is a town of only about 20,000. Some people go to school in New York City or Los Angeles to be in those cities. The school itself is secondary. If you go to Bowdoin, you need to want to be at Bowdoin. And lots of people want to be at Bowdoin! The acceptance rate has continued to drop and is currently 8.9%, making Bowdoin a very competitive school that is nearly as hard to get into as an Ivy.  

In addition to providing a fantastic education, Bowdoin offers a close community that stays tight-knit through annual traditions like the lobster bake and Ivy Day — which has nothing to do with the Ivy League. They also show they love their students by taking care of them. Bowdoin aid packages do not include student loans, something that most colleges do still include. If Bowdoin offers you money, it doesn’t come with a lifetime-supply of strings.  

The first question Bowdoin asks you to answer isn’t a supplement, but we get enough inquiries about it that it’s worth addressing.

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

This is not a trick question. We repeat, it is not a trick. This question is for the marketing team at Bowdoin. They want to know where you learned about them so that they can make better decisions about where to invest their marketing budget. You will not be judged for having found Bowdoin through Google instead of stumbling upon it in the woods one day while out for a 100-mile run. Just answer the question.  

Now for the real question — and it’s the same as last year! Bowdoin gives you one question with a 250-word limit. Funnily, the question prompt is itself nearly 250 words. This makes it look more intimidating than it is. It is also not actually optional. It says it is optional. They will still read your application if you don’t do it, but what are you saying by not answering the one question they asked you? That was a rhetorical question, but if it’s not clear, skipping the question is like saying, “I don’t care about this, meh.”  That’s not cool. We don’t do meh.

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 –
this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.

Which line from the Offer resonates most with you?*

Bowdoin is looking for students who are authentically themselves in all their quirky and curious ways. Bowdoin students are inquisitive, passionate, and often sort of like that weird kid who was both absurdly smart in school and also tried to go to school barefoot. If you don’t have a classmate like that, imagine it. What Bowdoin is looking for here has another layer, though. They want thoughtfulness. Two hundred and fifty words of free-writing on a line isn’t going to cut it, but a literary analysis isn’t going to either.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. First, you need to pick a line. If you aren’t immediately drawn to a line, read each one two or three times out loud. Star the ones that hit you somewhere, whether in your stomach, your heart, your brain, or your bones. Then go through the process, again and again, narrowing the options down until you are left with only one.

Now that you have your line, you need to figure out how to write on the line, not about the line. What is the difference? It’s like the difference between a book report and an essay inspired by a book. We don’t write book reports here and neither should you.

How do you write an essayistic answer? By telling a story that bridges the gap between you and the line, and that pulls the two of you together until the line is a piece of you and the reader sees you in their mind when they read the line. This is a big ask, but it’s achievable through smallness. Trying to be grand doesn’t land. Instead, tell a story inspired by the line you selected.

Additional Information

After the supplement question, Bowdoin has one more thing up their sleeve. It’s marked as optional, which you know now means it’s not, and it has three options.

  1. A video — only do this if you have significant experience making and editing videos. You don’t need fancy equipment, but it does need to be polished. 

  2. An art portfolio — this one is only for people who actually identify as artists and who plan on doing art in college even if they may not be majoring in it.

  3. The final option is to upload a document of your choice. This is the one most of our students select, and it really can be anything you want to make it into.

You could write about:  

  • A family recipe — and include the recipe, of course!

  • Your morning routine

  • The moment you discovered your favorite word

  • The script for a video you wrote and produced with your friends

  • A description of what’s on your desk

  • A story about a time you stumbled   

There isn’t a limit, but we say no more than one page single-spaced and in 12-point font. When picking a font, keep it simple. We recommend Cambria or Times New Roman.

Need help with your Common App? Reach out to us. We are experts in helping kids produce standout essays. It’s what we do.