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How to Ace the Boston College Supplement Essay (2018-19)

NOV 18, 2018 • 11 min read

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Boston College supplement essay prompts

Choose one of the four prompts and respond in a maximum of 400 words.

Boston College essay prompt 1

Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

Boston College essay prompt 2

When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College's community?

Boston College essay prompt 3:

[same as 2017-18] Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?

Boston College essay prompt 4:

[slightly different from 2017-18] Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

Tips to ace the Boston College Supplement Essay

The supplementary essay prompts in your Boston College application are a great opportunity to furnish your application to the school with sufficient nuance. While the prompts allow for a diverse range of topics, it is essential to consider that nearly all of these various starting places deal with the issue of education in its broader context. Whether that means dwelling on the foundations of your own intellectual curiosity, or showing a belief in the power of education to transform minds and communities, these prompts are designed for you to show that you are not interested in pursuing a BC education merely to better your career prospects or accumulate prestige, but that you genuinely believe in the edifying potential of a Boston College education. Below, you will find several thoughts as to how to most effectively delve into writing a response to each of these prompts, ranging from ideas to help generate topics, to more style or structure-focused musings that might hold relevance to specific prompts.

For the first prompt, it may seem tempting, especially if one is stuck, to craft an essay about a well-known or canonical piece of art in the hopes of impressing your evaluators with your selection. Absolutely do not do this--you could not do your supplemental essay a greater disservice. 'Great art' is an entirely subjective phrase, and through its use, one is granted a lot of leeway--you could just as easily write about a song by the Beatles as you could about the Mona Lisa. The most important thing to consider in this essay is showing your belief that a great piece of art can move you to change your thinking, values, or relationship to the spiritual and sublime. Like the other prompts, this question is designed for you to show that you believe that the things you study in school can have a significant, worldly impact.

Is there a piece of art that is truly your favorite? Perhaps one that made you interested in a whole artistic discipline you had previously ignored? When writing, try to build a narrative thread through introducing vivid, anecdotal language--can you remember where you were or who you were with when you experience this piece of art, or how it made you feel? The strongest responses to the prompt will be ones that first chart this visceral reaction, and then show how an honest and sincere experience with the work of art changed their expectations about the power art can have or their notions about some aspect of the world at large.

The second prompt explicitly links a BC education to your lived experience, and to your future life outside of the classroom. In granting you a chance to speak about personal circumstances, this prompt offers a great opportunity to vivify your personal story if you have a good topic in mind. In connecting an applicant's background, the BC community, and a BC education, a good response to this prompt will betray a belief that different identities teach us different values and skills, and are crucial to a successful and healthy educational community. While it may seem at first obvious to highlight your hardworking nature, responses centered around an applicant's ambition generally are not a good idea--evaluators will have ample chance to see the result of your ambition in the academic and extracurricular sections of your application, and it does not show what is unique to you that will enrich the BC community.

Instead, applicants should examine what means the most to them from their past--is it a certain set of values, religious or nonreligious, a culture, or a struggle with a particular issue? Firstly, speak honestly and anecdotally about your introduction to this piece of your background or belief. Then, do the important work--tell the reader explicitly how this facet of yourself made you more open to other people, made you a better community member, or made you more actively interested in being a part of a diverse community. The strongest responses to this prompt will show complete people with deep convictions and feelings, who are invested in the value of shared beliefs and mutual exchange.

The third prompt, like the previous two, is fairly explicit in its aim--it wants applicants to show that they believe the function of an education is to both foster strong personal transformations and to encourage those transformed people to improve and reform society. In designing a potential course, this prompt is giving you an opportunity to show the power you believe education can have in identifying and addressing problems. Again, strong responses will show that an applicant is thinking about ways in which their BC education does not simply consist of their own personal experience in the classroom, but also of a critical examination of relevant societal issues.

The difficulty with this prompt is picking a topic that is manageable in breadth. While the most obviously pressing 'contemporary problems' to assess might be things like 'poverty' or 'global warming,' these behemoths would likely present unwieldy topics for a 400-word mock course prospectus. Instead, pick topics that are more focused in breadth (for example, 'poverty among AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa' instead of 'poverty'). Furthermore, it would most likely be wise to pick a topic you have some experience in--have you worked or interned for an organization that dealt directly with the problem that interests you? Have you learned about it in school? Is it a pressing problem affecting your own community? Showing an appreciation for detail is what will set you apart from other applicants who choose this prompt.

While you should avoid choosing broad topics, the conclusions you draw should be anything but narrow. Again use anecdotal evidence to show the genesis of your interest in the topic if applicable, and choose a few moments of concisely worded, facts-based background to include as well. Finally, the latter part of your essay should consist of mostly analytic insights that show how an examination of a specific issue or topic applies to a much larger community or set of problems. The most excellent responses will center on a manageable topic that, through their explanations, are clearly relevant to contemporary issues of a large scale.

The last prompt, maybe the hardest to attempt without a clear idea, is again persistent in tying education into a larger narrative of personal formation and growth that transcends the classroom. Strong responses to it will demonstrate that to the applicant writing them, education is not simply a classroom-based exchange that one engages in to increase their employability or form professional connections, but is instead a meaningful, philosophical journey that can profoundly shape empathic values.

In brainstorming topics, think of moments from your life in which you have had to demonstrate a characteristically virtuous quality (honesty, restraint, selflessness, etc.) in a situation that strongly suggested you behave oppositely--some students choose to write about similar instances for their Common Application essay. Alternatively, a case in which another person or group of people demonstrated a similar value, or was unable to, could provide a good starting point. Then, well-crafted essays will examine how specific offerings at BC--philosophical, religious, academic, or otherwise--would help evolve an applicant's sense of morality, reforming or confirming their previous behavior, or informing how an applicant views the actions of others. In writing, approach this essay with much the same tack as the others--leave carefully crafted anecdotal writing at the beginning (if applicable) to introduce the experience or topic in question and create a narrative, before following it with strong analytical insights that tie the experience to the offerings at BC.

These insights should prove helpful at the outset of choosing and executing your supplemental essay for your application to Boston College. Understanding that evaluators hope above all else to see applicants express ties between BC educational life and self-formation or the maintenance of communities is crucial to writing a successful supplement. These prompts allow you, as an applicant, to present a more complete sense of yourself as a person and your belief in a BC education to evaluators, and they must be considered carefully--good luck!

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