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How to Answer the Boston University Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

DEC 15, 2019 • 22 min read

Boston University (BU) is a world-class research institution located in the heart of one of America’s oldest cities. Ranked #40 in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report – and with an average class size of 27 and a student-faculty ratio of 10:1 – BU is sure to offer you a great education.

But what’s truly special about this college goes beyond the numbers. Professor Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got his Ph.D. at BU, and the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the United States made it happen on BU’s campus. If it’s your goal to carry on BU’s trailblazing tradition, working on your supplementary essays can help! Read on for advice about how to approach BU’s regular, honors, and scholarship essays.

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Boston University Essay Prompts

Essay # 1 - For all applicants: What about being a student at Boston University most excites you? * (250 word limit)

Additional Info: Please use this space if you have additional information, materials, or writing samples you would like us to consider.

All applicants to BU will have to respond to this short, open-ended essay prompt. Obviously, you are interested in attending BU; otherwise, you wouldn’t take the trouble to apply! This essay is an opportunity for you to show the admissions committee why you think BU could be the right place for you. What can you do to stand out?

First steps:

Before you sit down to work on your supplementary essays, consider making a list of reasons you’re applying to Boston University. Get as specific as possible – if you haven’t yet, spend time researching the university’s program offerings. BU’s proximity to famed Boston-area institutions means that the university has worked hard to set itself apart from these other heavy hitters. Show your reader that you know what differentiates Boston University from the wealth of top colleges in the area. Maybe you’ve heard of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Core Curriculum, which offers students a rigorous liberal arts experience embedded within a major research university. Or perhaps you’re intrigued by BU’s illustrious film program, with its L.A. internship opportunities and reputation for launching women into successful Hollywood careers.

Whatever you decide to write about, try to draw clear connections between your stated interests and BU’s unique offerings. Since this prompt asks about what excites you, it’s important to go beyond a list of great things you know about BU to create a sense of how you will contribute to the university’s community of ‘doers.’

A word of caution:

Although this prompt specifically invites you to use enthusiastic language, make sure you stay honest and sincere as you draft your essay. Admissions officers will tire of reading about ‘lifelong passions’ detailed in flowery language if they don’t see evidence of your commitment to these interests. Similarly, try to avoid making this essay read like a list of generic BU highlights. Instead, express genuine connections between your aspirations and what BU has to offer (your research will come in handy here!).

As we’ll see in our discussion of the next several prompts, BU supplementary essays are designed to gauge your ability to use concrete examples in the service of persuasive arguments. This makes sense, given the university’s many graduates in political and legal jobs! While you plan, write, and edit these essays, check for specificity and clarity. Think of this as a strong foundation that will make the subjective dimensions of the essay more vivid. After all, the written portions of your application are always about giving admissions committees insight into who you are and how you think.

Key points:

Do your research and be specific. Build a concrete foundation of facts on which you can expand with personal details.

Additional info section:

This optional supplementary essay presents you with a bit of a dilemma. You might feel bad leaving this section blank, as though doing so were an implicit admission of application weakness. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid bragging and hubristic language. The bottom line here is that if you’ve devoted a lot of thought and effort to your fit with BU, you may well have something to add here. This is because of BU’s emphasis on providing deep training and professionalization opportunities within many of its degree tracks. For example, the College of Fine Arts requires auditions and portfolio reviews for many of its majors; if you’re interested in pursuing the BFA degree at BU, you may wish to present evidence of your achievements in response to this prompt. This is one situation in which it makes sense to take advantage of this opportunity to provide additional information.

More generally, this prompt gives you an opportunity to articulate anything you feel is missing from the rest of your application. In most cases, you’ll have worked to integrate these core elements of your background, identity, or personality into other parts of your portfolio; in particular, your Common Application personal statement should read like an expression of who you are today and who you want to become in college. It’s possible, though, that you will have something you want BU to know about that might not be as relevant to other schools.

Maybe you have a special personal connection to the university that inspired you to apply, for instance. If this doesn’t sound like you, you’ll probably be better off devoting as much time and effort as possible to your other essays. As always, be honest, and use your best judgment to determine whether you have anything truly important to add here that you shouldn’t just integrate into a more central part of your application.

Remember that BU already has access to your resume and your list of extracurricular activities. They will know if you’ve won awards. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of listing everything you’ve accomplished in your life, try to focus on the core aspects of who you are and how you want to present yourself to BU. More is not always more.

Key points: Make sure you really have something ‘additional’ to say here. If you’re applying to one of BU’s specialized colleges, this prompt might be useful to you. Otherwise, focus on making the rest of your application the best it can be.

The prompts that follow are designed for scholarship and honors college applicants, so they won’t be relevant to everyone. Due to the prompts’ sophisticated nature, though, some advice is in order. You’ll notice that these prompts specifically encourage you to use examples and arguments to support your claims. This is definitely not an accident, and should be kept in mind as you plan and execute your essays.

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Kilachand Honors College: The mission of Kilachand Honors College is to offer a challenging liberal arts education grounded in critical and creative thinking, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and the real-world application of knowledge. Please see our website for more details about our program, and then respond to one of the following questions in an essay (600 words):

Option A: What about the Kilachand Honors College resonates with you, and how would Kilachand's curriculum fulfill your academic, creative, intellectual, and/or professional goals?

Option B: If you could create a new Kilachand course, what would it be? How would your imagined course align with the core values of Kilachand?

Even though it’s challenging, this supplementary essay prompt can be thought of as a gift – it’s a structured framework within which your intellectual insights can flex and grow. If your personal statement is like a memorable candid photograph, the Kilachand Honors College application essay has room to become a studied portrait full of symbolism. For an essay like this, planning and revision are indispensable. Set aside some time to outline your response, and make sure to return to your writing several times before turning it in. Check to ensure you’ve included everything on your outline, which in turn should answer either question fully. Let’s break down each prompt to start brainstorming different ways to approach these essays.

Option A: What about the Kilachand Honors College resonates with you, and how would Kilachand's curriculum fulfill your academic, creative, intellectual, and/or professional goals?

Option B: If you could create a new Kilachand course, what would it be? How would your imagined course align with the core values of Kilachand?

First off, choose the prompt that’s best for you! If you don’t have a unique and creative idea for option B off the bat, it’s not worth your time to spend hours coming up with new ideas. Option A seems innocuous, but could really offer an opportunity to communicate a substantive reflection on your passions, dreams, hopes, and wishes for the future. That said, if you do have a great idea for Option B, go with it - it’s a really fun prompt that will give you a way to show off your creativity and intellectual curiosity.

To start with Option A:

Research, research, research! And write, write, write. You can start with either, but there are two main things you’ll need to get on your brainstorming page ahead of writing this response. You need to know a lot about the Honors College - why are you applying to it, besides that it’s just the honors college BU offers? What about it feels like the perfect fit for you? Can you imagine yourself thriving in these classes? Can you imagine yourself developing brilliant new ideas for the future with your classmates? What is it about Kilachand that makes you think you’ll be a success if you’re given the opportunity to participate?

And write!! The prompt requires that you detail “your academic, creative, intellectual, and/or professional goals,” so you’ll need to tell your admissions officer exactly what those are - even if you don’t know right now. But the essay is long (600 words!) so you’ll want to go into detail. Even if you don’t feel confident in what you want to do after college, choose a few ideas that you’re currently inclined toward and run with them!

This prompt really lends itself to getting personal, and don’t be afraid to show the admissions officer exactly who you are, what you care about, and why you want to be a part of Kilachand. The more earnest and clear you are with your desires, the more the admissions officer will see your true colors (and the more they’ll want to accept you!).

Option B:

This prompt can really go a number of directions. Kilachand offers a wide range of courses. As a freshman, you’ll have the opportunity to take a first-year seminar in a very specific area: Poetry as Activism, Screenwriting: Doing Justice through Adaptation, or The Ethics of Food. As a sophomore through senior, your options are more seminar and broad-based. Before starting to write, review the options: First-Year Seminars and Sophomore-Senior Year Courses.

One way to go with this prompt would be to try to come up with another very creative first-year seminar. Another way, think of what might be missing from the sophomore-senior year seminars. Yet another way, is there something you think they missed? Is there an area of focus you were hoping would be offered because it aligns with Kilachand’s values and you were surprised they didn’t offer it? Did your research (perhaps from older blogs or talking to a former student) show that there was a class they used to offer but don’t anymore? You can explain why you think this topic could be revitalized for future years!

You can attack this prompt from any of these angles, but the key elements will be the same.

  1. You’ve reviewed all the options currently listed.
  2. You have an idea that isn’t a current option.
  3. You’re going to show the admissions officer how this idea aligns with Kilachand’s values and mission.
  4. You’re going to show the admissions officer why you (using your experiences!) care about creating this course.

Have fun with it, and you might be able to call yourself a Kilachand alumnus someday!

Key points: Plan and revise this essay as much as you can. It’s a rather long essay, but you want to make sure your admissions officer is captivated the entire time!

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The Trustee Scholarship Essay: Please choose from one of the two prompts below and submit one essay, in 600 words or less, as part of your application through the Common or Coalition Application.

School can often seem like work: a set of responsibilities, obligations, and tasks to be completed. But Trustee Scholars are creative and curious, rather than merely dutiful. Give us a glimpse of an intellectual pursuit or challenge that absorbs you, gives you joy, or provokes your curiosity, and tell us why.

One of BU’s most distinguished alumni, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that “The time is always right to do what’s right.” Is there a time when you sought equity and fairness by challenging a social norm? Or, can you share an example of how you can imagine yourself helping to create a more inclusive and fair community?

Trustee Essay 1:

It’s always good to keep in mind that schools already have a list of your accomplishments ready to hand. An essay that reads like a resume in prose form won’t help your readers get to know you as a person! In the case of this prompt, though, you need to be extra careful to come up with something that cannot be found anywhere else on your application. There is a delicate balance at play: you want to give the admissions committee something new, but you also want the topic to add to an integrated understanding of who you are as a person and thinker. So pick something that’s not on your resume, but try to show how it fits in with the rest of the way you’ve presented yourself.

As usual, specificity is your friend. This prompt asks you to write about something that “absorbs and delights you;” just writing “x absorbs and delights me” probably won’t cut it. You need to think about how you feel when you engage with the dream, passion, or mental pursuit you enjoy so much. If you can, try to come up with a real story or example that captures that feeling of immersive joy. When are you happiest? When do you feel the most like yourself?

When are you best able to enter a relaxed state of productive flow? Ask your parents or your friends! Don’t assume that you need to supply a lofty answer to show off your profound intellect or humanitarian spirit (though if you have a real, developed interest in these things, go for it). Instead, write about what you know – what’s true to you, what you really enjoy thinking about and doing. BU is looking to admit ‘doers.’ They want to know what moves you to action on a daily basis, because your college experience will be defined by thousands of everyday decisions as much as your marquee accomplishments.

Key points: Be absolutely honest. Don’t be afraid to focus on the small and humble. Make sure to follow the prompt by writing about something that doesn’t show up on your resume, but integrate it into the profile your application develops.

Trustee Essay 2

Your response to any of these prompts should focus on presenting arguments and reasons for your opinions. As in the case of the Kilachand Honors College essay, leave plenty of time to revise this piece of writing. Do not submit it until you are certain that every opinion stated in your essay is supported. It’s okay if your responses are subjective; that’s kind of the point!

These are all essentially philosophical questions that won’t have a single right answer. Just make sure that you back up your assertions with reasons and arguments wherever possible.

Even though these prompts are philosophical, you’ll notice that each one steers you to think about the practical application of the theoretical issue you’re weighing in on as well. Don’t forget to spend time on this part of the question. As we already saw, BU is interested in ‘doers’ who won’t hesitate to put their principles into action. Now is your chance to show BU that you’re capable of practical analysis as well as more abstract reasoning.

At the heart of this prompt is a philosophical question about expression. Another way to frame this one is to think about whether there is any opinion or information that should never be shared. The second part of the question asks you to consider implementing a possible censorship plan. A clue to one way to approach this can be found in the first sentence: the “sometimes surprising” history of book banning might lead us to wonder who made those decisions and how they were motivated throughout history. How can you be sure that people with the power to withhold information will use it responsibly?

Deep down, this question touches on issues of moral responsibility. The connection between moral responsibility and public policy is very sensitive, and should be approached with care. Be honest about your views if you choose to respond to this prompt, but also try to respect the experiences of people whose lives are different from yours. Perhaps ask yourself about the relationship between correlation and causation, and how the possible difference between these relations could affect responsibility.

As you have probably gathered, each of these questions is challenging and somewhat controversial. BU admissions officers wrote these prompts with the intention of provoking bold claims, so see if you can be both daring and diplomatic. Diplomacy will certainly help you if you ever get to implement any of these ideas in real life – and if BU’s history of inventors and politicians is any indication, you just might get the chance to try if you enrol here in 2020!

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