At first, Bowdoin’s unconventional prompt might throw you off. A mandatory selection of a line of poetry and then an “optional” response? Don’t worry: This is not an AP exam-style free response question, and you aren’t being asked for rhetorical analysis and interpretation (whew). Consider that Bowdoin is actually helping you answer a “Why us?” question by providing multiple choices that will help you focus your research and response. And even though Bowdoin notes that the prompt is “optional,” the fact that you are here means you know it’s a good idea to write the essay portion.  

Read the poem aloud to yourself a couple times to get a better understanding of what “The Offer” actually is (yes, it’s lyrical poetry, but easier than Shakespeare, we promise!).  Then, you have two choices: Pick the line that a) feels most right to you, or b) best overlaps with another supplemental you’ve already written (or need to write). For tips on that, check out our guide on writing a Super Essay.

Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you’re writing your essay:

  1. Focus on one line. This may seem obvious, but 250 words isn’t very long. Even if more than one line really speaks to your reasons for wanting to attend Bowdoin, trying to write about more than one will come across less like enthusiasm and more like inability to follow directions.

  2. Write it long first, then cut it. In our experience, this tends to be easier than writing a very short version and then trying to figure out what to add. Plus, you may be able to edit and re-use a longer version for a different supplemental essay.

  3. Be specific. If possible, offer memorable details or specific experiences. Don’t just say libraries or art museums are your happy places. Name the particular aspects of those places that resonate with you, explain how you’ve engaged with a certain community because of them, or offer a (short!) specific story you associate with those places or experiences. In addition, a little descriptive language (you’ll see some in the example below) can help the reader understand you in a more visceral way. The way you describe something is just as important as what you’re describing.

Here’s a particularly well-written example:

Example 1:

“to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends –”

The first session of “A Galaxy of Stars: Modern Data in Stellar Astrophysics” ended and our teacher handed out our assignment, encouraging us to collaborate. Taking his advice, an hour later fifteen students crammed into a dorm room and got to work. 

We shot questions back and forth about color magnitude diagrams and Python code. Everyone brought unique perspectives to the homework’s challenge and, before we knew it, the work was complete. But instead of stopping there, we began talking, and the “astrogang” was formed. In this room I realized I had found my people. There was Maria who studied stars through her telescope, Luca the coding whiz, Noel who loved math, and me, the go-to for physics. 

My new friends were enthusiastic about science and learning just like me, which was an experience I had never had before. Every day after that, we met up to work, play ping pong under the sun, and scrimmage soccer by the river. We spent time together collaborating in the library but also enjoying nature. We debated politics, discussed astronomical theories, and compared cultures, each of us learning from what the others shared. 

Even now, scattered across the globe, we will always be the kid scientists who look to the sky. At Bowdoin, in the small but mighty physics department, I want to explore relativistic astrophysics research with Professor Baumgarte and collaborate with similarly engaged students to continue what the original astrogang began. 

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Go deeper into an academic or extracurricular experience. Not sure which to focus on? Do the Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (AKA BEABIES exercise) or read this Community Essay guide. These will help you decide which topic might yield the most content for your essay. If you’re unsure, try writing a simple outline for two different topics. Consider using a quick, personal anecdote or conversation to draw readers in, then springboard into why the anecdote meaningfully connects to the line you’ve chosen. This can help you strike a nice balance between showing and telling.

  2. Get a little geeky with it. Stellar astrophysics, Python code, color magnitude diagrams. The use of this specific jargon and terminology shows that the author knows what she’s talking about and conveys a deep-seated excitement in the subjects she and her classmates study. We may not know what color magnitude diagrams are, but the way she writes this essay makes us care about them.

  3. Tie it together with Bowdoin-related specifics. Don’t just build up to telling Bowdoin admission officers how great the school is (they know). Just because this short essay’s focus is on the line and its meaning to you doesn’t mean you should leave out “Why us?” research. This author wisely takes a moment at the end of the essay to acknowledge that she plans to lose herself in the “generous enthusiasms” offered by Bowdoin’s “small but mighty” physics department, exploring “relativistic astrophysics with Professor Baumgarte.”

  4. Connect all those details to your values. These connections are the “so what” elements of your essay—reflect on how these specifics align with your core values and show what they will allow you to pursue or explore at Bowdoin. We feel how much she values her “astrogang” community, her appreciation for meaningful work in how she completes the initial assignment, and her curiosity to learn and discuss other “common ends” beyond physics study. Those values come through in both what she’s writing about and how she’s writing about them.

Here’s another great essay on a different line from “The Offer:”

Example 2:

“to count Nature a familiar acquaintance”

When I was little, my Romanian grandparents used to give me a pocket knife and a sack and send me on my way to trek through the woods to look for mushrooms alone until nightfall.

It’s kind of embarrassing, but sometimes I imagine the forest as ancient, wise guides, their voice soothing and calm, their presence steady and warm. I have discovered that whenever I’m feeling stressed or uneasy, a breath of fresh, Pacific Northwest air is a sure cure. 

I know that more than any other school, Bowdoin shares this view. In fact, one of my criteria in my search for schools was a strong connection to the outdoors. From O-Trips, to the Bowdoin Naturalists and Outing Club, I know there will be no shortage of opportunities to continue to explore nature during my time in Maine.

In my career, I want to help reduce climate change on a legislative front. At Bowdoin, I plan to take on a double major in Government and Legal Studies and Environmental Studies. Looking at the courses offered at Bowdoin, I’m already eager to take Shana Starobin’s class “Talking to Farmers and Fishermen: Social Science Field Methods for Environmental Policy Research.” I would jump at the interdisciplinary opportunities offered through the McKeen Center, especially the Public Service Internship in Washington. 

In both my extracurricular and academic pursuits in college, and beyond,  I hope to continue to view nature as one of my main friends. Bowdoin would be a catalyst for this journey. 

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Give us a brief, new glimpse into your world. Use the 21 Details Exercise to find connections to a line from “The Offer” that reveals something that isn’t already revealed elsewhere in your application. In the opening to this essay (and in just 80 words!), we’re quickly engaged by the charm of this student’s slightly self-conscious and beautifully described relationship to nature: her Romanian heritage, imagination, self-awareness, and resourcefulness. Figure out which of your own details you can expand on. Or, you might consider zooming in on something that’s only mentioned briefly in your main personal statement. 

  2. Focus on an overlapping value. Each line of “The Offer” embodies a value. Selecting one that overlaps with one of yours will help you pivot from personal information into details about how you believe you’ll contribute to the Bowdoin community. The “Nature” line may have been an easy choice for this student given her desired double majors in legal and environmental studies and future career working to alter climate change, but that doesn’t take away from the essay’s overall effectiveness. Maybe “Nature” is a familiar acquaintance in the way that the branches of your favorite tree inspired the elegantly coded computer program you spent your junior year building; uncommon connections make for surprise, and pleasant surprises make for memorable supplemental essays. Keep your whole list of core values nearby as you reflect on which line makes the most sense for your future at Bowdoin and beyond.

  3. Connect specific wants to specific resources. If you’re having trouble finding the overlapping value, dig into your Bowdoin research. The author references particular clubs, classes, and programs she’d like to explore if she were admitted. If you’re a Bowdoin admission reader, the specificity of those references makes you feel the student really values the school. That’s why it’s so important to look through a college’s website (including the strategic plan or self-study report, if you can find one) before you apply. Think about what resources you absolutely need in a college setting or skills you’ve already gained that you want to build on, and then try to find places for them within Bowdoin. Doing that research really pays off in the long run.

Here are a few other great examples of essays on other lines of “The Offer:”

“To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends.” 

The Offer represents Bowdoin’s values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you. (Limit 250 words)

Losing myself in the service of others is the best way for me to make an impact. To me, this line symbolizes giving back to the world, recognizing the blessings in life, and working with others to improve their quality of life. 

Ever since I was bullied in 6th grade, I have practiced a deeper sense of compassion towards others in life. As the founder of the Be Better, Help Others Club, I worked to stop bullying at school. Whether building water taps for freshwater in Kenya, organizing book and blood drives, I have dedicated myself to helping people around me. 

During the summer of my sophomore year, I worked with iEducate, a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged kids stay on track, inside and outside of the classroom. I developed a mindfulness curriculum, later implemented across iEducate, which allowed me to witness students’ transformation. As a child, I struggled to express my feelings, which inhibited my ability to communicate with others. 

Many iEducate students were the product of broken families and struggled with difficult experiences. As I developed curricular content, I worked to understand and accommodate their needs, introducing exercises highlighting the importance of mindfulness in the scientific fields. My greatest reward was the difference I witnessed in their lives. One student, Gabriel, both improved his focus in math class and his communication with his mother. An even greater reward would be when Gabriel too learns to lose himself in generous enthusiasm for “common ends.”  (245 words)   

— — —

To be at home in all lands and all ages;

It wasn’t until I bought my brother a pistachio macaron the week after he’d left for college that I realized he was 2,714.3 miles away. We were by no means ever joined at the hip, but he was my big brother. The kind that would race me to the car to call “shotgun” when we were younger, but barge into my room and flop down beside me on the bed for “no reason” when we were older. A part of my home had vanished, leaving the house quieter, his room colder. 

The year that I became an only child, I also became a big sister. We hosted an exchange student from Germany through the Round Square network, and I became her home when I felt like I was losing mine. The house became full again as we spent late nights talking about The Gilmore Girls, chocolate chip cookies, and any other culture shocks we felt inclined to rant about. 

A house becomes a home because of the people inside it. Mine became one centered not only around my immediate family, but also around changing relationships and new connections. As I have continued to meet people all over the world through Round Square, this home—and my curiosity about other cultures—continues to grow. I have created my own global extended family, and I can now travel anywhere and find a familiar face to welcome me home. 

— — —

To be at home in all lands and all ages;

-2008. Kathmandu, Nepal. I am Nepalese. Dust permeates my nostrils as I walk by people aggressively bargaining over products in markets to grandpa’s palm reading sessions. Flickering temple lights, smells of incense, and lively monkeys open my eyes to my Nepalese ethnic identity and religion. 

-2009. Brighton, MA. I become American. Scorching sun on my first Fourth of July. Green leaves turn red as autumn falls. Other firsts: riding the train, biking in parks, learning to swim at the YMCA. These experiences cultivate my impulse to explore the unknown and take risks. 

-2012. Walter St., Roslindale, MA. I become a photographer. My escape: Arnold Arboretum. I gaze at birds flying in the expansive sky. I run across emerald, lush grass. I sit on top of Peter’s Hill and stare at the city view. I bike across winding trails that lead to secret destinations. A desire to capture nature leads to a love for photography. 

-2015. Centre st., Roslindale, MA. A paint palette and a palate for American dishes. First house. We spend hours painting walls red, white, and sky blue. I regularly eat Harry’s All- American Breakfast, A & N Pizza, and burritos. I gain an appreciation for the colors and flavors of America. 

-2016. I become a leader. Boston Latin Community Development Corps. Seven teenagers make a difference for the community. We host drives, bake sales, petitions for education over nuclear weapons. We begin a partnership with Mass Peace. A strong sense of advocacy leads to a stronger self. 

— — —

An Exercise to Get You Started

One great way to write these last two essays is to consider the many communities you’ve been a part of.

Here’s a step-by-step guide (that we put together for the “community” essay  some other colleges require) that offers a short exercise to help you think through which communities you’ve engaged in and that might make a good topic for this essay.

Here’s the short version:

  • Step 1: Create a “communities” list by brainstorming all the communities you’re a part of. Keep in mind that communities can be defined by many different variables, including place, culture, interests, political beliefs, hobbies, sexual identity, and even favorite sports teams. Get creative. See example on the guide.

  • Step 2: Use the BEABIES exercise to generate your essay content for 2-3 of these communities. In that exercise, you’ll answer: 

    • What kinds of problems did you solve (personally, locally, or globally) in that community?

    • What specific impact did you have?

    • What did you learn (skills, qualities, values)? 

    • How did you apply the lessons you learned inside and outside of that community?

  • Step 3: Pick a structure for writing this essay and focus on the community you feel is most compelling and reveals the most about you. We recommend either a narrative structure (focusing on a single moment or story) or montage structure (focusing on several moments that are united by a common theme).

Special thanks to Mindi Trimble for contributing to this post.