Bowdoin College Essay Guide
Bowdoin College Museum Of Art,” Me in ME | CC BY 2.0.

Bowdoin College is a classic New England liberal arts college located in Brunswick, Maine, just 3 miles from the ocean, 30 minutes from Portland, and 2 hours from Boston. Bowdoin has a total enrollment of approximately 1800 students, putting each class a little under 500. The tiny size fosters a warm and close-knit community and incredible access to academic and extracurricular resources.

Bowdoin often tops the charts in rankings, both among liberal arts colleges for its academic prowess and student satisfaction, as well as topping national lists for its delicious food! Last year, the acceptance rate sank below 9%, and the college continues to become more competitive every year. The caliber of students admitted to Bowdoin is formidable, but the college does a fantastic job of keeping competitive energy to a minimum. Students feel motivated to compete with themselves far more than with their classmates.

Bowdoin has a breadth of strong departments, notably Government, Environmental Science, Africana Studies, and Neuroscience. The college offers an Arctic Studies program, born from the legacy of Arctic exploration among early twentieth century alumni, and has an unparalleled coastal studies program. The college boasts two coastal studies labs, one just 20 minutes from campus on Orr’s Island, and one in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, which has some of the most extreme tides in the world. The college’s position on the coast and accompanying commitment to studying the fascinating and varied coastal ecosystems demonstrates its remarkable commitment to place.

Bowdoin is an exceptional school and combines a fantastic array of academic pursuits with a tremendous commitment to the community. The school continues to grow its endowment and shrink its admission rate, and this dynamic energy will only propel the college to new heights. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

*For the 2020-2021 Bowdoin College Essay Guide, click here.

Bowdoin College Essay Prompts:

Required: How did you first learn about Bowdoin? (140 characters)

This essay is not an essay at all, but a sentence. Don’t worry too much about it – the admissions office wants to know how to reach students in the future and is trying to learn from you. If you have a fun connection to Bowdoin, like a friend or relative who is a student, definitely mention it, but if you just found Bowdoin through your college counselor or online, that’s absolutely fine to say too.

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

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 the 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.”

Adapted from the original “Offer of the College”

by William DeWitt Hyde, President of Bowdoin College 1885-1917

The Offer of the College, quoted above in full, is a central pillar of Bowdoin’s understanding of itself and comes up a lot throughout the Bowdoin College experience. This prompt is a great opportunity for you to reflect on why Bowdoin is right for you, and to find something specific that stands out to you about Bowdoin.

You could approach the prompt in a number of ways. The most obvious is to choose a line from the Offer that relates to your academic interests. Interested in English? Talk about carrying the keys of the world’s library in your pocket. Passionate about environmental science? Expound upon your desire to count Nature a familiar acquaintance.

Another way to approach the prompt is by relating a line from the Offer to your extracurricular interests, particularly those that serve the common good or are service-oriented. The concept of “generous enthusiasms” is a big deal at Bowdoin, and choosing that line to speak to your passion for working with children or your interest in advocating for increased accessibility in the classroom, to name two examples, could be a great option.

The Offer as a whole is an articulation of what Bowdoin hopes it will give you to take beyond your college graduation, so remember to ground your essay in the big picture. If you hope to study English, why? What will you do? If you love working with kids, how will you make that happen, and why do you think it’s important? Think big. That said, this essay is only 250 words. That’s just about two paragraphs, which is not enough time to lay out your greatest goals and aspirations. If you have trouble picking just one line, that’s a good thing – it means the Offer resonates with you! Keep your essay brief, but your enthusiasm big. This essay is optional but DEFINITELY submit it. It is a short and sweet opportunity to express your specific interest in what makes Bowdoin special.


This essay guide was written by Eliza Goodpasture, Bowdoin College Class of 2018. If you want to get help writing your application essays from Eliza or other Admissions Experts, register with today.