How to Answer the Boston College Supplemental Essay

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

Many top-tier universities and colleges in the U.S. now require applicants to submit at least one additional essay. 

Boston College is one of these colleges–it requires students to submit one 400-word essay in addition to their personal statement.

What are the prompts for this essay? And how should you respond?

We’ve got the answers to these questions in this post. We also give readers access to a great resource: the top 50 most selective colleges in the U.S. and their supplemental essays for 2020-2021, in one easy-to-read spreadsheet.

Grab it below.

Here’s what we cover:


Boston College’s Supplemental Essay for 2020-2021

Students applying to Boston College only have to write one 400-word supplemental essay. However, they do have to choose between four prompts.

We would like to get a better sense of you. Please respond to one of the following prompts. (400 word limit)

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?

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?

3. 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?

4. 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?

In the next section, we provide pointers for responding to each of these four prompts.


How to Respond to Each Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt

Boston College Supplemental 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? (400 words)

We encourage students to select one specific work of art to discuss in this essay response. Think broadly here. Consider what comes to mind when you think of the following, for example:

  • Your most-played Spotify playlists or songs
  • The books on your bookshelf
  • Syllabi from past English classes
  • Speeches you’ve heard or studied 
  • Spoken word poetry

You might want to build a list of works at first and narrow down from there. If you have trouble narrowing your list down, jump ahead to the next set of questions. Ideally, the work of art you choose should give you a lot of room to discuss its impact on you.

Once you’ve identified the song, poem, speech, or novel you’d like to discuss, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What are this piece of art’s main themes? 
  • What does this work of art have to do with the following? Identify all that apply:
    • Social issues
    • Values
    • Identity
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
    • Relationships, etc.
  • What were the circumstances under which you encountered this work of art?
  • What were your initial impressions? 
  • What are your current impressions? (Do they differ from your initial impressions?)
  • What specific insights has this work of art generated?
  • Does it inspire you? In what way?
  • What does this work of art have to do with your beliefs, values, and/or perspectives of the world?

When crafting your response, students should identify the work of art from the outset and offer a brief description. Don’t be shy about plunging in, as you only have 400 words for your response. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

I first encountered Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in my sophomore year English class, during a time when literature had not yet taken the priority it has today in my life.  

It’s also vital to spend less time describing this work of art and more time describing how it has inspired or influenced you in the essay as a whole. The admissions readers will be more interested in the part of this response that concerns you after all!

Your essay should, for example, be rich with the following kind of statements.

“The Great Gatsby”’s interrogation of the American Dream has challenged me to redefine what “success” actually means to me; in fact, it has motivated me to more precisely articulate my academic and personal goals in terms of their relationship to my core values.

Feel free to connect the insights you’ve drawn to other aspects of your life, too, such as extracurricular activities, service projects, and independent research, but these should serve only as examples of actions this work of art has inspired.

A nice way to conclude your essay might be referencing this piece of art’s current role in your life, as in the following example:

I know I will always keep a copy of “The Great Gatsbyon my bookshelf as a reminder of the importance of human relationships, honesty, and integrity.

Boston College Supplemental 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? (400 words)

This prompt is very broad, which can be both beneficial and challenging for students. With this prompt, however, admissions officers are interested in diversity. They are also interested in diversity that will “enrich” the campus community, which means that this prompt is also interested in what you have to offer or contribute.

What do we mean by “diversity”? Diversity can refer to any of the following:

  • Ethnicity
  • Identity
  • Cultural background
  • Heritage
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Socioeconomic circumstances
  • Family
  • Language
  • Education
  • Beliefs
  • Religious traditions
  • Values
  • Perspectives
  • Character
  • etc.

We encourage students to learn more about the Boston College community and its values before responding to this prompt. You can do so by attending virtual information sessions, for example, or spending some time on the BC website.

Identifying school mission statements can also be helpful for picking a place to start here. Boston College’s mission encompasses service, the search for truth, academic excellence, and research.

You might want to use some of these keywords to think about the part of your specific story that might “enrich” the BC community. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • What experiences have I had in searching for truth?
  • What have my encounters with service looked like?
  • What is distinct or unique about my background?

As with all of these prompts, it’s more important to choose an experience or aspect of your background that will give you a lot to say about what you have to bring to this campus community. 

What’s more, because of the broadness of this prompt, you can feel free to refer to a broader component of “your story,” as opposed to one specific experience, including heritage, identity, traditions, language, and beliefs.

When responding to this prompt, make sure to give ample room to the following:

  • The part of your story that you want to highlight (and what this says about your own specific diversity)
  • How this will enrich the Boston College community

It’s often easier for students to tackle the first bullet point here, and harder to address the second. That’s okay, as the first bullet point, according to the language of the prompt, is the most important.

But you don’t want to leave admissions officers guessing about that enrichment factor here. You’ll want at least a few sentences that speak to your own understanding of how you’ll enrich this community, as in this example:

Through these experiences, I have learned the social resonance of being bilingual, and how language really is the key to creating stronger communities. I am eager to bring this attention to the words that connect us to Boston College, which places a premium on diversity and community.

Notice how this example specifically identifies what this applicant intends to offer BC. This is important! These lines also serve as a great conclusion.

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #3

  • 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? (400 words)

This is a long, fancy way of asking students the following question: what do you think the most pressing issue in the world is, and why?

It’s also important to notice the buzzwords Boston College incorporates into this prompt: “liberal arts,” “quality,” “personal formation,” and “critical issues.” As you reflect on the pressing issue or question you’d like to discuss, keep these terms in mind. Ideally, the issue you choose should come from a place of deep honesty and also have to do with something that is critical and meaningful on multiple levels.

It seems like a tall order, but ask yourself the following questions as you brainstorm:

  • What issue keeps you up at night?
  • What question hasn’t yet been answered that you desperately want to answer?
  • If you could solve one problem in the world with a snap of your fingers, what would it be?
  • What stands in the way of the common good currently?

The prompt is broad enough that you can literally choose any question or problem you wish (“enduring” or “contemporary”), on any scale, to address.

Once you’ve selected your question or problem, think about the following:

  • Why does this matter?
  • On what scale(s) does this matter?
  • How did you first encounter this question or problem? How do you currently engage with it?
  • Why is it important for students to learn about this?
  • What impact would examining this problem or issue have? On what levels?
  • What does this say about you?

When writing your response, spend less time discussing the question or issue and more time describing its meaning. Your perceived meaning of this issue is, after all, what admissions officers are most interested in, as it says a lot about who you are as an individual in this world and your capacity for self-awareness.

Be sure to specifically identify this problem or question from the outset, for clarity’s sake. Here’s an example:

In my college course, I would address the following question: What does it actually mean to be a feminist in 2021?

If you’ve chosen something rather broad, be sure to describe what you would specifically focus on within that broader category, as in this example:

In my college course, I would address the following question: What does it actually mean to be a feminist in 2021? Specifically, I would encourage my students to consider how the definition of feminism has evolved since its inception and approach modern feminism through the lenses of race and media.

As you discuss the meaning of this question or issue, be sure you’re very clear about the following two things:

  • why you are personally invested in this issue / question
  • why it matters on a larger scale

You can address the first bullet point by incorporating personal anecdote, if you’d like. This is a great way to introduce the second bullet point, too! Here’s an example:

I was raised in a household that claimed it was staunchly feminist. I read books with female protagonists and was told that to be a girl was to have a special superpower. Yet over the years, I’ve come to scrutinize this term in a new fashion.

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #4

  • 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? (400 words)

This prompt contains many excellent keywords that indicate what college admissions officers are interested in here. Keep these in mind as you are drafting your response:

  • Character
  • Growth 
  • Beliefs and values 
  • Common good

It is also a two-question prompt. Students should make sure that they respond adequately to both of these questions in their 400-word essay:

  • What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today?
  • Wow will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

Use the structure of these questions to your advantage! You can spend the first part of your essay discussing those beliefs and values and the second portion addressing how BC will assist you in thinking and acting for the “common good.” 

To begin, we recommend brainstorming your core values and beliefs. You might already have done some of this work prior to crafting your personal statement. We’ve provided some examples of values and beliefs below.

Sample ValuesSample Beliefs
Honesty
Integrity
Empathy
Compassion
Altruism
Sincerity
Perseverance 
“It’s always important to lead with the heart”
“Place others’ needs before your own”
“Unity over division”
“Everyone has a fundamental right to expression”

It can also be helpful to anchor these values and beliefs in specific experiences and/or anecdotes. This will make it easier to tell a story and to focus on your core values and beliefs (as opposed to all of them!).

For example, your value for honesty might be deeply related to your desire to pursue a career in law. Or perhaps your belief in “unity over division” is related to your commitment to social justice.

If you’re having trouble coming up with values and beliefs, think about the second part of the question: “inform your decisions and actions.” What guides the decisions that you make in your life? What inspires action?

Here is an excerpt from a sample response demonstrating an applicant’s beliefs and values:

I have always believed in the power of compassion, yet only fully understood the potential of this value when I started volunteering at a local shelter for women in recovery…Through this experience, I have learned that compassion is what unites us all despite our differences, and this is what guides every decision-making process.

Students often struggle with the second portion of this prompt. While this is not specifically a “why Boston College” prompt, students should be specific about how they foresee BC will help them with their character formation, specifically the formation of values that have to do with the “common good.”

The key word here is “how.” 

Once again, it can be helpful to learn more about Boston College’s mission and teaching philosophy. According to its website, for example, BC’s mission encompasses service, the search for truth, academic excellence, and research. Many of its courses encourage the act of self reflection and “asking of big questions.”

Think about how this mission and philosophy relates to the beliefs and values you’ve pinpointed. 

Then think about the other components of BC that will help you become an even better person. In other words, what about BC is going to help you grow as a person with a set of values (and not just a scholar)?

Consider the following:

  • Your prospective major and that department at BC
  • Extracurricular activities, especially service
  • Opportunities at BC that reflect your values and beliefs

Here is an excerpt from a sample response:

Boston College’s commitment to service aligns with my profound desire to apply my innate compassion to all kinds of communities: a vibrant student body, a strong biology department, and the broader volunteering community.

Download Our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

Applying to several top-tier colleges? We’ve compiled the supplemental essay prompts for the 50 most selective U.S. colleges and universities in one FREE easy-to-access spreadsheet!

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • The supplemental essay prompt(s) the 50 most selective U.S. colleges / universities
  • Word limits for each prompt
  • Application deadlines for each (early and regular)


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.