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Bowdoin College Admissions Essay Format

The Personal Statement

Refer to the application service instructions for specific guidelines for completing the Personal Comments section. This is a critical component of your application to any health professions program.  As the personal statement is your opportunity to tell the schools who you are, it is important to take it seriously. Please plan to submit a draft to the Health Professions Advisor by February 15.

Here are some things to think about while you write:

  • The statement must be well written, with an introduction, body, and conclusion. While good communication is an important competency, the application is not a writing contest.  Do not sacrifice content for form.  Many people start with a story; that is great, but the essay should not be the story.  Focus instead on your reactions, your motivations, and what you learned.  These are what will give an admissions committee insight into who you are and your personal competencies.
  • In other words, the statement must be personal. This is your chance to let the Admissions Committee hear from you and understand who you are. Take advantage of the opportunity to express your commitments, motivations and values.
  • Personal statements are short – focus on one or two things you most want the committee to know about you.  You cannot do it all.  This may be your one opportunity to reflect on a difficult time or hard experience that affected your trajectory. 
  • Do not simply discuss a series of activities that the Committee can learn about from the rest of your AMCAS application. Use this opportunity to provide information that is not otherwise available to the Committee in the materials you will submit.  I like to say that this is about the spaces in-between the items on your resume – why, what did it mean, what did you learn about yourself and your motivations?
  • Think about the stages in your decision-making to pursue a career in health care. Are there events, people, experiences along the way which were formative? Is there a story you can tell which will explain your decision?
  • The statement must in some manner answer the question of why the profession is for you. This may be the part of the application that the committee turns back to if your motivation and decision are not fully evident to them after interviews or after review of the supplemental application. It is, therefore, important that you make clear your commitment to working with people in crisis, as well as a passion for lifelong learning in the sciences.
  • Do not merely lecture about what you feel is wrong with "the system" or be overly critical of physicians with whom you have interacted. Keep in mind that many of the readers will be physicians! Instead, present, in a positive manner, your own goals and aspirations.  Do not be a teacher, be an open learner.
  • Avoid extensive references to childhood or high school experiences. You must show that you have made an adult, well-informed decision to pursue a career in medicine. There are obviously exceptions, but in most cases, childhood experiences are not especially convincing.
  • Turn negative experiences into positives. Discuss what you have learned and how these challenges will make you better prepared in the future, and more sensitive to the struggles of others.
  • Plan on writing several drafts. You may want to try a couple of different approaches to determine which one represents you most effectively. It is often helpful to set the essay aside for a while before you work on a final draft, and see how you feel about it when you return to it.
  • Solicit the reaction of both those who know you well and those less familiar with you to see how clearly you have managed to convey the message you are trying to deliver. Be prepared, though, for conflicting opinions! Remember that the purpose of this statement is to reflect you, in your own words.
  • Perhaps the best advice is simply to write from the heart. Be yourself, and be sincere.  A statement that is not genuine will not be compelling.

While technically optional, we at CollegeVine highly recommend that you take the opportunity to respond to Bowdoin’s “Offer of the College” prompt.


The Common Application allows you to select 1 of the 7 lines included in Bowdoin’s Offer and provides a section for you to elaborate in a 250-word response. The key to writing this response is to demonstrate how you align with Bowdoin’s values by using relevant and poignant examples. Overall, the response is open-ended, as Bowdoin wants you to go with your gut and focus on which line is most compelling to you. The purpose is not for you to explicitly analyze the text word by word; rather, Bowdoin intends for you to use your chosen line as a springboard for further rumination.


For example, if you choose “To be at home in all lands and all ages,” you could discuss how you are excited to expand your horizons from living in small town to absorbing all of the cultures and perspectives that life at Bowdoin has to offer. Whether you want to have challenging discussions about society with international students or prefer to physically go to another country to deepen your studies, there are many examples you can use to show your enthusiasm for a global and unifying experience. As you write, don’t forget to tie your reflection to tangible experiences that demonstrate the root of your interest.


Alternatively, if you choose the line “To count nature a familiar acquaintance,” you may want to discuss “Nature” as it pertains to conservation initiatives or you could take a more unorthodox approach by discussing your own place in Nature. Oftentimes, we separate humans from nature, as technology becomes increasingly prominent in the world; however, it could be interesting to discuss how innovation and learning are still deeply rooted in natural forces.


“And…Art an intimate friend” seems an obvious choice for artistically-minded people, but there are nuanced ways to handle the prompt. Instead of discussing art directly, you could describe your own creative/innovative thought process and how they play a role in your goals. Further, you could develop that idea by tying in concrete extracurriculars at Bowdoin, explaining how you would like to deepen your artistic skill-set to be a more diverse creator at Bowdoin. On the other hand, you could discuss how “expression” plays an integral in your life and use examples of art, dance, music, or writing to explain how and why you are expressive.


The line “to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own” has a lot of merit when looking forward to college. While you are likely a successful high school student in multiple regards, it is time for you to raise your bar and expand your horizons, to learn from people more experienced than you. Entering an environment in which your ideas will be challenged is refreshing and transformative. In addition, being open to criticism and change will allow you to confidently select new paths, as nothing is laid out so directly anymore. Feel free to discuss how you want to be challenged, as well as times when you have been in awe of others work.


“To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake” is a relatively straightforward springboard, as it leaves open opportunities to discuss impactful works you’ve read. You may want to provide insights into what books and writing mean to you. It is incredible that people’s life experiences and obstacles all contribute to words that resonate through time. How will you learn from the past and use others knowledge to make decisions?


Friendship is often a common theme of college. By choosing “To make hosts of friends… who are to be leaders in all walks of life,” you can touch on how your own friendships up until this point have molded you into a leader. Explain what you value in a friend or relationship, whether it be honesty, transparency, loyalty, or diverging ideas. Don’t be afraid to include personal or intimate information about your best memories or experiences. College is all about the late-night, deep conversations that shake the way you look at the world, so show Bowdoin that this type of relationship is something you strive to cultivate.


“To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends” can be understood in a variety of ways. One take is to discuss the concept of community collaboration, as in college individuals come together to accomplish tasks greater than oneself. You could discuss the most important communities in your life, how a common goal can compel people to work alongside each other. One strategy is to discuss a vital “common end” that you care about. For example, if gender equality is very important to you, go ahead and explain why, as well as what you would like to do to address it at Bowdoin.


The Bottom Line

As you write your Bowdoin supplemental response, keep in mind that each question is designed so that a different aspect about yourself can be shared with the applications committee. If you get stuck, ask your friends and family what the most unique things about you are and then connect these memories or characteristics to your past accomplishments, future goals, and of course, future at Bowdoin College.


Also, don’t be afraid to write an unconventional essay. If you have any questions about the Bowdoin supplemental essays, feel free to contact us about CollegeVine’s mentorship or essay editing opportunities.


Best of luck, and happy writing!


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