How to Write the Boston University Supplemental Essay: Examples + Guide 2020/2021
This prompt is a version of the “Why us?” essay. As such, we recommend checking out this complete guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay and paying close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are our favorites.
Here’s the short version of how to write the “Why us?” essay:
Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why Boston University might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to Boston U and connect back to you).
Make a copy of this chart to map out your college research.
Create an outline for your essays based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.
Write a first draft!
As you write, try to avoid these common mistakes:
Six Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays
Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.
Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.
Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors, or names of any important people or places on campus.
Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.
Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.
Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay.
Here’s a great sample essay for the BU supplemental essay.
If plotted on a three-dimensional graph, BU stands as the intersection between science (X=1), humanities (Y=1), and a global education (Z=1). At point (1, 0, 0) you will find “CAS BI 206: Genetics,” while “CAS XL 342: Travel Writing and the Muslim World” will likely be found closer to (0, 0.75, 0.50). Classes involving travel or fieldwork all lie along the plane Z=1.
In our three-dimensional world, BU prepares the next generation of students to see beyond X and Y. As a budding geneticist and physician, I am often told that I will have to sacrifice fundamental pieces of who I am in order to pursue a career in science. But as a (1, 0.5, 0.25), as an avid researcher but also an activist, volunteer, and community advocate, I know that I have to find a college that allows me to grow in all directions. I know that BU is exactly that.
And because an entire college experience can never be broken down into numbers alone, I hope to work in the lab with Dr. Ho, as her research builds off of the work I am currently involved in at Columbia University to study genomes for disease-causing mutations. Additionally, the International Affairs Association combines both my passions for Model UN and service through BarMUN and Global Civics. Fun and exploration, awareness and advocacy find a home at Boston University, and I hope that I will as well.
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Tips + Analysis
Consider weaving in a key phrase from BU’s strategic plan: Even if you just skim the strategic plan (we know some can be super long), find a few key phrases. This is like the Cliff Notes studying version or preparing for your final on Shakespeare. Can you get an A without reading the whole play? The answer is yes (don’t tell your English teacher). This student uses the phrase “a global education,” which directly links to BU’s new initiative to become “one of the country’s largest schools of global and regional studies.” (Pro tip: Try not to do this more than once in the essay; it’ll feel like you’re just telling BU what it wants to hear.)
Consider referencing specific classes and professors: Knowing that Boston University has classes such as “CAS BI 206: Genetics” and “CAS XL 342: Travel Writing and the Muslim World” shows the reader that this student dove deep into the academic offerings available. Bonus: These classes are pretty uncommon, especially the second one. Try to avoid referencing generic classes that every college will have such as Intro to Physics. Connect the classes to your specific interests (the more narrow, the better) and demonstrate what kind of student you’ll be. By referencing two distinct classes, this student reinforces her interdisciplinary path and appeals to BU’s desire to become even more of a global university (see the strategic plan in the intro).
Brag, humbly: Instead of just stating that she hopes to “work in the lab with Dr. Ho” (a BU professor), this student connects her future plans at BU to college-level research she’s currently doing “at Columbia University to study genomes for disease-causing mutations.” This is what we call a subtle brag: Show off that you’re conducting college-level research as a high school student without sounding like a jerk or randomly dropping it in. Because it directly connects to this student’s values and future goals, it works. But if you haven’t done Ivy League-level research as a high school student, that’s okay. Almost no one has, and they still get accepted to great schools. Think about what you have accomplished so far and see if you can connect some of those experiences to your future plans. Tutored your cousin in math? Awesome. You can use that.
Connect your values to the college’s: Fun, exploration, awareness, and advocacy are all values that matter both to BU and to this student, connecting the specific classes, research opportunities, and institutional priorities to her own academic and non-academic interests. Take a look at your Values List and see how yours align with what excites you about BU.
From first looking at countries’ GDPs without knowing what they meant, to exploring Keynes and Marx and neo-classical theory, I love that Economics challenges me to think about conflicts in aspects like religion, culture, and ethics that have significant impact on our lives. At Boston University, I want to explore how these important issues can be analyzed through Economics.
I am interested in both Behavioural Economics and Developmental Economics. Even though I have not studied them in school, books like The Undercover Economist and TED talks have made me curious about different branches in Economics. Boston University Professor Raymond Fisman’s research paper, “Experience of Communal Conflicts and Intergroup lending” explores the connection between religion-based communal violence and lending, a connection I find interesting as religion is one of the factors that has enabled the economic development of my father’s hometown in India. To explore more about how religion connects with economics, I researched and wrote a 4,000 word essay on the contribution of religious pilgrimage and tourism of Ujjain for my IB extended essay.
Apart from Economics courses, Boston University’s community interests me because of things like India Club and Debate Club. India Club will help me to feel at home. And I really like debating, which has made me open to and aware of different beliefs and values and has connected me to people with different opinions. I’m also interested in the Boston University magazine, which helps generate conversation and connection among people.
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Tips + Analysis:
Consider describing research you’ve already done (if you’ve done some). This student starts off with his interest in Economics. Then, he describes how he’s already furthered this interest. By reading “books like The Undercover Economist” and listening to TED talks, this student shows the reader what he’s done so far (although he could get a bit more specific here and list which TED talks were most memorable). These details give him the opportunity to connect professors, classes, and opportunities at BU to his interests in a specific way. He also mentions his IB Extended Essay, “a 4,000 word essay on the contribution of religious pilgrimage and tourism of Ujjain,” which shows he is capable of specific, high-level academic research and writing in his chosen field. If you’re an IB student, mentioning your essay topic in your supplemental prompts is a great way to demonstrate your academic readiness for college. If you’re not an IB student, think about other advanced work you’ve done and maybe find a way to work it in.
Consider showing how you’ll engage with BU outside the classroom: This prompt asks what excites you about BU, which implies that it’s expecting you to go beyond just academics. The more detailed, the better. Really imagine yourself on campus. Where will you live? What will you do on the weekend, in the evenings? Who will your friends be? How will you meet them? This student mentions his excitement to join the India Club and the Debate Club, painting a picture of how he’ll fit into the wider student community at BU and getting a chance to further highlight his culture.
Make personal connections: This student connects a BU professor’s research paper, “Experience of Communal Conflicts and Intergroup lending,” to the economic development of his father’s hometown in India, demonstrating that a) he’s read a college-level research paper and done a deep dive into BU’s Econ department, and b) this research has personal significance to him. Once you’ve found some good research about the college, remember to connect it back to your why (why are you interested in this subject, professor, paper, topic, etc.?). The more specific you are, the better your odds are of standing out.
Special thanks to Cathleen for her contributions to this post.