Boston College is a Jesuit institution, and proud of its academic tradition. Their questions are not as outlandish as UChicago or Stanford but can seem quite odd compared to those offered by some schools. They offer five separate prompts and require students to answer one in 400 words.
They regularly alter their prompts and offer new ones. Our example is from a few years ago when they had different prompts in rotation. We believe it is still useful to get a sense of what Boston College is looking for, especially since they still ask a related prompt.
We will analyze an essay on art, as this is outside the normal form of supplemental essays, and thus worth investigating more deeply.
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)
“When they get to the part, where he’s breakin’ her heart, it can really make me cry, just like before.”
I hit shuffle, and the first three chords of “Yesterday Once More” by The Carpenters ring in my headphones. I am instantly transported to the black velvet wings, peering out at my teammates who lay on the stage waiting for me to begin my solo. I sneak a glimpse at the audience; their expressionless faces are unaware that we are about to bare our souls to them. That sense of vulnerability and openness stays with me to this day; I feel that I could enter the stage again at any moment, and pour out all those melancholy emotions.
When Karen sings, “All my best memories come back clearly to me. Some can even make me cry, just like before,” I can’t help but reflect on my childhood. When I was younger, I thought that vulnerability was a sign of weakness, which caused me to suppress rather than process stressful or painful situations. Because my mom was my role model and I never saw her cry, I always tried my best to hold in my tears and put on a brave face. Over the years, however, I became more perceptive to my mother’s vulnerability. Its coexistence with her strength has taught me that the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually reinforcing. As the song says, memories have the potential to hit as hard or harder than our original experience of what we’re remembering; my changed perspective has enabled me to gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of those feelings.
It takes courage to tremble, to open up one’s emotions and passions to the world for judgement. When I listen to “Yesterday Once More,” I can feel Karen Carpenter’s vulnerability. The way her pure, translucent voice puts her pain on display has sparked the realization I am not alone in my own experiences of pain, and given me strength. Dancing to this song has allowed two contrasting ideas to live in harmony in my mind, and reminded me of art’s incredible power to convey emotions, especially the ones that are most difficult to express.
What Boston College wants to find out by asking this question is how the student thinks and feels about something important to them, in this case a piece of art. They want to get a sense of the emotional core of the student, how they think about the world, and their place in it. Boston College likes to emphasize its academic focus and prowess, and this question is designed to make students think about their answer, and about themselves.
The essay starts by quoting from the song in question, which works well for a piece centered on a song. The intro then ties this song to an emotional moment; a dance piece defined by emotional vulnerability and openness. The essay doesn’t get into the piece itself, but instead paints a picture of the precipice, standing in the dark wings before plunging into the bright lights and openness of the stage.
This clearly ties the piece of music to an emotional moment, and to the particular emotions it evokes. This immediately tells the reader what the essay will be about, while also letting them know why the author cares about this song specifically: the melancholy caused by memory.
The second paragraph relates the song to the author’s own life, emotions, and experiences. The question does not necessarily have to be about emotion, but it is easy to answer in this context, as great art often evokes an emotional response.
The question asks about art which evokes wonder, nourishes mind and spirit, and which has impacted or influenced you. This gives broad leeway, as there are many ways a piece of art can inspire or otherwise impact a person. Here, the song allows the author to connect better to her emotions, and to process them more fully. The essay is as much about maturing as a person as it is about the piece of art.
In this way, the author not only answers the question, but lets the school know how they think and feel, and how they have grown as a person. This demonstration of beliefs and values lets the school know who the student is. This is important for Boston College, as they are a Jesuit school, and believe strongly in their values.
While you do not have to answer the question on art, essays which ask students to relate to their emotions, or events or external influences which have greatly impacted them should be answered honestly and earnestly. Boston College wants to make sure that the student’s values line up with their own. While grades and test scores will tell them whether or not a student is qualified, it is the essays like this which let them know if the student and their values will fit with those of the school.