Bowdoin College is one of the most highly regarded liberal arts colleges in the country. The students are known to take their academics very seriously while enjoying a thriving social scene. It is really true that students discuss academic ideas with their professors and classmates. Students seem intellectually engaged, bright, and articulate. Bowdoin is in the small coastal city of Brunswick, Maine. The population is just over 20,000. On Maine’s southern coast, it is located 30 minutes east of Portland, Maine (population 500,000) and just south of Lewiston-Auburn (population 50,000.) So even though Maine is not a highly populated state, Bowdoin in not exactly in the middle of nowhere. It is conveniently on the I-95 corridor and easily accessible to Maine’s population centers. Augusta, the state capital, is less than an hour to the North. Bowdoin and the surrounding area have a youthful and current energy.
The students at Bowdoin seem to strike a nice balance between academics and fun and between political awareness and respectful inclusiveness. The school is predominantly liberal, but there is an ongoing balanced debate on campus. There is a preppy and athletic feel on campus (as seen by an abundance of North Face, Patagonia, and LL Bean apparel,) but the style seems to derive from the long winters, beautiful surroundings, and popular outing club instead of from a false snobbery. Students are, for the most part, environmentally conscious. Some complain about a lack of diversity and the sheltered environment, but Bowdoin is praised for being inclusive and accepting of everyone. Bowdoin attracts students from all over the US and abroad. Of the almost 1800 undergraduate students, 10% are international. Eighty-nine percent come from outside of Maine, and 63% come from outside of New England. Twenty-five percent of all students are from Massachusetts. Sixty-five percent of students are white, 12% are Hispanic, 7% are Asian, and 5% are African American. It is very difficult to be admitted to Bowdoin!
Students often venture into Brunswick, which has a cute college-town feel. A short walk from campus on Maine Street are coffeehouses, a local movie theater, a performing arts theater, about forty restaurants, bookstores, a local theater, and plenty of shops. The most popular off-campus hangouts are Jack Magee’s Pub, Joshua’s, and the Sea Dog. On Thursday nights, students go bowling in town. The Big Top is a favorite weekend breakfast locale. Because there are not a lot of bars in Brunswick, older students sometimes go to Portland to barhop. Students also venture to Boston. There are no fraternities or sororities at Bowdoin, but there are parties each week that are thrown by different groups on campus. The campus pub has a dance party every Thursday night. The campus brings in tons of speakers, lectures, plays and dance shows. Despite Bowdoin’s ideal location and lively feel, students usually sacrifice at least one weekend day to study, write papers, or read for class.
All freshmen live in one of 8 residence halls. Each of these freshman residence halls is associated with one of the 8 College Houses. Students remain affiliated with their college house for their whole undergraduate career. Upper classman can either live in their College House or in one of several other options available to students. The College Houses, in theory, form a strong community basis at the college. In actuality, they seem to be a nice addition but don’t create the strong sense of belonging and tradition that are intended. Students can affiliate with as many of the houses as they wish—beyond their original assignment. The houses do sponsor all kinds of social activities throughout the year. Housing is only guaranteed for the first two years, but it is exceedingly rare for any student to denied on campus housing. Ninety percent of students live on campus. Bowdoin ranks as one of the top colleges in the nation for student satisfaction in dining. The school also does a good job of placating its resident vegans, and has been lauded by the likes of PETA for furnishing abundant tofu. Bowdoin buys its produce from local farmers, and fish from local vendors, helping to support the waning agricultural sector in the region. There’s even a Bowdoin organic farm. It’s not surprising that 97 percent of the off-campus students participate in the college meal plan.
The faculty and the administration are highly praised by the students. The professors are said to be handily accessible and involved in student learning. They know their students’ names and are involved. It’s not uncommon for students to dine with professors or to babysit their kids. The administration is said to be caring. There are 33 departmental and program majors offered at Bowdoin, including a coordinate major in Environmental Studies. Students can also chose to get an interdisciplinary major, of which 8 are already defined. Students have the freedom to create their own interdisciplinary major under the guidance of faculty. The following programs offer minors, but not majors: Film Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and Dance. Theater is a minor, but it can be incorporated into an interdisciplinary major with English. Sixty percent of students complete independent studies working one-on-one with faculty on topics they co-design. These studies can range from directed reading projects to yearlong research to creative projects in the arts. The core requirements are minimal. Students must take a freshman seminar and then one class each in math, art, science, exploring cultural differences, and international perspectives. It is not easy to get A’s at Bowdoin. Students work hard for B’s! Learning is there for learning’s sake. Some complain that Bowdoin could do a better job of preparing students for internships and real world experiences, but the academics can be excellent if this is what a student seeks. Bowdoin seems to set students up terrifically for post college life. Bowdoin graduates have high success in going on to leading graduate schools or jobs.
Sixty-nine percent of classes have fewer than 20 students. Twenty-eight percent have 20 – 49 students. Not quite 3 % of classes have more than 50 students. The average class size is 16. All classes are taught by full professors. Undergraduate students can be teaching assistants who, while they don’t teach classes, serve as tutors and academic resources for other students. TAs hold office hours and are available for problem set help and other assistance. Undergraduate native speakers hold labs that complement foreign language classes. They also lead organized sections that meet regularly to reinforce classroom material. I think it’s odd that undergraduates have this responsibility—especially when the professors are reportedly so accessible, but this is a common theme among liberal arts schools. I’ve recently visited 2 other schools where undergraduates also lead discussion groups and tutor.
The Center for Learning and Teaching is a resource center where students can get additional support in quantitative fields, in writing, in English for non-native speakers, and in general organizational skills.
There are 190 students actively engaged in research at Bowdoin. Each spring the college awards over 100 Research Fellowships and Research Awards to help students carry out faculty mentored research across all disciplines. Many students go to major research universities in the summers for more extensive research opportunities—another common them among smaller colleges that I notice.
Bowdoin does not own its own study abroad programs but does remain discerning in choosing which programs Bowdoin students can attend. Academic preparation for study abroad begins before students embark on their journeys with relevant coursework completed prior to participation. Bowdoin’s goal is that the experience abroad will continue to shape and contribute to the academic studies of students upon return through independent research, honors projects, and post-graduate work.
Bowdoin is test optional and has been since 1969. Students are not required to report standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT. 15% of students do not. The exception to the test optional policy is that home schooled students and students who attend high schools with no grades must submit SATs or ACTs and 2 SAT subject tests for admission. Once admitted, all students must submit scores for placement purposes.
For the class of 2016, 14% of women and 18% of men who applied were accepted overall.
Mid Range scores (for the students who report scores for admissions)
86% of students were in the top 10% of their high school class.
Freshman retention rate: 94%
4 year graduation rate: 88.1%
Cost-of-attendance is $58,200
Bowdoin meets 100% of a student’s demonstrated need and is need blind in admissions. Bowdoin adopted a no loan policy for financial aid a few years ago.
Bowdoin doesn’t offer any merit aid beyond $1000 for National Merit Scholars.