Bowdoin College (visited 7/30/18)
I haven’t found many schools that have annual Lobster Bakes. Several people I talked to listed this as one of their favorite traditions: “The entire campus goes out to the field where Dining Services have steamed 1,500 lobsters. You’re getting an intro to Maine but also an intro to this really cool community!” said one of the reps.
The Orientation Trip was another event that got rave reviews from several students. “Everyone sleeps together in the field house the first night, then they depart on their trips the next morning,” explained one student. There are multiple options for trips. One student loved it because she said, “If I backpacked for 40 miles, I can do anything.”
The sense of community is developed immediately starting with this orientation, and of course, admissions make deliberate decisions based on fit. Their supplemental essay asks students to choose one line from “The Offer of the College” and write up to 250 words about it. It talks about what they think is meaningful. “If you don’t want to do these things, maybe this is the wrong school for you,” said the admissions Rep. “We’re looking for curious people, who are looking at the world and trying to solve problems, who love learning. We want you to have a vibrant intellectual live but also an equally vibrant life outside the classroom.”
“I think Bowdoin is a remarkably diverse community considering where we are,” said one student on the panel. “It’s a pretty white state, but this stands out as a place that draws people from all over, all colors and religions. I thought my high school was diverse, but this place blows me away.” About 35% of the incoming class are American students who self-identify as POC. “We don’t want to say that we’re perfect,” said a rep. “There’s always room for growth. We want this to be representative of the world around us.”
Because of it’s relatively rural location, a lot happens on campus. Freshmen are housed together (including in suites which have tiny bedrooms, but the sitting room makes up for that), and all first-year students are affiliated with one of the Campus Houses (about half the sophomores live in one of Campus Houses which replaced Greek Life). Affiliated students get first-dibs on the activities thrown by that house, although all students are welcome at any house on a space-available basis. They got rid of Greek life since that wasn’t inclusive enough; the Campus House system is inclusive and provides a great deal of social life as well as a way to integrate the first-year students into campus.
Almost 1/3 of students are athletes. The big athletic center is about a 10-minute walk from the main campus, and there are some townhouses near there for upperclassmen. There seems to be a fairly robust athletic culture on campus, both for participants and spectators. The student union is in what was the old field house (and you can tell!). It’s an interesting building with a variety of spaces, including different places to eat. The Thursday and Saturday SuperSnacks (open 10pm-1am) were brought up by a couple students. Food overall gets high marks (one student said it was a 10). The Holiday meals, particularly Thanksgiving, were mentioned more than once: “the meals are delicious meals and the community is invited. It makes me happy to see families come with kids.”
Getting off campus is easy, as well. The Outing Club is active and popular, not surprising because of the location in Maine. For a one-time $50 outdoor activity fee, student have access to over 150 trips per year and equipment. For students wanting a bigger city, buses run into Portland.
One of the students on the panel said, “This is a place where we don’t compete with each other. Students don’t ask each other what they got or say, Well, I beat you.” This is shown in the alumni network as well. They have one of the most well-connected alumni bases in the world; they want to hire Bowdoin grads. Classes incorporate collaborative projects; for example, math classes may have students list who they worked with on the problems because they want people who can work together.
There are distribution requirements in five broad areas with lots of choice. Additionally, everyone takes a First-Year Seminar (this does NOT fulfill one of the 5 areas) capped at 16 people. One of the panelists took Women at War; another took Class and Identity. “It was nice to have a space where you don’t feel intimidated by upperclassmen.”
Government and Legal Studies is their most popular and well-known program with about 20% of students majoring in that. For a school this size, they offer an amazing array of unusual programs, some of which you’d be hard-pressed to find even at some large universities:
- 8 Interdisciplinary Majors: Art History/Archaeology, Art History/Visual Arts, Chemical Physics, CompSci and Math, English and Theater, Math and Econ, Math and Education, and Physics and Education.
- Special Programs such as:
For a school of this size, I was surprised at how large some of the classes were. Although class size averages 16 students, all the students I spoke to had large classes up to 70 students (Intro to Africana Studies). Two said their Intro to Psych was their largest (45 and 50) and Economics (40). However, they also had classes of 4 (Intro to Chinese) and 9 (Historical Simulations).
Admissions is test-optional. “Test taking a great skill, but it doesn’t tell me how you interact with peers, see the world, overcome problems, how you write or create – it tells me nothing about who you are as a person.” They’re definitely curious about the people who are applying and want them to use the application as a means to convey who they are. “Don’t use your essay to tell us what you want to do when you graduate. It’s important and part of who you are, but we’ll get that in other parts of your application. We want to know about who you are RIGHT NOW.”
A couple last fun facts:
- Longfellow and Hawthorne are alumni (and the library is named after them).
- The campus (or at least several of the buildings!) is haunted.