Just 25 miles up the
coast from the comfortable city of Portland, Bowdoin College’s idyllic campus provides unique opportunities
for an independent-minded student body. For more than 200 years, the school’s
world-class resources and tight-knit community have balanced tradition and innovation, a combination
that continues to shape principled world leaders in every field.
The campus is located is in the heart of Brunswick, a small town at the hub of several ocean peninsulas
where retirees, fishermen, and pilots from the nearby naval air station make for an
interesting milieu. Students and locals alike can take pride and enjoyment in the college’s
well-respected museums, frequent guest speakers, and outstanding hockey team.
The dining service, recognized as one of the best in the country, puts on annual lobster
bakes. Juniors and seniors can find great seaside cottages off campus, or choose from
among a wide variety of housing options, which include dormitories with quads and singles,
a sixteen-story tower of single-rooms, and college-owned houses and apartments. “The completely
renovated bricks” are the six mid-campus dorms that house all first-years and foster
tremendous class unity. Fraternities were abolished in 2000, and the college has now
acquired all of the houses; today these houses have been renovated, and make up the
College House system, a unique social and residential opportunity.
Thanks to ambitious fund-raising in the nineties, there are also handsome new dining,
library, and Outing Club facilities. President Barry Mills, himself a graduate, arrived
in 2001 and has worked to expand and diversify the student body.
In addition to the 205-acre campus—known for its beauty—the college owns 120 acres
of forest, fields, and wetlands along the shore of the Atlantic just eight miles from campus.
This site, on picturesque Orr’s Island (a short bridge connects the mainland) features
Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Center, for research in ecology, geology, ornithology, and marine
The school prides itself on its excellent faculty and its cutting-edge information and technology
resources. There is plenty here to guide a motivated student in his or her explorations.
Likewise, this is a place of many extracurricular passions. Sports are a popular part of college
life here, but so are the Outing Club, the campus radio station, and a variety of volunteer programs,
available through the new McKeen Center for the Common Good.
Nevertheless, this is primarily a venue for intense academic rigor (though the cutthroat
mentality is virtually unheard of here). Although students play hard, the spirit of
the college—evident in the admissions criteria, academic program, and alumni achievements—
is independent thinking. Students are encouraged to choose their own paths,
and that freedom of choice generates true intellectual growth.
Every other Friday at noon, the Bowdoin community
convenes to hear a faculty member or guest
speaker deliver a talk. The question-and-answer
period that follows is often animated and memorable.
Recent speakers have included Edward Albee,
Doris Kearns Goodwin, George Will, Judy Fortin,
Salman Rushdie, Paul Rusesabagina, Robert F.
Kennedy, Jr., and Bill Bradley. This “Common Hour”
is emblematic of the ideal for which the college has strived for over two centuries: a place
where a variety of people can engage each other directly in intellectual exploration.
Working much more closely
with their professors and peers than most of their Ivy League counterparts get to do, students learn to develop and explore previously untapped academic, cultural, political, and
artistic interests that they retain for the rest of their lives. Students also can enjoy
pinetrees, snowstorms, and quick jaunts to the craggy shoreline, while staying connected to the
world at large.
A “first-year” will find a school with strong traditions such as
lobster bakes and hockey. That same student will also find that the abolition of fraternities has
left the student body with a unique opportunity to determine the shape of the school’s social
scene and residential plan.
Students who benefit the most are those who seek out new challenges
and opportunities, who are willing to take risks, and who take pride in achieving their goals.
The student community is competitive but the cutthroat careerism of some of the larger
schools of this academic caliber is unheard of. Students know how to
relax, look around, and appreciate the gifts of place and community.
After more than two centuries of shaping the world’s leaders in business, diplomacy,
education, social activism, medicine, and law, the school has perfected the craft of offering a
rigorous, broadening curriculum to students from diverse backgrounds.
“To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket, and feel its resources behind you
in whatever task you undertake” is part of The Offer of the College, a sort of proto-Mission
Statement, ubiquitous within the community ever since a former president penned it
a century ago. Today the college remains true to this liberal arts ethos, with an academic program
designed to broaden the range of the intellect rather than stuff it with facts.
Of the total, students must take one course on mathematical, computational, or statistical
reasoning; one course on inquiry in the natural sciences; one course on “exploring social
differences;” one course on “international perspectives;” and one course in the visual and performing
arts. Courses are designed to help students hone their written and analytical skills,
deepen their aesthetic judgments, use varied forms of informational resources, and create
multifaceted solutions to complex problems.
In addition, students are required to take one
first-year seminar by the end of their second semester.
These seminars provide an opportunity for students
to take a small, seminar-style class about a
topic of interest that is also directed toward building
students’ writing, critical reading, research, and analytic
skills. The courses range widely; a few examples
include: Mass Media in American Politics; Seekers’
Lives; Dreaming in the Middle Ages; Non-Violence,
Nukes and Nationalism.
Students are allowed to direct their own studies,
taking classes in many different fields outside
their major. Pursuing two majors is not all uncommon. Requirements for the major vary, but
eight to ten courses is a rough standard.
Of the forty-two majors and forty minors available, the most statistically
popular are government, and economics history. Most students would agree that the film
students, artists, and economics majors are discernable groups, and that there are some
beloved professors in the Africana Studies and religion departments. Recent changes in the
academic structure include the creation of two new programs: Latin American Studies and
Gay and Lesbian Studies. New interdisciplinary majors have sprung up (English and Theater is just one), and for a small college in Maine, there are particularly strong departments
of Asian studies, neuroscience, and computer science (some interesting work with
robots and artificial intelligence here has caught international attention).
Several years ago, the campus theater underwent renovation and is now a vibrant center
for theater and dance on campus as well as a big draw for the Brunswick community. In
2007, the college’s landmark Walker Arts Building reopened after a two-year, $20 million renovation.
The building is the home of the Bowdoin Museum of Art, a teaching museum with a collection
of more than 14,000 objects. It is one of the oldest collegiate art collections in the
United States with works from the ancient world to the present. Also in 2007, the fine arts department opened
a new 290-seat state-of-the-art recital hall. And in the 1990s a donation by Stanley
Druckenmiller (class of 1975) made possible a new, state-of-the-art science building that is
successful both as a research center and as an architectural triumph.
I used the pass/fail option only once, in my first semester, because I
wanted to try some unfamiliar subjects before I got too serious. I did have a
friend who used it junior year, in a fifth class he took by special arrangement
with the dean. This meant that in the spring of our senior year he had to take
only three classes, which allowed him to spend the extra free time making trips
up to ski at Sunday River, which was about ninety minutes away. I had an AP
credit, so I also had just three classes; I joined my friend a few times, but mostly
used that extra time working on finishing my honors project.
Along with introductory-level courses (average size of 30), freshmen (known as “first
years”) may end up taking the regular course offerings that are the bread-and-butter
of upperclassmen. These classes have an average size of sixteen. Toward the end of
their time on campus, most students are back in senior seminars—the small, upperlevel
classes designed primarily for majors. Students are permitted to take up to four
classes on a “credit/ fail” basis, which allows for a greater opportunity for pressure-free academic
Independent Study and Honors Projects
Independent study is very popular, chiefly owing to the motivation of the students
and accessibility of the professors. Such projects allow the student (typically a junior or senior, but not always) to choose a topic,
set specific goals and schedules, and work closely
with a professor. An independent study usually
replaces one of the four classes the student would
normally take, and works like a class credit toward
graduation and, if applicable, the major.
Many projects begin as an extension of work
that a student and professor explored earlier—or had
to pass up—in a traditional classroom course.
Sometimes students with similar interests will band
together, find a professor, and use the independent
study model to create what is for all intents and purposes
a private class. Popular professors have been
known to direct three or four projects in one semester,
in addition to their classroom duties.
Some independent studies evolve into Honors
Projects. This last feature of the curriculum, however,
is much more involved than an independent
study; a typical Honors Project spans two semesters,
involves periodic oral defenses before the academic
department, and may culminate in the publication
of scientific data or a hundred-page paper. An
Honors Project is always a solitary endeavor, and
each department encourages only the
most motivated (i.e., graduate school-oriented) students
to pursue such a project.
Independent studies and Honors Projects are among the most attractive features of
the academic program. It is rare, even at the highest academic levels, for students to enjoy such
unfettered access to world-class faculty. Such close-quarter interaction is why intellectuals
are drawn to small, elite colleges such as this, and it is why they leave equipped
with superior critical- thinking skills and broad knowledge of cultural, historical, and scientific
- Economics: “Patterns of Land Use,
and Land Values, in Three Atlantic
- English: “The New Journalism:
True-Crime Novels of Norman
Mailer and Truman Capote”
- Sociology: “HIV/AIDS and Poverty
in South Africa”
- Chemistry: “Gas-Phase Hydrolysis
Reactions of Ester of Methyl-
Substituted Glutarates: Effect of an
Alpha Methyl Group.”
- History: “Representations of Race
in American Professional Baseball”
- Biology: “Effects of Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome on Cell Death and Cell
Death Gene Expression in the
- Russian: “Existentialism, Social
Realism, and Formalism in the
Novels of Chernyshevsky, Turgenev,
- Coastal Studies: “Burial Depth of
the Soft-Shell Clam, mya arenaria,
in Response to Food Availability
and Chemical Cues from the Green
Crab carcinus maenas: a Behavioral
Response to Confliction Needs.”
Many students (about fifty-five percent) study off campus, usually abroad, for
a semester or two of their junior year. Bowdoin sponsors a well-respected program
known as the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education. Students participate in more than one
hundred additional approved study-abroad programs.
Students less exotically inclined may also choose to study for a year at one of the schools
in the Twelve College Exchange: Amherst, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Smith,
Trinity, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Williams.
Other possibilities, for students who want both
a large university’s resources as well as the liberal arts
milieu, are the 3-2 engineering degree programs with
Columbia, Dartmouth, The University of Maine, the
California Institute of Technology or the 3-2 law program
The Writing Project
Naturally there is plenty of ambient literary energy
at the school that produced Hawthorne and
Longfellow, as well as hip, younger writers such as
Jason Brown and Willing Davidson.
The Writing Project is a tutoring program in
which students recognized for excellent writing serve
as editors for their peers. These students are there to receive first drafts of papers and return
them, prior to the due date, with nonjudgmental advice for revision.
The Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper, enjoys the distinction of being the oldest
continuously published campus weekly in the country; The Quill is a student-run literary magazine;
and the Forum, initiated in the late nineties, is an annual compilation of
essays by students, faculty, alumni, and staff, and its primary focus is an analysis of international
In addition to all of these outlets, the English department continues to be recognized
as first-rate. Scholars such as Pete Coviello, Ann Kibbie, Anthony Walton, are outstanding
in their fields.
Most Popular Fields of Study
The admissions committee reviews
grades, a personal essay, awards and honors, extracurricular
activities and accomplishments, and teacher
recommendations. Of special interest to the committee
is a demonstrated willingness to seek out intellectual
challenges in Advanced Placement and Honors
courses. Interviews, while not required, are strongly
encouraged, and can be arranged during a campus
visit or in one’s hometown with an alumni interviewer.
If supplementary materials such as musical tapes or
works of art help to flesh out one’s basic application,
then the committee encourages the applicant to submit
During the first week on campus,
every new student signs the
Matriculation Book. The book itself is
laid out in the president’s office on the
desk of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(class of 1825). Each new student meets
the president before signing his or her
own name. There is also a little bit of
time to peruse past volumes, which are
arrayed around the room, opened to the
signatures of Hawthorne (1825) and
former Secretary of Defense William
Cohen (1962), themselves once freshfaced
and eager new students.
The entire admitted class begins in the fall, and generally includes only a very small
handful of students who have transferred from other institutions. Some will have spent a day
and night on campus the year before in order to sample the classes, the social scene, and the
famously good food. Many will be international students, actively recruited by the college.
In addition to the Regular Decision program, there are two Early Decision programs. The first requires that application materials be postmarked by November 15,
and an applicant will receive notification a month later in mid-December. The second program
has the same deadline as Regular Decision (January 1), but those applying under this
program receive notification by mid-February. Both Early Decision programs are binding,
and ask for one’s signature to ensure that one enrolls if admitted.
The college is committed to making a Bowdoin education available to students regardless
of their financial situation. Financial aid at Bowdoin is need-based, which is to say that
award packages are not dispensed according to academic or athletic merit. These packages
include some combination of grants and student employment. In 2008, Bowdoin replaced student
loans with grants for all students.
For the class of 2012, for example, forty-one percent of all Bowdoin first-years received
need-based scholarship aid. The average first-year award is $35,757. The average portion that
is in the form of a grant is $34,192, and the average work contract is for $1,683.
The amount of financial aid given to each individual student is dependent on the
financial situation of the student’s family. Need is determined by an evaluation of financialresource
statements that the applicant submits to the Student Aid Office, and decisions are
made annually on an individual basis. Financial aid extends to the semesters during which
a student recipient studies off campus (in the United States or abroad).
college is able to offer some scholarships for postgraduate study at other institutions.
Some sixty percent of Bowdoin students work in part-time jobs on campus. Clerical work
in an academic department, shelving books in the library, and driving the campus shuttle are
some examples. There are plentiful off-campus jobs too.
The deadline for financial aid applications is February 15.
Student Financial Aid Details
Social Life and Activities
All kinds of off-campus activities are available within a short distance of the campus.
The residences are a short walk from downtown Brunswick, where students’ favorite stops are two
Indian restaurants, a small music store, a tea house, a popular bar called Joshua’s, and a
small movie theater filled with sofas and featuring indie films. A ten-screen cinema is a few
miles from campus.
The Outing Club arranges canoe trips, hiking,
skiing, biking, and other outdoor activ ities. Many
incoming students participate in preorientation trips
that last three or four days, at which time new students
bond with their classmates and enjoy Maine’s woods
Upperclass students are allowed
to have a car on campus. Cars are not allowed for
first-year students. Those students who do bring cars frequently find themselves leading trips
to Freeport, just fifteen minutes down a country
road. There students find a wide array of outlet
shops, but the main draw is L.L. Bean, legendary for
its gadgets, indoor fish pond, and for operating
twenty-four hours—the midnight trip to Bean’s is an
age-old finals-week tradition.
On campus, the Smith Union is undeniably the
hub of campus life. Here are the campus post office
and bookstore, a café, and a three-story pub (bring
ID). The building itself is an architectural masterpiece,
with a spacious central lounge filled with
couches and sofas. Guest speakers are frequent here, as are musical performers and petition
drives. Encircling this lounge is a ramp that takes students past art exhibits, the campus bookstore,
a game room, and meeting rooms.
The Social Scene
When Bowdoin phased out the fraternity system in 2000, the change turned the college
social scene and housing situation upside down (over a third of the student body had
been involved with the system, which was coeducational by the end). The college acquired
most of the vacated houses, did extensive renovations, and turned them into the nonexclusive
College House System, which provides students with many of the benefits of the old fraternity
system, such as leadership opportunities, party venues, self-governed houses, and
links with students of all four classes.
Now, from the day students set foot on the campus, they are affiliated with one of the
“Social Houses”; each House is paired with one of the first-year dorms. First-years use the house
as a gathering place, and have the option to live there over the next three years.
Although parties no longer revolve around fraternities, beer remains a staple of the social landscape, both at the Social Houses and several off-campus residences. Drugs
are uncommon in comparison to many colleges.
Living on the Water
Aside from the first-year dorms and the College Houses, Residence Life offers a broad spectrum
of housing opportunities. Every spring a lottery system, complicated but fair, determines
where students will live. Many sophomores end up in apartments in self-selected
groups of three and four. Most of the students living in the sixteen-story Coles Tower (there
are four suites per floor, with four rooms in each) are juniors. Seniors often live in one of
two clusters of condominium-like apartments, located beside the athletic fields, and
nestled in the pines.
I made a lot of money one summer working on a lobster boat. I was a
sternsman (all lobstering vessels have a captain and a sternsman) and I hauled
up traps, checked them, and baited them. I woke up according to the tides, and I
perpet ually reeked of rotten fish bait, but it was an incredible experience; I ate a
lot of seafood, got to be around Brunswick through a summer, and made a pile
of money. I also got to see the coast of Maine from a native’s perspective; this is
something that you sometimes miss when you’re wrapped up in campus life,
which gets pretty insular.
Students also explore off-campus housing opportunities. There are literally hundreds of
seaside cottages within twenty minutes of the campus, and many of these are owned by retirees
who spend only the summer in Maine. That means relatively low rent and a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to live on the coast. A handful of coveted leases are handed down perennially
between students, but a little searching is generally rewarded.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
One of the most striking aspects of the college
culture, according to visitors, is how many students participate in intercollegiate and
intramural sports. The school’s gyms see a lot of daily use too; many men and women jog
and lift weights. A new state-of-the art Health, Fitness, and Wellness Center will open in
There are thirty varsity intercollegiate sports teams here; thirty-five percent of students
participate. There are brand-new squash facilities, a new astroturf field, a boathouse, and
indoor and outdoor tracks. Diving, swimming, and water polo teams share a sixteen-lane swimming
pool. Cross-country and squash are dominant in their competitions. The ski team is
Division I, but the hockey team, which plays in the brand-new Watson Arena, is central to
Club sports like crew and rugby are also popular, and intramural competition (usually
dorm vs. dorm) is common on the school’s thirty-five acres of fields.
I lived off campus my senior year, in an old hunting lodge that had been
rented to seniors since the seventies. We were on our own island,
attached to the mainland by a causeway that flooded and stranded us only once
or twice a month. We paid $1,500 a month, among six of us, which was a little bit
more than what seniors paid on campus, but which was totally worth it. We got
solitude and social autonomy and a great venue for some unforgettable parties.
We made sure to pass the lease off to kids we knew so that we could come visit
Most students stay on a pretty regular
course through the school (eighty-six percent graduate in four years, and ninety-one percent
in five). In one recent class, eighty-nine percent of graduates responding had either enrolled
in graduate school or found employment in their field.
So it can safely be said that, in addition to intangible rewards, the respected degree opens
a lot of doors in the academic and professional world; the small class size means that
reputable professors are able to offer warm recommendations for their departing students.
The Career Planning Center
The Career Planning Center offers a wealth of resources for job searches, graduate school
applications, and underclassmen seeking summer internships. The staff helps students refine their résumés and interviewing skills.
One-on-one interview training with alumni, which
might include videotape posture analysis, is also
available. The Center indexes research on thousands
of internships across the country. Even for students
without specific ambitions there are workshops to
help make important postgraduate decisions. The
CPC publicizes the visits of recruiters and hosts
review test-prep courses for the GRE, LSAT, and
MCAT. At the Center, alumni offer job counseling,
networking, and informational interviews. Even after
graduation, alumni can still use the Career Planning
Center resources, such as a newsletter with job postings
and contacts within the alumni network.
Prominent alumni include:
- Franklin Pierce, President of the United States
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Novelist
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet and Linguist
- Major General Oliver Otis Howard, Union Army Officer and Founder and President of Howard University
- Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Savior of the Union and Governor of Maine
- Admiral Robert E. Peary, First Man to Reach the North Pole
- Harold Burton, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
- Alfred Kinsey, Author of Seminal Works of Sexual Psychology
- William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration
- George Mitchell, Diplomat and Former Senate Majority Leader
- Joan Benoit Samuelson, Gold Medal Winner in the First Women’s Olympic Marathon
- Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO, American Express
- Cynthia McFadden, Co-Host, ABC News Nightline
- Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO, Netflix