Colby College was originally founded in 1813 as the Maine Literary and Theological Institution in order for the Baptists in the region to train and prepare their own ministers. In 1821, after Maine separated from Massachusetts, the school was renamed Waterville College and later dropped the theological programs in favor of a more liberal arts curriculum. The school flourished until the Civil War, when after the student body was depleted from the war, the college faced closure since its funds were depleted during those bleak years. However, a substantial gift from Gardner Colby made it possible for the school to continue it’s educational mission and it was renamed Colby University in his honor. One final name change in 1899 brings the school to it’s current moniker of Colby College.
Geographically, the town of Waterville occupies an enviable
position of being both remote and central. Within an hour and a half’s drive are the Maine
coast, Sugarloaf (favorite ski mountain of the Colby community), Freeport (where L.L.
Bean has its flagship store), and Portland, a small dynamic city of restaurants, art, and live
music. Drive another two hours and you’re in Boston. Montreal is also within easy driving
distance, and closer than that are the Maine North Woods, western Maine mountains, and
more lakes and rivers than there’s time to paddle. On the other hand, it’s possible to go for
months without leaving campus. There are events every weekend night, lectures most
weeknights, and an astonishing amount of live music.
The school has the distinction of being the 12th-oldest private liberal arts college in the United States, along with being the first all-male institution in New England to admit female students in 1871. Students here have unique opportunities, such as participating in research as undergraduates and the highly popular Winter Term, where students can intern, attend a specialized class, or complete research without any formal classes required at the same time.
Fifty-three majors (and thirty-three minors) with biology, economics, and
government graduating the highest percentage of students any given year are offered. The school has all the majors you would expect a school of its size and caliber
to offer, from creative writing to Latin American studies to science, technology, and society. Students who don’t like to be put in boxes have the option of making their
own box, with the Independent Major program, and every year a handful of individuals take
advantage of that offer, to create personal majors in geography, medieval and renaissance
studies, environmental education, or something else.
Most students complete all but a handful of the ten or so classes in the
distribution requirement by simply choosing classes they like, or by completing their major.
For the nontechnically inclined student, the quantitative and lab science requirement can
be a drag, but friendly faculty try to soften the blow by offering “Chemistry for Citizens” and
“Mathematics as a Liberal Art,” for example. Keeping students on track to complete their
requirements is one of the most important functions of the academic advisor.
Around two-thirds of students study abroad in their junior year through the Office
of Off-campus Studies. While programs have to be preapproved by the college, they
range geographically from Mexico to Madagascar to Morocco. Study abroad has an amazing
impact on the social lives of second-semester juniors and seniors. But it also
splits the junior class and, for students going abroad in different semesters, makes it hard
to stay in touch with friends. Overall, the program is a very positive one, but, like anything,
it comes at some costs.
Colby maintains its own study-abroad programs at universities in Dijon, France, and
Salamanca, Spain. In addition, the
Dijon and Salamanca programs are also open to entering first-years. Every year approximately
forty first-years forgo their first semester at the college and instead study abroad. They
come back for the January term having missed much of the freshman fall, but
also COOT2 (orientation), and everything else. While certainly not for
everyone, the freshman study-abroad program is well attended and well liked, and part of
what sets the school apart from the pack.
Another thing that sets the college apart is the Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip (COOT also
stands for Colby On-campus Orientation Training, hence the 2).
Though the program has seen some changes in the last few years, the core components
remain. Student leaders take small groups of first-years out into the wilderness that
is Maine’s true natural resource, go from somewhere to somewhere else, and create lasting
bonds in the process. There are rigorous trips backpacking in the Mahoosuc Mountains, and
there are somewhat slower trips, floating down the Saco River. Other COOT2 trips offered
include trail work, community service, sailing, rock climbing, and theater.
The integrated studies program is a structured way of taking related classes, most often
as a first-year student. In the Green Cluster, for example, students take environmental
ethics, environmental literature, and biodiversity. Integrated studies clusters last one
semester, and most students who take them thoroughly enjoy the connections they make.
That said, they do not form a big part of the curriculum and exist largely on the periphery.
Recent clusters have been: America in the Postwar World: 1945–1970; The World of Ancient
Greece: Passions, Poets, Philosophers; and Death in the Renaissance.
The January term usually known as Jan Plan, is one of the things that makes the school unique. Though it shortens winter break considerably, Jan Plan allows students to
do whatever they can think of, as long as they can find a valid academic reason for doing it.
Professors offer intensive classes in everything from volcanology to photography. Some students
take requirement-fulfilling classes, while others take classes not offered during the
normal school year, such as furniture making or blacksmithing. Each year, a few lucky students
travel abroad with Jan Plan programs to teach music in India, learn about the
Chinese economy hands on, or work on biology projects in Costa Rica. Otherwise busy students
take advantage of guitar or voice lessons, and many opt to get off campus. Jan Plan
is an optimal time for a short internship, or an independent project. In recent years, more
than one student has made a ski movie, and two roommates who had decided not to study
abroad took the month to ride the length of Vietnam on a Soviet motorbike. Recent internship locations include Comedy Central, the Maryland State House, and the headquarters of
the New England Patriots. Jan Plan is what one makes it (though faculty approval is
needed). Students must complete three approved Jan Plans to graduate.
Public Affairs and Civil Engagement
The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civil Engagement sponsors lectures, lunches,
and student projects, but for a lot of students, civil engagement goes far beyond that. The
Volunteer Center boasts 160 volunteers and sends students to where they’re needed in
the community. During 2007–08, 190 students contributed more than 3,800 hours to
community organizations through the Volunteer Center, and 200 students participated
in one-day service events. Three hundred students mentored children through Colby Cares
About Kids (CCAK), and 483 students participated in 25 civic engagement courses. Altogether,
students contributed more than 29,000 hours of service to local communities.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Admission to here is competitive. The admissions materials are actually rather
specific about what makes a strong applicant: “In making admission decisions, we seek
excellence—in academics, art, music, theater, research, work experience, publications,
leadership, public service, and athletics. We value diversity throughout the college and seek
candidates from all parts of the country and the world.” In other words, academics are
important, but extracurriculars play a big part of the admissions decision.
In terms of standardized testing, the college requires either the American College Test
(ACT) or the SAT or SAT Subject Tests in three different areas. While there is no minimum
score, 680 (per section) has been the average mean SAT score for students accepted in the
last few years. International Students are also asked to submit a Test of English as a
Foreign Language (TOEFL) score.
While not necessary, admissions interviews are strongly suggested, both as an opportunity
to ask questions, and as an opportunity to meet someone affiliated with the
college. Interviews are available on campus with admissions staff or off campus with alumni
interviewers until January 15th.
The college is committed to
working with admitted students on financial questions, and promises to meet full calculated
financial need. The school provides financial packages containing grants and work-study aid, but does not administer loans.
This can represent a large and welcome savings for middle-income students. Student loans
are still available to supplement the college package and students are also highly encouraged to seek outside scholarship opportunities.
Student Financial Aid Details
The school does not lack for student clubs and organizations. Into Japanese drumming?
The Taiko Club already has that handled. Want to give back to the community? Check out
the Colby Volunteer Center. Like to play outside? Join the Outing Club. Can’t find a club to
join? Start one. Want to run around? Play a sport.
Weekend activities are another place where there’s something for everyone. The
Outing Club (a chem-free club by charter) runs trips most weekends, and the Student
Programming Board (SPB) has an ample budget to make sure there’s something to do every
single weekend night. From intimate concerts in the coffee house, to campus-wide dances
in the student center, campus events has it
all. Still, many people prefer to stick to the dorms, and there’s a sizable party scene. Unlike
schools with fraternities or common houses, parties are generally smaller and it’s
rare to not know your host. For many students, Friday and Saturday are a time to
relax and cut loose (at the same time, if that’s possible) and Sunday is the day to spend in
the library, trying to get ready for the next week.
The school is a residential college, and a spot in a dormitory is guaranteed all four years. All
residences are co-ed, and all except one complex (the Alfond Senior Apartments) are
mixed among classes. Upperclassmen are allowed to live off campus, and each year approximately
five percent of students choose to live in Waterville or neighboring Oakland.
Since 2005 the school has been experimenting with themed dorms, in the Dialogue Housing
program. Because of the very new nature of the program, there have been a lot of
changes year to year, but it looks as though it’s here to stay. So far, room has been allowed for a
“green” dorm, an art and music house, and a Spanish-speaking floor of a larger dorm. The
idea is that by living together, students with similar priorities will be able to continue discussions
outside of the classroom, and put on events to involve the larger campus community.
Dialogue Housing is currently not open to first-year students.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Around half of the student population
competes in one form or another, with varsity teams competing in the NESCAC
conference. There are thirty-two varsity teams, and all are Division III (with the exception
of the Nordic and alpine ski teams, which compete in Division I). It also has thirteen club
teams, from sailing to badminton to rugby. Of the club teams, the woodsmen’s team stands
out as something that makes Colby a little bit different. Students (many of whom have
never held an ax before) compete in old-time lumber sports such as chopping, sawing, and
fire building, and welcome anyone to the field to try it out.
The alumni network is there for graduates all around the world.
From organized events to a hand-up in the job market, graduates are eager to meet students
and other graduates, making alumni feel a lot like family sometimes.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian,
Pulitzer Prize Winner
- Elijah Parish Lovejoy, 1826, Abolitionist
- Dan Harris, 1993, ABC News anchor
- E. Annie Proulx, 1957, Pulitzer Prizewinning
Author of The Shipping News
and Brokeback Mountain
- Eric S. Rosengren, 1979, Current
President and CEO, Federal Reserve
Bank of Boston
- Stuart Rothenberg, 1970, Editor and
Publisher of The Rothenberg Political
Report, CNN Political Analyst, and
- Tom Silverman, 1975, Founder of
Influential Hip-Hop Record Label
Tommy Boy Records
- Cecily von Ziegesar, 1992, Novelist,
Creator of “Gossip Girl” series
- Emmett Beliveau, Director of Advance
for President Barack Obama
Departments and majors are important, but in many cases they take a backseat to the
individual faculty who populate the departments. The school boasts a world-class faculty,
professors dedicated to teaching as much as to climbing in their fields, and it makes a difference.
It is not uncommon to see professors in their offices well into the night, at the campus
pub with seniors, and it is difficult to graduate without being invited to at least one
professor’s house for dinner or class discussion. The faculty-student ratio is 1:10, so most
classes are small and it is easy to get to know one’s teacher. The warmth and generosity of
the faculty with their time and their knowledge is often a big factor for students to decide to come here.