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 biology.
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.