Bowdoin College


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.

Information Summary

Ranks 1st in Maine and 9th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.1
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $70,710
Admission Success rate N/A
SAT 75%ile scores 1510
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 8 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 98% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 1,828


“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 exploration.

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 fields.


  • Economics: “Patterns of Land Use, and Land Values, in Three Atlantic Coastal Regions”
  • 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 Developing Brain.”
  • Russian: “Existentialism, Social Realism, and Formalism in the Novels of Chernyshevsky, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky.”
  • 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.”

Off-campus Study

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 with Columbia.

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 events.

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


Campus Building :: Bowdoin College Mary Frances Searles Science Building :: Bowdoin College Stanley F. Druckenmiller Hall :: Bowdoin College
Visual Arts Center :: Bowdoin College Campus Building :: Bowdoin College


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 these.

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.

Early Decision

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.

Financial Aid

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).

Furthermore, the 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

Ranks 3253rd for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Maine.


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 and water.

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 October 2009.

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 Bowdoin pride.

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 after graduating.


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

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