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Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine

By the numbers:

  • 1800 total undergraduates; 500 first year students.
  • Private, liberal arts.
  • 15% of applicants admitted.
  • Test optional.
  • Net Price: $61,650. The college meets 100% of demonstrated need, with no loans.
 Bowdoin College. According to the tour guide, there are gates, but no walls between the College and the community of Brunswick.

Bowdoin College. According to the tour guide, there are gates, but no walls between the College and the community of Brunswick.

I visited Bowdoin College on an absolutely stunning summer day in early July. The campus is tucked in the middle of Brunswick, Maine, a picturesque village along the coastline of southern Maine, about a half hour from Portland. One of the free brochures distributed at the Admissions Office is a list of the best places to get lobster in town.

 I wonder what kind of roommate Longfellow was?

I wonder what kind of roommate Longfellow was?

A very enthusiastic student led a group of us on an hour-long campus tour, pointing out the usual highlights: the library, the freshman residence halls, the student union, and some academic spaces. Bowdoin is a venerable, old school with storied alums. We climbed to the third floor of Massachusetts Hall, built in 1802, to see a seminar-style classroom, and we walked past the window of what had been the poet Longfellow's college dorm room. The room is still in use today for student housing, and the tradition is that at least one of the students who lives there is destined to be an English major!


 Massachusetts Hall

Massachusetts Hall

The campus is simply gorgeous. Well manicured lawns, an attractive mix of old and new buildings, huge lush trees for shade, and an open quad the guide tells us is flooded in the winter and turned into an ice rink for skating and broom ball.

There is one concept that comes up time and time again: community. She tells us that Bowdoin has no walls to separate itself from the local community of Brunswick, and that the connection between the two is deep and rich. On campus, she talks about how collaborative the student body is. Despite the fact that the college is among the most selective liberal arts colleges in the United States, she asserts that the students are more interested in learning than they are in grades. Proudly, she indicates that the library is NOT open 24 hours a day because, "students need their sleep!" 

The Admissions info session, which followed the tour, reiterated these principles.  "We want you to engage in intellectual pursuit with a sense of modesty," was the way the admissions rep explained it. She also talked about the concept of "The Common Good" as central to the College's personality, and pointed out the importance of community service as a part of student life.

 Image from Bowdoin College

Image from Bowdoin College

Student life at Bowdoin has taken an important shift since the College eliminated Greek letter fraternities in 2000. The buildings that once housed fraternities have been converted to other use (the Admissions office, for example), or are now one of the "College Houses" that replaced them. With this new system, new students are assigned to one of the houses, and returning students can apply to live in the house of their choice with no obligation to live there in the future. The College provides funds to each house to do all campus programming and the House facilities are open to all students.

So, how do you become one of the fortunate 15% who are admitted to Bowdoin? The Admissions process is Test-Optional, but naturally, if you choose not to submit SATs or ACTs, there will be more attention focused on the other portions of your application. Bowdoin accepts the Common Application, but adds its own supplements.

 Interior of a Bowdoin academic building

Interior of a Bowdoin academic building

  • Your transcript, we are told, should show that you have "embraced rigor," and "worked across the disciplines." Translation? Take difficult courses from across the curriculum and do well in them. 
  • Your recommendations and your activities should show what sort of "classroom presence" you have, and how you have "engaged in the school and the community."
  • Your essay should demonstrate "your voice," and reveal a sense of excitement about who you are and how you might contribute to the community at Bowdoin.
  • Interviews are recommended, but an alumni interview off-campus carries the same weight as an on-campus interview.

The sticker price for a Bowdoin education isn't cheap: The overall cost of attendance tops $60,000 per year. However, Bowdoin is one of those rare colleges that is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for admitted students. And even rarer is the fact that they do this without including loans in their financial aid packages.

Students with very strong credentials who are interested in a high quality, traditional, liberal arts education, and who can see themselves in a small college in a small town in coastal Maine should put Bowdoin on their lists of colleges to explore.

 Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College