I visited Bowdoin College for half a day in September, 1989. Situated in the small town of Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin’s campus is nice looking and well-kept, though not strikingly beautiful. Bowdoin’s academic reputation is more notable than its campus, since it is usually considered to be one of the nation’s best small liberal arts colleges.
The small town of Brunswick is hardly a bustling metropolis and is often considered “boring” by students. But it has movie theaters, various stores, and a few restaurants. The much larger city of Portland is less than an hour away by car. Bowdoin is also close to several good skiing resorts.
Students described Bowdoin’s dorms as adequate. Upperclassmen get much better housing than freshman, often obtaining singles. The tour guide was quick to point out that Bowdoin’s food was rated second in the country by a recent survey. Indeed, I thought it was surprisingly good, better than what you find at some fast-food restaurants. A common gripe heard at Bowdoin was the lack of a student union, though one is under construction (scheduled for completion in 1991). Most Bowdoin students compete in intramural sports. The College’s sports facilities are very good, considering its small size.
All of the students I met were enthusiastic and eager to tell me about their school. They appeared intelligent and friendly. The student body’s main drawback is its relative lack of diversity. But the administration is trying to rectify this. The few non-white students I saw seemed to have little trouble fitting in.
The strong influence of fraternities on Bowdoin’s social life is a cause of controversy. Some students felt that the frats promoted social conformity. But everyone I met assured me that their (the fraternities’) power had declined
Students noted the College’s informal academic atmosphere as a major plus. Bowdoin has no letter grades, GPAs, or class rankings at this time. It doesn’t even require SAT scores for admissions. Most classes are relatively small, except for a few introductory courses. Students praised professors for their attentiveness to student needs, though they added that a few professors were comparatively poor.
Among Bowdoin’s best courses are its innovative freshmen seminars, small classes where students explore a specific subject in depth with a professor. Seminars are available in a wide variety of fields, including many unusual ones.
The tour guide was very helpful and stayed to answer numerous additional questions after the formal tour was over. And I learned far more from talking to him afterwards than from the tour itself.
No one attribute I saw really stood out above everything else, but I was impressed by the openness of the students. They did not hesitate to discuss any aspect of their college, even touchy issues such as its lack of diversity.
In general, Bowdoin’s drawbacks are far outweighed by its many advantages.
Reviewed in 1989