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Vibe of Colby, Hamilton, Bates, Bowdoin, Middlebury, vs. Kenyon

NVmom2021NVmom2021 1 replies2 threads New Member
It's so hard to get a sense of the subtleties between these colleges when one can't visit. Any thoughts? My outdoorsy student who is interested in politics and government and creative writing wants a friendly campus with a good social life, but that is not very greek. Ideally, a playful atmosphere.
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Replies to: Vibe of Colby, Hamilton, Bates, Bowdoin, Middlebury, vs. Kenyon

  • happy1happy1 24410 replies2457 threads Super Moderator
    If you haven't done so yet I recommend you get your hands on one or more of the good college guide books (ex. Fiske, Princeton Review, Insiders Guide) which have write ups of these schools.
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  • NVmom2021NVmom2021 1 replies2 threads New Member
    Thank you. I have, and found them very helpful, but I was hoping to hear from some students or parents of students who go to these schools or went there recently. When my oldest was applying, he spoke to multiple students on campus, and observed them to fill in his picture of the college .
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6800 replies10 threads Senior Member
    For many students, in fact most, they would be happy at any of these, and the differences are really around the edges. All are somewhat isolated, have self-contained community, plenty of smart, hard-working kids, and a party scene that involves a fair amount of alcohol. If you were going to look at the subtleties, starting with the Maine schools, their historic (decades ago) reputations were that Bates was artsier and crunchy, Colby was most outdoorsy and sporty, and Bowdoin was maybe the most "blue-blood" of the 3, bit closer to Colby than Bates. They all look more similar than different today but there is still probably a bit of that "flavor" that persists. Hamilton and Kenyon are probably closer to Bates on that spectrum while Middlebury is probably closer to Colby.

    I think the Fiske recommendation is a good one. Reading student reviews (with a shaker of salt handy) on Niche might help. I would also recommend checking out the social media for each -- not just admissions run but also team-run accounts. No one of them is a single truth, but put together, they might fill out the picture a bit.

    If your son knows kids from his school who are current students, he should definitely try to talk with them. I think some of the "shading" is of the type that's more apparent and meaningful to students than adults.

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  • circuitridercircuitrider 4187 replies185 threads Senior Member
    You've got five NESCAC colleges versus Kenyon. It's impossible to over estimate the amount of money, energy and "vibe" that goes into competing in the most competitive DIII athletic conference in the country. Even the least sports-oriented among them - Bates - has 47% of its student body playing a varsity sport. Kenyon, known for its literary review, is the clear outlier.

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  • LindagafLindagaf 11262 replies603 threads Super Moderator
    All of those versus Kenyon. Ganging up on Kenyon, haha. I know a lot about Bates, so I’ll give you my thoughts.

    My D is a Bates ‘20 grad. She was all set to attend Kenyon, which she really liked, until she got off Bates’ waitlist. She had a great experience there. I just asked her if she felt your description matched Bates. She said “that sounds about right.” Both my daughter and I think that if she had attended Kenyon, she would have also had a good experience too. There is no doubt it’s a wonderful school.

    There were unexpected advantages that ultimately made her glad she chose Bates. One is the proximity to Boston and NY, both places where a lot of Bates kids end up working. My daughter, in fact, has a job in one of those cities. The other is that she really enjoyed being in Lewiston, which is not beautiful, but has plenty of places to eat, a lovely river, shopping, and easy access to Portland with all its offerings. She has said on numerous occasions that she found Lewiston’s mix of Somalian and French Canadian residents in the least diverse state in the country to be really interesting. Lewiston is a “it grows on you” kind of town.

    Another advantage is Short Term, which is universally loved. It gives kids a great opportunity to do so many interesting classes and allows them to be on campus at a wonderful time of year without the more intense academics of the regular school year. A lot of students, especially those who will not be studying abroad, also enjoy various short study abroad trips.

    I am sure most would agree that Kenyon will have a great creative writing program. It’s professors are excellent, students are happy, and it has a beautiful campus. But if my kid was doing it all over again, she would choose Bates over any of the others.
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  • merc81merc81 12047 replies205 threads Senior Member
    If creative writing develops into a primary consideration for your student, then look especially closely at Kenyon and Hamilton:

    :https://contently.net/2014/11/06/resources/tools/training/10-best-colleges-creative-writers/

    https://www.flavorwire.com/409437/the-25-most-literary-colleges-in-america
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  • LindagafLindagaf 11262 replies603 threads Super Moderator
    Should add that my D didn’t play any sport and there are plenty of arty, nerdy, urbanite, outdoorsy kids, in addition to athletes. Many of those kids are also athletes. Sports doesn't dominate campus life, though there is a ton of school spirit. In normal times, there is so much else going on.

    I loved hearing about what my D had been doing on campus. Her good friend was on the ballroom dancing team, so they would watch them rehearse, then they would all cook a meal together, then they might play games for a while, then go to a party. Or my D would attend a Chinese cooking class. Or they’d get on the campus shuttle and go to Freeport or Portland. She and her friends once went to a LedZeppelin tribute concert in Portland, but there were also concerts on campus with performers too young for me to have heard of, haha. When the weather is good, some people camp up on Mt. David. Everyone goes to big campus events such as Winter Formal and Gala. Bates sponsored a ski day at a local mountain including all the gear so my D skied for the first time in years. She went apple picking, then went to a local outdoor haunted house that was truly scary.

    It was four years of a great time, combined with excellent academics.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6800 replies10 threads Senior Member
    edited September 16
    ^^ I think that all these schools have these types of activities available to their students. I mention this only because the OP is trying to understand the difference in vibe between the schools, not pick one over the other. This, imho, is an example of how they have become more similar.

    This is also why most students at one would be quite happy at any of the others.
    edited September 16
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  • PublisherPublisher 11870 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited September 16
    A meaningful difference might be found in the percentage of students receiving need based financial aid.

    I suspect that Kenyon College (about 1,661 students) is the most distinct school among this group as it attracts lots of students from wealthy families. About 40% receive financial aid with 9% Pell grant eligible.

    Colby (1,917 students) is at 42% and 14% respectively.

    Middlebury College (2,511 students) is at 44% and 16% Pell grant eligible.

    Bates (1,787 students) is at 46% and 11%.

    Bowdoin College (1,811 students) is at 48% and 16%.

    Hamilton (1,885 students) is at 51% and 18%.

    Worth noting that Middlebury College has the largest number by far of undergraduate students among this group of elite LACs.

    P.S. "Outdoorsy" is not a term that I would use in reference to Kenyon College students.

    "Outdoorsy" students might prefer Bowdoin, Bates, Middlebury, Colby, and--not on your list--St. Lawrence University (about 2,400 students) in extreme upstate New York. 99% receive financial aid / scholarships & 23% Pell grant eligible.
    edited September 16
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  • PublisherPublisher 11870 replies161 threads Senior Member
    OP: Might be helpful if you further defined "playful atmosphere".
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  • kbm770kbm770 173 replies2 threads Junior Member
    I appreciate this discussion, as we haven't had a chance to visit the Maine schools and always appreciate the insights from those who know the campuses well. In many ways, it seems like the schools on this list are more alike than different. Regarding the number of students who receive need-based aid, I'm not sure the differences noted would substantially shift the "vibe" on campus. (43% of Kenyon students receive need-based aid, so not markedly different than Colby or Middlebury). FWIW, Kenyon is the only place on this list that offers merit aid.
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  • MidwestmomofboysMidwestmomofboys 4260 replies27 threads Senior Member
    We've spent a lot of time at Kenyon, as both my kids visited, my LAC kid went through recruiting there so spent a lot of time on campus, and then chose a different school in the same conference so competed against Kenyon, bringing us to campus multiple times over 4 years.

    Kenyon was among the 10 least economically diverse schools (colleges and universities) on the NY Times study a couple years ago -- 19.8% of the students from the top 1% economically, and 12% of the students from the bottom 60%. In my experience, that lack of economic diversity is visible on campus -- there are many, very nice cars in the crowded student parking lot and the kids hanging out in the coffee shop have an urban, sophisticated attitude. Families at athletic competitions fit the image of east coast wealth (full disclosure, I'm from one of those east coast monied, preppy communities.) Granted, D3 athletic recruits are often non-diverse, so it is not a slice of the entire campus, but it was consistent with our experience walking around campus, eating in the coffee shop and restaurants etc.

    Another vibe difference is Greek life -- Kenyon and Hamilton, I believe, are the only schools on the OP's list with Greek life. While Greek life is non-residential at Kenyon, at least pre-covid housing, specific halls in dorms were reserved for members of specific fraternities and sororities so that members were still living together in the dorms.

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  • MidwestmomofboysMidwestmomofboys 4260 replies27 threads Senior Member
    I should add that my LAC kid also went through recruiting at Bates so we had multiple visits there as well, as well as Conn Coll and other non-NESCAC LACs. Ultimately, we realized merit aid was a necessary component of our process so the NESCACs came off the list.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 11262 replies603 threads Super Moderator
    It’s worth noting that Kenyon’s merit scholarships are not easy to get. They are generally reserved for tippytop students. https://www.kenyon.edu/admissions-aid/financial-aid-scholarships/scholarships-grants/

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  • MidwestmomofboysMidwestmomofboys 4260 replies27 threads Senior Member
    edited September 16
    Kenyon's Common Data Set indicates that about 20-25% of the student body gets merit, non-need based aid and. The average award is about $15k, with awards ranging from $10-25,000 per year.
    edited September 16
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  • merc81merc81 12047 replies205 threads Senior Member
    edited September 16
  • time4adventuretime4adventure 41 replies13 threads Junior Member
    My daughter is at Kenyon and loves it so far. She sound very similar to Motherprof's daughter. She artsy, not into Greek life, and enjoying the really great friend group she has made already. They are a little nerdy just like my daughter and she couldn't be happier. She also got a great merit and financial aid package. She's not looking for a campus job this year, but she will look next year.

    Out of the list you mentioned, my daughter only looked at Kenyon. We would have possibly considered Bates as well if they had merit, but the others just seem like a different vibe. She also looked at and was admitted to Grinnell and Oberlin like Motherprof above. The vibe of the other schools mentioned seemed different than the vibe at Kenyon and did not offer merit aid, which was important for us.

    She visited twice and never felt a wealthy/elite vibe. For her, she saw more theater and arts and social justice. Maybe the athletic recruits are less diverse as whole as Midwestmomofboys speculated? My daughter wouldn't know about that group as much as she is definitely not a jock. It's been a great experience at Kenyon so far for her. And, trust me, we are not part of the "elite" wealthy families that Publisher mentioned above. I think that may be a misconception about the school, or perhaps it was like that in the past?
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  • merc81merc81 12047 replies205 threads Senior Member
    edited September 20
    With respect to some of these schools' excellent government programs, consider their variations:

    Bowdoin. Well-established and respected. May be somewhat resistant to change.

    Bates. Gets to the essence of topical events with a Politics major.

    Hamilton. Offers an uncommon Public Policy major and a popular Washington, D.C. semester.

    Kenyon. Available IPHS courses offer excellent preparation for the study of government.
    edited September 20
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  • PublisherPublisher 11870 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited September 21
    With respect to Kenyon College and wealthy families, it was the result of a study by--if I recall correctly--either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal that determined that Kenyon College had a higher percentage of students from the top 1% regarding wealth or income (I forget) than all but a very, very, very few schools.

    In recent years, however, Kenyon College experienced a serious downturn in numbers of applications received due to well known (highly publicized due to related tragedies) & admitted (by faculty & administration) excessive drinking of alcohol by students.

    Lower number of apps resulted in easier admissions.

    Kenyon College is beautiful & has an excellent reputation built up over several decades. But it is small (1,660 students), remote, and cold for much of the school year. As noted in the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020: "It can be tough at times dealing with the location...."

    P.S. @NVmom2021: My take on the Kenyon College parent comments in this thread is that Kenyon College was chosen primarily due to academic merit scholarship financial aid awards.

    Good school, beautiful campus, but small & isolated. Lots of drinking.

    Middlebury College probably has the most political activism on campus. Reports that there is a significant divide between athletes & non-athletes. Gorgeous campus in a beautiful setting. Largest enrollment among your listed schools. Plus, it is in Vermont. And that is a good thing.

    Bowdoin College is great. It is what many think a New England LAC should be. Lobster.

    Colby College has a new athletic facility that should greatly enhance student life.

    Hamilton & Bates are academically oriented. And friendly--as are all of these schools.
    edited September 21
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