Bowdoin vs Colby vs Middlebury vs Colgate

I just reread your post and see you are going back to visit Bowdoin and Colby. I would highly suggest you take the time to visit Bates too-it’s an amazing place! I think your daughter may find her “people” there.

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Yes. True about drinking at Colgate. Well advertised. Lol. And D was ok with that.

We just didn’t understand that almost all parties are Greek and limited to Greek members who are sophomore or older and, this year, 300 women rushed and only 200 bids were given so it was difficult to even get into the Greek system.

Other options for socializing in the evenings include the one bar in town that charges anywhere from $15 - $25 cover just to get in and maybe a dorm party or two but those are limited depending on who you know.

Also, a large percentage of students are athletes and they all have built in friends from the beginning with their team so those freshmen are automatically invited to upperclassmen get-togethers and parties. They start their year with their team and generally don’t hang with kids who aren’t on their team.

All of this to say that navigating the social life is difficult there if you aren’t from the NY/NJ area, aren’t an athlete, or not Greek. Our D just pledged a house and thinks it will be better for her now.

At other schools, one can make friends through activities and find things to do around campus but there are very little options for that in Hamilton, NY. Not saying that kids can’t make friends through non-athletic organizations but it’s a very large percentage of (1) kids who know each other from the east coast and (2) athletes.

Bowdoin just feels different with a much wider range of geography being represented by the students and it’s also more diverse in every other way and the parties are open.


Note that Bowdoin, Colby and Middlebury (as well as Bates, which was mentioned) appear in this site:


Hate to be repetitive, but I also thought the description of the interests was going to be followed by a plan to see Bates. Outdoorsy types, no Greek life.


With respect to this, Bowdoin students appear to regard their classroom experience especially highly:

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Thanks so much for all of this feedback! It is incredibly helpful. I think you validated our hunch that Colgate might not be the best social fit. She eliminated Bates on the visit last Fall, she just didn’t like the campus as much as the other schools. We are going to take your advice and add Middlebury onto our upcoming visit to Colby and Bowdoin and spend the time in person for her to make the decision based on where she best sees herself. Thanks again for all of the advice! Really so appreciated.


My strong hunch is that she’ll love Middlebury.


The good news is that I think she would be very happy at any of the three schools you are considering.


With respect to the study of economics, all of these schools offer excellent programs, with perhaps Middlebury and Colgate warranting a degree of additional consideration based on faculty scholarship in the field.


A colleague’s daughter went to Bowdoin and I later conducted a job interview with her. What stuck out to me about her college experience was how much research she did and how much her courses were based on experiential, hands on learning. For example, in studying science she and the other students did what scientists do.

Middlebury and Bowdoin both seem to have wonderful opportunities for environmental study. Have you considered Whitman? It’s another small, liberal arts college with exceptional opportunities for environmental study and it’s full of outdoorsy kids in a location with lots of access to activities in the outdoors.


Colby also has a top environmental science program and lots of hands on opportunities (in many disciplines). This student is circling around 3 schools that will deliver academically and seems to have chosen wisely for her interests. I suspect that the “feel” of one will be what makes her choice.

@Bill_Marsh , you noted in your friend 's D one of the strengths of the LACs - the ability to provide engaged, experiential learning opportunities. Totally agree that this is a true and valuable differentiator.


Regarding environmental studies specifically, this site, in which Bowdoin, Colby and Middlebury appear, may be of interest:


Neither my son or I had ever heard of the term NARP (Non-Athlete Regular Person) until he attended an accepted student overnight at Midd. He went in pretty positive about the school and came out dead set against it. He met so many students and they all either talked about or actively participated in the defining of the student body as either athletes (on top) or non-athletes (bottom, tolerated but lesser being). He heard this from both sides. They overnighted him with a group of athletes who talked about it a lot but he also sat in with a band rehearsal where some of them talked about it too. I then set him up to chat with a recent graduate who was the son of a colleague who liked Midd. But when asked he told my son that this social bifurcation was real.

To be clear, I personally liked Midd. Pretty location. I’m sure non-athletes can have a great experience and find their tribe there like all these schools. Just passing on our experience.

My son ended up at Bowdoin and loved it. Despite almost 40% of students participating in athletics he said he never experienced that vibe, or the NE prep vibe. He said those with wealth tended to try and downplay or hide that fact, so the culture was not consciously preppy.

Midd owns a ski resort. Bowdoin owns an island and separately a cabin in parkland. Bowdoin’s Outdoor Club is very well supported. They have their own building on campus with extensive equipment. Those really interested can end up going through some hardcore training, but casual participation is common too.


All of these schools field NCAA D3 teams in approximately the same number of sports, meaning they have around the same number of student athletes. At Midd, approximately 27% of students participate in varsity sports. That’s around 770 students out of almost 2,900. Non-athletes far outnumber athletes. Things can get cliquey when it comes to sports, but the “NARPs” are the majority and certainly not the “bottom.” Sounds like your son ended up with some real duds.


With respect to colleges manifesting a relative dearth of social interaction across various types of students, this may appear at Colby to an extent:

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Again, he heard the same story from self declared NARP’s in the band program. He heard it from the recent grad who wasn’t an athlete. He saw it in the classes he sat in on. Sociologically, groups that don’t represent the majority being at the top of a cultural or political food chain is pretty common, so I don’t think the NARP’s outnumbering the athletes is proof of who is “on top.” When I was at UCLA long ago, the majority of people weren’t in Greek Life, but those who were disproportionately controlled student government, clubs and the social scene.

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Your findings are exactly why we all tell students to do their research. There is so much to be learned that one can’t glean from websites or college guides. FWIW my experience aligns with yours… Midd’s athlete/non athlete divide > Bowdoin’s.


Something which puzzles me about how people here express themselves about Middlebury.

On one hand, I read a lot about how everybody is preppy and/or a Jock, and how athletes are dictating the social life, controlling the student government, etc.

Then I read people claiming that the student body is being controlled by a bunch of crunchy, Social-Justice-Warrior types, and how they are dictating the social life, controlling the student government, etc.

I’m just wondering how people are managing to hold these two mutually exclusive, contradictory ideas at the same time. I mean, maybe the students there are all granola-munching, football-playing, SJWs, who wear teva sandals and polo shirts with popped collars. I would love to see one of them, but they must hide them when parents come to visit.

The problem in remembering things that happened a number of years in the past is that later events can change our memories of what actually happened. Here is what you wrote when the memories were fresh:

No mention of “NARP” versus Athlete, but rather Bros, Nerds, and “normal”. He also heard it from “a few”, not “they all talked about it”. No talk of how this plays into social status, either. Your son spent time with a mix of prospective and current students, and what turned him off was the talk of drinking and recreational drug use.

Again, it’s been six years, and it’s not surprising that you don’t remember it well. However, when providing one’s perspective of a college, it is only useful to provide the actual perspective, not the one that is remembered some years later. What I do when trying to remember an event is to go back and see what I wrote or commented at the time. I’ve been embarrassed by wrong “memories” in the past (and likely will be in the future).

In any case, not liking a “work hard, play hard” ethos is a perfectly good reason to decide against a college. However, it is a different type of criticism. I would agree that this attitude is not uncommon at Midd, and it’s likely that it would be more common among their athletes (and is reflected in the behavior of many of the athletes). However, it is not the attitude of the majority of students.


A student with a wide range of academic interests such as this may like Hamilton for its open curriculum and intellectual atmosphere. Atmospherically and aesthetically, by way of epiphany, my daughter liked it the most of all the northeastern LACs we visited.

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I just wanted to mention that I actually remembered your old comment because it was on the set of posts about Middlebury that I collected when my daughter was paired with Midd, and needed to decide whether to accept or withdraw from the Posse process (she was unable to visit before her decision). I remembered it specifically because, while short, it was informative and relevant to my daughter - the “work hard play hard” eths and the issues that it can raise.

So I wasn’t trying to play “gotcha”, or to attack you, but because I think that your fresh memories are far more useful for the OP.

Oh, and the first part of the post isn’t aimed at you, but in general.

Yes, people, I did do a search of all posts on experiences that parents, students, and applicants had in Midd, and I did collect that in a file, and no, I can’t find the list now, and I only remember a few

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