Trip report: Bates, Bowdoin & Colby

<p>Been touring many, many colleges this summer, including these 3 in the classical Maine LAC swing-through. We’ve been focusing more on campus “feel”, having narrowed the list to colleges that appear to have the academics and athletics requisite for DS. [Please keep in mind that I am writing this totally from DS’ “feel” perspective….which, thankfully, has definitely matured during this touring season.] Although “feel” is more difficult to judge during the summer, here are a few perceptions. Neither of had been to any of these colleges, so we had relatively unbiased starting views, other than reading the college guides & receiving some opinions from friends.</p>

<p>1st stop Bates…took just the tour. Woke up after the prior evenings’ travel at the Raddison on the outskirts of Lewiston, an industrial/commercial town that appears to have past its prime. The stereotypes I had read of the environs seemed pretty accurate to me. The college itself is quite nice. Arrived at the admissions office to sign in…New England antiques & Windsor chairs galore….I felt like I was in the Maine version of Williamsburg. The campus has some beautiful spots, open tree-covered quads, a slight amount of relief, and a neat pond with surrounding amphitheater, fully wifi’d. There is definitely a sense of history here, which was appealing to DS, with buildings of various architectural types and periods, all the way through very modern. I wouldn’t call the place immaculate though, as upkeep on the grounds and buildings seemed good in some spots but not as good in others. DS doesn’t notice this sort of detail, but I like to assess upkeep as perhaps a clue regarding a school’s resource depth. Some parts of campus are surrounded by neighborhood housing, some a by larger roads & a little commercial. Tour guide was a very exuberant native Mainer, very aware of the predominant touring practice of hitting all 3 LACs & trying to figure out what makes each distinct. Her words were that Bates students are just plain nice….everyone has fun in addition to getting a great education, and there is little student-to-student competition relative to the other LACs, where she has friends. She made a good impression, although the fact that she was from Maine led me to suppose that Bates might not attract a very broad demographic. The athletic facilities weren’t impressive, being 70’s/80’s cinder block vintage….seemed a bit dark. Bottom line: some nice things, but DS wasn’t jumping to submit his application… off the list.</p>

<p>2nd stop Bowdoin… a mere 30 minute drive to the coast. First impression driving into the town were positive, in that it seemed much more lively, probably because there were more people & tourists there, and the main street (abutting campus in one corner) is populated by nice shops and restaurants, something that seemed absent at Bates. So, good start. Parked on the street next to the main quad & walked through campus to the admissions house. Other parts of the campus are surrounded by fairly nice housing, some of Victorian architecture, including a number of former frat houses now serving as dorms. Seemed like Bowdoin had lots going on at the time, and people were coming through campus & to-&-fro town….this town-campus integration appealed much more to DS. Eclectic assortment of colonial to modern buildings….very historic feel. Campus was very well maintained…..little things like curbs were in good shape, pathways well manicured, fresh painting, etc. We had a bit of time, so we headed over to the gym to track down a coach….as we were studying the campus map & wondering where we were, a gentleman who described himself as class of 63 or so, came to our aid….very nice gesture to help some strangers out, & I was impressed (he must have been waiting for us!) That welcoming attitude typified all the people we met. Had a quick lunch in one of the dining halls….learned later that Bowdoin prides itself on food quality, being highly ranked by the Princeton reports in this category. Lots of construction going on, including a new music hall, with mocked-up model displayed in the admissions building. Took the tour, led by a student from North Carolina, followed by an info session. Our tour guide was very articulate, and forthcoming about the pros and the cons of Bowdoin & why she thought the place was unique to her. [“Common good” is a big theme for Bowdoin, in part responsible for the strong town relations they hold.] DS doesn’t particularly like to sit through info sessions, as we’ve been to so many now…..and the admissions leader accommodated for this apparently common malady (that is, info session saturation) by a greater emphasis on subjective topics, rather than repeating admissions statistics and the like. It was probably the best info session I’ve been to in the dozen plus I’ve seen thus far. One lasting piece of advice he gave, which DS & I will remember (and this may seem obvious)….notice who the college chooses to expose you to during campus visits…’s the college’s choice & they represent who the college believes can expose you to the best of the college. We sensed a certain creative confidence from all we heard from and talked with that was very appealing. Bottom line: Bowdoin moves to the top of the list, even though its not that big student body-wise, it feels bigger due to the campus-town interaction, and the people seem very vibrant & open.</p>

<p>3rd stop Colby….made our way through Waterville, a mill town, to the outskirts where Colby now stands. This is a gorgeous campus, well laid out quads & buildings, nice views & skiing very nearby, but very separated from town. Hence, its more of a “bubble” college where students are less likely to experience the surrounding community…at least that was our reaction. Colby’s campus was moved to its current location from town to the outskirts in the late 40’s and 50’s, and all of the buildings, although very gorgeous in numerous ways, have that monotonic 50’s brick look going. In one of those rare moments when father & child have identical thoughts, I starting a sentence to my son “you know, this campus looks a lot like….” And he finished my sentence with “Wake Forest”…..a campus we had recently visited with the same campus-move history. Wake Forest, now off DS’ list, was a bit too monotone and Martha Stewart-like groomed, and felt like a planned community rather than the historic growth of an institution….Colby was similar in planned layout & architecture, but perhaps a bit less Martha Stewart. Upkeep and maintenance was great, & the place looked very nice…and from what we heard from students, they like being on such a campus & are happy. Only took the tour, guide was a native Mainer. Quite a bit of campus activity as numerous sports camps were in session. Food and on-campus entertainment were big topics…..”Lost” seems to be very popular among students (DS liked this)…and there is quite a bit of rah-rah social activity to get the students integrated come the fall. Sounded fun, but more introspective than Bowdoin. Town relationships didn’t sound so great. Bottom line: DS will keep Colby on the list, but its not too high.</p>

<p>Interesting reading, papa. Enjoyed your reports. These three schools are in my backyard and DS went to Bates as Katrina visiting student. A couple comments: Bates is not too Maine-heavy in its student population; it does seem to be heavy on mid-Atlantic students, if that matters. Echoing one of your observations, S (and I) found the student ethos to be very friendly, welcoming, cooperative spirit. Lewiston is a "nothing town," although working on it. The Bates kids find plenty to keep them active though, creating their own social scene. S is a "city guy" by preference; nevertheless, he had a great experience at Bates for the one term. If you want a vibrant city, village or town, though - Bates wouldn't be the place.</p>

<p>My impressions of Bowdoin fit your observations rather perfectly. It is a vibrant village/college town. Pulls people in from my neck of the woods (~45 minutes south) for various activities/restaurants/farmer's market on the green, etc.</p>

<p>Don't they all look pretty much alike covered by 400 inches of snow?
Just kidding...:)</p>

<p>was actually told that the relatively temperate coastal climate at Bowdoin produces significantly less snow than elsewehere in the state.....BUT when asked about "how cold is it" to the Bowdoin adcom, he replied: "cold?....its the REAL DEAL here"!!</p>

<p>some facts from respective college factbooks--</p>

<p>% of Maine students:
Bates- 9 to 11% (& declining recently)
Bowdoin - 12-13%
Colby- 11% (fairly steady)

<p>latest reported endowment
Bates: $208MM
Bowdoin: $578MM
Colby: $424MM</p>

Don't they all look pretty much alike covered by 400 inches of snow?

Even tho idad was just kidding :), so we don't need to seek him out and throw a July snowball at him :D, I thought I'd comment for all those who might be considering Bowdoin-Bates-Colby but are scared of the weather.</p>

<p>All three of these are in "southern Maine," as we call it. Our climate is NOT Arctic; rather it is very similar to Boston - maybe about 10 degrees different on many days. So, winter - yes; 400" of snow - no.
Most Maine kids, and those attending Maine colleges from away, don't even bother with winter outerwear unless skiing/snowboarding. Fleece jacket is the heaviest my S will consider. Doesn't own boots. You'll see girls in flip-flops in winter. Go figure.</p>

<p>Same goes for places like Dartmouth in NH, Middlebury in Vt. etc.</p>

<li><p>I believe there's a significant temperature difference between coastal southern Maine and inland, i.e., Colby (and Dartmouth and Middlebury) are going to feel colder than Bowdoin in January, and will probably have more snow, too. The difference between 30F and 20F is pretty significant (assuming jmmom meant "Fahrenheit degrees" when she talked of a 10 degree difference vs. Boston).</p></li>
<li><p>I have a relative who teaches at Colby, and his wife does, too. They SWEAR there are significant philosophy and structure differences between Colby and Bowdoin, and that it's a terrible mistake to view them as substitutes for one another. But, to be honest, I've never paid enough attention to be able to remember what those differences are. Colby and its surroundings are gorgeous, though -- at least in the summer!</p></li>

<p>JHS - I did mean Fahrenheit. And when I said "same goes" for Dartmouth and Middlebury, I was referring to how the kids dress (or not) for the cold weather. Although I think more of them may get serious about outerwear there, whereas they mostly don't around here.</p>

<p>All of these places are also pretty far north (north of Boston!), which makes for short winter days and a later spring.</p>


<p>COLLEGE/ Degrees F Hi-Lo: Dec/Jan/Feb/Mar

<p>Colby & Middlebury look to be the coldest.</p>

<p>From some NOAA web pages & a few others (January is the snowiest month):</p>

<p>January Avg Snowfall/ Avg depth
Bates: 19.7”/ 7”
Bowdoin: 19.0”/ NA
Colby: 17.4”/ 9”</p>

<p>Unfortunately, NOAA does not have a station in or near Brunswick. Relative to the colder Colby, Bates appears to have more snowfall, but less accumulation. Based upon the fact that Bowdoin in slightly warmer than Bates (at least for the highs when melting occurs), I'd guess there is substance behind the contention that Bowdoin is not as snowy as Bates and Colby.</p>

<p>A few thoughts......
* one of my S's friends chose Bates for early decision over Colby as a legacy....he did so because he felt that Bates was more encouraging of creative individuals....
* one of my H's friends from NJ had their daughter graduate from Bates last year...she loved her 4 yrs there.... family laughed over how her shopping patterns changed from boutiques to Wal-Mart....she participated in a lot of dance activities and loved her Bates experience.
* another thing to keep in mind is that Colby and Bowdoin have a fierce competition going on.....they are similiar but different...
* it is harder to get into Bowdoin..... Bowdoin also has a mandate to accept 14% of their class from for smart Maine kids, or Maine kids with hooks, Bowdoin is a very nice option...
* Colby is perhaps the most removed from the is on higher ground...the person who compared it to Middlebury is right on target... I think the winter winds swirl around those two campus' because they are pretty unprotected.....anyone who goes to Colby that I have known is happy...but almost all do at least 1 semester abroad....</p>

<p>In today's competitive world, an education from any of these 3 schools is a wonderful accomplishment....many kids from Maine attend UMO which is even further north than Colby.....cold is relative... LL Bean boots and jackets/vests are a great advantage here.....most kids today have something from North Face or Bean's or Burton etc for cold weather..... I doubt it is colder at Colby than at Univ of Chicago!! It is actually warmer when it snows then when we have quiet cold......</p>

<p>Bowdoin has the best academic reputation and agree about Brunswick being a nice town. Some might want to check out other New England LAC's like Holy Cross which is SAT optional like Bowdoin. Trinity in Hartford has a solid reputation.</p>

<p>Is Bowdoin known for the strength of any particular program or area?</p>

<p>Mombot-- our tour guide was into the sciences, so he heard quite a bit about chem & bio.....I believe Bowdoin has a very high med school acceptance rate. Other than that, my perception is that Bowdoin's departments are fairly strong across the board. Apparently, the place is known for its government programs, which is very popular. Here's a listing of Bowdoin majors & numbers of majoring students FYI:
<a href=""&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>maineparent-- although I didn't check out the weather for U Chicago, I did for Northwestern in Evanston, not too far removed from Chicago. (See weather post above.) I was a bit surprised to see that the temps didn't look so bad relatively speaking. I also found some data for average wind speed (but not for wind chill).....Brunswick January avg speed = 10mph, same as Evanston, 10mph. Perhaps Chicago is windier than Evanston, as its nickname implies.</p>

<p>Couple of other factoids common among all 3 schools:
- >50% (more like 2/3) students go abroad in their junior year
- > 50% eventually marry eachother (I recall I heard this from at least 2 out of the 3, but this is not surprising for any LAC.)</p>

<p>Interesting that Bowdoin doesn't seem to offer any Asian Language classes. How does one major in East Asian Studies without Asian Language options?</p>

<p>Hi: We were going to visit Bowdoin--until my husband talked with an old friend of his who is a counselor there. This was awhile ago, but from what I remember, she said that she would never send a child of hers to Bowdoin because it's an extremely competitive environemnt--so much so that she sees a lot of students with depression and other emotional problems. I wish I could share more information, but I just don't remember everything she said. We crossed it off the list.</p>


<p>Bowdoin offers Chinese and Japanese. It has a South Asian studies major but is not able to offer instruction in Hindi or Urdu and suggests that students find other ways to learn those languages.</p>

<p>was your friend a counselor for mental health? that may be the reason why he saw so many students who felt that the environment was overwhelming and who were depressed. </p>

<p>generally, bowdoin was far less competitive and far happier than any of my friends' schools (brown, harvard, uva, amherst, princeton). so unless folks at colby and bates are so blissfully happy that, in comparison to bowdoin, they seem superior, i'd take your friend's advice with a grain of salt...</p>

<p>or just cross it off the list without visiting yourself...</p>

<p>S decided against Colby because of the weather and the isolation. He liked both Bates and Bowdoin, for slightly different reasons. In the end, it came down to Bowdoin and Wesleyan. he chose the latter because it was larger (Bowdoin was smaller than his high school) and because Wes is south and therefore somewhat warmer. But it was a tough choice, and it really could have gone the other way. We did not get the sense that Bowdoin was competitive, and we liked the setting a lot.</p>

<p>on the competitive environment thing, I posted a new thread in the Bowdoin forum asking students to comment.........we'll see if there's any response, or unity of response:
<a href=""&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>Further reflections on the competitive environment thing: there is an excellent discussion on this issue in a Johns Hopkins University thread here on cc. JHU is one of the schools often tarred with the "cutthroat" label.</p>

<p>[url=<a href=""&gt;]cutthroat[/url&lt;/a&gt;]&lt;/p>

<p>Several students there had insightful observations about internally-generated desires to achieve vs. competitiveness between/among students vs. cutthroat atmosphere.</p>

<p>I am quite suspicious, personally, of stereotypes of schools as cutthroat - having never seen it myself in some very competitive schools. Doesn't mean that kids don't suffer depression/stress etc. But due to competitiveness from other kids? I question it.</p>