Vassar ... Bowdoin

<p>I recently started another thread seeking information about "Strong" undergraduate English programs at a number of listed colleges.</p>

<p>Yesterday, my daughter's high school college counselor and a family friend from back East who has sent 4 kids through LAC's both mentioned that my daughter should expand her list to include Vassar and Bowdoin.</p>

<p>Beyond the information found in our small library of college guides, we know very little about either school.</p>

<p>If anyone is game . . .</p>

<p>*how do Vassar and Bowdoin compare to the other top LAC's, most notably Ameherst and Swarthmore ... academically, socially, politically, "whateverly?"</p>

<p>*if anyone can be this specific, how do Vassar and Bowdoin's undergraduate English programs compare to A and S? What about theatre (both as a major/minor or as an EC).</p>

<p>Thanks in advance to CC's many LAC experts for their expertise.</p>

<p>Visited Vassar, not Bowdoin. Same faculty, same pool of students. Vassar is better known for theatre (and is more a draw for visiting lecturers/poets/theatre people out of New York.) We found Bard generally speaking more interesting. None of these have the excitement of the 5-colleges, or the resources.</p>

<p>Word has it that students at Vassar are likely to be more liberal than those at Amherst, or at least less "preppy" (and, statistically, that is true.) Statistically again, those at Bowdoin and Amherst are pretty much the same. Amherst is not known much for theatre (though it has a great English department) - there is much more theatre going on in Northampton. There is someone on this board from my town Olympia (Blaineko) who has kicked the tires on all these places (he is a theatre/dance major - I know he applied to ED to Amherst, and is now thinking that might have been a mistake, as he thinks he might prefer Bowdoin.)</p>

<p>Don't know if this will help you, or is even relevant:</p>

<p>Top Twenty Baccalaureate-Liberal Arts Insitutions by
Number of Doctorates Earned in ten-year increments</p>

<p>Institution Name 1991-2000 1981-1990 1971-1980
1 Oberlin College 1086 946 1120
2 Swarthmore College 755 532 599
3 Carleton College 752 538 559
4 Wesleyan University 695 473 415
5 St. Olaf College 591 400 376
6 Smith College 590 562 581
7 Wellesley College 570 573 615
8 Williams College 541 338 393
9 Reed College 495 401 411
10 Barnard College 476 571 716
11 Amherst College 460 334 499
12 Vassar College 456 446 443
13 Pomona College 455 438 560
14 Mount Holyoke College 444 442 403
15 Bryn Mawr College 440 318 359
16 Grinnell College 430 283 379
17 Bucknell University 422 430 431
18 Wheaton College 409 445 507
19 Haverford College 373 281 286
20 Colgate University 365 321 367</p>

<p>The reason it is likely irrelevant is that a motivated student coming out of any of these places (and likely 25 more) is going to do well at Ph.D.-granting institutions down the road. Much of this could have more to do with the self-selection of entering students rather than what the college had to offer particularly.</p>

<p>I am always amazed that people don't know more about Bowdoin. It is among the oldest institutions in the US (founded in 1794, I believe) and has always been considered a very highly prestigious and selective school. I cannot believe there is a school in the nation with a more supportive alumni network. It's not far from the ocean, and there is nothing as beautiful as the Maine coast - its waterfront properties (for sailing and the Coastal Studies Center - plus it owns some islands) are breathtaking. If USNWR matters, it's always in the top ten. I could not possibly say enough good things about it - it's beautiful, it's historical (the kids sign the same matriculation book as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Joshua Chamberlain, and Longfellow), it's not "too" anything (too preppy, too arty, too fringe-y) - to me it's perfect, and I wish my daughter could get in!</p>

<p>I don't think I've been clear enough about why, of all the schools you've mentioned, I'd prefer Amherst (even though my own d. turned up her nose at it.) The academic English department is superb (but then all the ones you are considering are.) The place is beautiful. There is a small but active theater department. Reputation is great. (I remember old Benjamin DeMott!)</p>

<p>It is difficult to easily convey how vital the 5-college system is, and how much this places the five colleges (in this case, Amherst) head-and-shoulders above the other ones. This past week, Seamus Heaney read and spoke at Smith. There was a poetry slam at Mount Holyoke. D. was going to both. A major opera company was performing at U.Mass. And, I think, a major Broadway company had just finished its run there (with tickets subsidized - I think they were $7.50 - it isn't just like having the school located near a big city, like Swarthmore.) UMass is a HUGE venue, and brings in major attractions from everywhere. Julius Lester opened a photo exhibit at the U.Mass art center. There were shows running at Amherst and at Smith (Smith has much larger theatre resources than Amherst, but Amherst students get to take advantage of them if there isn't enough at Amherst itself, and it is where most of the dance students go.) The 5-college dance consortium is celebrating its 25th anniversary by performing Balanchine's Serenade, with choreography from the Balanchine Trust, at Mount Holyoke. Preparation is underway for the 5-College Isaac Babel Festival, with rare performances of his play "Marya" to take place at Smith. Jonathan Kozol is speaking at Amherst on the 11th; Lani Guanier spoke at Smith on Tuesday. Free buses get you between all these places, and you can eat at any of them as well.</p>

<p>I could go on, but you get the point. You'd get the fine, small liberal arts education at Amherst (just as you would at Bowdoin, or Vassar, etc.), but there is always so much more, in creative writing, poets, theater, dance - either to just taste, or to throw yourself into, if you so choose (when you're ready for it.) And it is virtually all aimed at undergraduates.</p>

<p>Mini, your list of doctorates earned is interesting, but the list shows absolute numbers and does not reflect the different class sizes of the various colleges. For example, Smith College and Wesleyan each are more than double the size of Bryn Mawr and Haverford. I think I saw a list that adjusts for class size on the Reed website. It also included ivies and other top 25 schools in the same list.</p>


<p>I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder. You couldn't have paid my daughter to go to Amherst. Why? Because half of her senior class is at UMass. For all those who view UMass as a plus in Amherst/Northhampton, she viewed it as a 20,000 kid version of her public high school. Sometime, ask your daughter if she would like Smith as much if it were located in Pullman next to Washington State.</p>

<p>Just goes to show how choosing colleges is a very individual process. Something that might be value-added in the eyes of one kid would be a huge negative for another.</p>

<p>Actually, they vary over time, too. The Reed charts don't reflect the fact that, for example, 10% of the Smith student body are older students (average age 36, up to age 69) almost none of whom go on to higher degrees. As I remember as well, education degrees (Ed.d's) and MSWs (which are the usual terminal degree in Social Work) are not reflected, which are overwhelmingly female (and often come from women's colleges). </p>

<p>The best correction, of course, would be the one that is almost never made, and that is for selectivity/SAT score, etc. upon entry. In that way, one could measure the value-added of the school, as opposed to what the student looked like when they entered (and the college hadn't done anything for them yet.) I have no doubt (really I don't) that from this perspective, the "best" colleges in the country (and by some distance) are Hope, Kalamazoo, Earlham, St. Olaf, Grinnell, and, yes, probably, Reed. </p>

<p>Data are just data - you make of them what you will. I think both data sets are seriously flawed. And the reality is that a motivated student at any of top 100 or so colleges or universities can get where they want to go. The big question is what happens to the average student, and not the superstar. As I wrote on another forum, the average would-be premed at the so-called prime pre-med schools (as, for example, Johns Hopkins) might never finish the program or might get discouraged, been a B student, etc. The same student might have been a superstar at Podunk State, gotten more research opportunities, internships, etc. and had a much easier time getting into med school. Now the data might show Hopkins was the better school. But for that particular student, Podunk had the "better" pre-med program.</p>

<p>"I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder. You couldn't have paid my daughter to go to Amherst. Why? Because half of her senior class is at UMass. For all those who view UMass as a plus in Amherst/Northhampton, she viewed it as a 20,000 kid version of her public high school. Sometime, ask your daughter if she would like Smith as much if it were located in Pullman next to Washington State."</p>

<p>Ah, but the beauty of it is that it is NOT next door. (as you know, it isn't like the Claremont system). And so you can easily choose to avoid it, or take advantage of what is there. Course out-migration at Smith last year was 186; in-migration was 427. Hardly a high school class! On the other hand, Smith or Swarthmore or Amherst or Pomona by themselves could never support a visit by a major opera company, with prices at $10 a ticket.</p>

<p>My d. didn't like Amherst 'cause it was too "preppy", not "edgy" enough for her. She didn't like Swat because of its (relative) weaknesses in the arts. I happen to like them both, more than our common alma mater.</p>

<p>Nice that there are choices!</p>

<p>A key thing to keep in mind is that both Bowdoin and Vassar, while excellent, prestigious, and highly selective, are a bit easier to get into than Amherst and Swarthmore. They may be reaches for many students, including very good students, but but they would come close to being matches or almost-matches for top students. Hence they would play a useful part at the next level of a list. That said, I don't think there is a lot to differentiate the English programs at most top schools from each other, given that English is such a mainstream major and that the faculty at virtually any top-25 school (and more) is drawn from such an elite pool; where you do your undergradutae work within this range of colleges is really mostly a matter of individual preference (and where you can get in). Doing well at any good colelge and having recommendations from well-connected faculty will, appropriately, then put you in the running for a well-regarded graduate program.</p>

<p>I am totally the same way with the UMass thing, I find it to be a detriment that next door to this quaint LAC you have a 20,000 kid version of MY public school.</p>

<p>So yea. </p>

<p>Check out Bowdoin, I LOVED much nicer than alot of the other rural LACs because it has a nice town there, great food, and other nice bonuses. The english program is notably excellent, Longfellow & Hawthorne being alumni.</p>


<p>I consider Bowdoin to be equally as difficult to get in to as Amherst - the question is the level of self selectivity, which I think Bowdoin is very strong in. There are no average kids applying to Bowdoin.</p>

<p>" Mini, your list of doctorates earned is interesting, but the list shows absolute numbers and does not reflect the different class sizes of the various colleges. For example, Smith College and Wesleyan each are more than double the size of Bryn Mawr and Haverford. I think I saw a list that adjusts for class size on the Reed website. It also included ivies and other top 25 schools in the same list."</p>

<p>You can have even more fun with the data. As I suggested, Reed left Ed.ds and Social Work Ph.d.s (actually they are usually listed as included in the "Other Professional" category.) rather on purpose.</p>

<p>Between 1986-1995, baccalaureate origins for "terminal education degrees" (PH.D. or ED.D.) was 1) Wheaton-IL with 85; 2) Smith-65; 3)Oberlin-64.....129) Swarthmore with 8; and Reed isn't in the top 200.</p>

<p>For "other professional", same years, 2) Wheaton-IL - with 47; 4) Smith - with 31;...18) Swarthmore with 17. Reed isn't in the top 200.</p>

<p>But don't let this fool you either. First in weighted average for education is Harris Stone State College; first in absolute numbers for "other professional" is Oklahoma Baptist U. </p>

<p>It's fun to play with the numbers. I still think if you played with them long enough you'd discover the same thing I did - in terms of "value-added" (measured by Ph.D. productivity when weighted for selectivity/SATs upon admission), Hope, Kalamazoo, Earlham, St. Olaf, and Grinnell (and maybe Reed) will end up on top. And the usual suspects won't break the top 10.</p>

<p>It is probably a good idea to find a school that traditionally has sent folks on to higher degrees in your subject area - likely means that the faculty is respected. But ranking on this basis usually tells you more about the entering students and the offerings (does Reed even have a major in early childhood development? Smith does, and a social work school as well - self-selection at work), than anything about quality.</p>

<p>Wonder what Oklahoma Baptist has on THEIR website.</p>

<p>The only thing I could offer to significantly distinguish between these two schools would be the nature of the student body. A student from either school with excellent grades, recommendations and GRE scores will have very good and I suspect very similar grad school options. </p>

<p>One could always parse the degrees and specialties of the respective faculties, but I'm not sure what that would get you. </p>

<p>If a student wanted to incorporate theatre or creative writing either academically or as an EC, I would definitely prefer Vassar, as there are more quirky, creative arts-types there and a little more action in those areas. If a writing or publishing career was more likely than grad school Vassar would be my call as well. The vibe I got at Bowdoin on a visit was more of a pre-law, pre-med culture, with a strong environmental streak. First-rate school with a first-rate faculty though, and a defensible, if marginal preference if the academic interest were a science or social science.</p>

<p>Vassar has a strong reputation in the arts and humanities. It still has a bit of a stigma from it's days as one of the more elite seven sisters (think Mary McCarthy) and is 60% female. I second what reidm said about Bowdoin and would actually apply the same description to Amherst, i.e., "more of a pre-law, pre-med culture" than one focusing on creativity. </p>

<p>Amherst is however a wonderful place. I thought it the most like Ann Arbor -- the quintessential college town -- of all the places we visited. My son really wanted to like Amherst, but felt that the emphasis was more on the analytical than creative. Mind you, he was comparing studio art as well as English, but I think the same could apply to theater.</p>

<p>Pretty much agree with the above two posts; Bowdoin is very well known for its government and environmental science departments; biology is very strong. But it's a great liberal arts school, and they are working hard to develop the theater department.</p>

<p>Thanks to all for the many informative comments. It's continuing to give us a lot to think about. You can't visit every school, nor can you apply to all, so CC is such a valuable resource to help pare down the schools so that you can visit the schools that SEEM LIKELY to be the best fits. I think we're making real progress in this. Thanks again.</p>

<p>Dude: I spent a number of years teaching in the English dept at Vassar, back in the dark ages, and still have a few friends active in the dept, so I'm somewhat up to date. A few random observations: everyone teaches freshman English, they take it seriously, lots of writing, lots of personal attention; there is, along with a strong commitment to teaching, a sense of commitment to English literature (though, I gather, some disagreement about what it is). The Shakespeare course, which I taught, is a full year course, does every play, and usually fills 4 sections. English is one of the most popular majors there, and attracts some of the brightest and most serious students. Creative writing always strong, almost a cult. Many brilliant English faculty, always interesting visiting profs. A NYC cultural bias. How does it compare to other LACs you mention? Only other one I know at all well is Amherst: a long tradition of brilliance.</p>

Random observations? Hardly! This is exactly the kind of information that this Dude was duly and diligently seeking. Thank you for your insight and expertise. Given my D's particular talents and interests, I think Vassar is definitely a school that she should consider.
You put your finger on one concern that had been lurking around the periphery of her decision making process -- how is the English major regarded on a particular campus (understanding that is almost always one of the larger majors on most campuses, but on some, it's clearly a place that some students fall into while waiting for a "better" idea, rather than a place where truly talented, motivated people have been directed to because THIS department is truly exceptional). My D clearly wants the latter, somehow instinctively recognizing that stellar students who are doing exactly what they want to do (perhaps what they truly "need" to do) is part of what can make a program exceptional.
From your comments, I'm surmising that a significant percentage of Vassar English undergraduates have teaching/scholarship/writing goals in mind, not simply using English as a good way to prepare for professional careers. Is this right?
Thanks again for sharing your experiences.</p>

<p>Dudediligence: I will be visiting Bowdoin next Thursday (Veterans Day.. I just got the tickets today) for the Four-Day Bowdoin Invitational. I'm pretty sure their programs are strong, but this thread just reminded me of what to ask when I get there.. :D</p>

<p>Looks like it will be a great trip..</p>

<p>Dude: some of both, no doubt. I think many become English majors because their introductory courses persuade them that it's interesting and important. Among my former students are one who became a Professor of American lit at a well-known western college, a fabulously successful publisher (her company bears her name), and a couple of frequently published writers. I've lost track of most, but I can recall three or four who went straight on to good grad schools.</p>