What are schools like Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Wesleyan like for non-athletes?

I have a very athletic son with some eclectic interests, and though he’s been a varsity wrestler for four years, played baseball for forever, etc., he will not be a varsity athlete at college. LACS along the lines of Wesleyan and Middlebury seem like they’d be a good fit in many respects. I’m wondering what the social scene/culture of those schools is like for non-athletes (boys, in particular). His sister is at Bowdoin, and loves it - but tough to draw too much from her experience, since covid has disrupted much of her time there, obv, and being a female student in that setting could be very different experience for a male student? TIA!

He has a lot of options at Wesleyan. With ~3k students, it has as many different teams as the other NESCACs but doesn’t feel as if sports teams dominate the social scene. One of my most memorable recent experiences was attending an end of the year dance concert put on by students and faculty and a big strapping six foot five guy walked out on stage wearing a floor length robe. He was completely dead-pan for about 30 seconds then off came the robe and what followed was an incredible Balinese routine with intricate finger and toe choreography. Part of it was pointedly tongue-in-cheek in typical Wesleyan fashion. Still, I was blown away by the combination of athleticism and artistry that went into it. I don’t know for sure that the kid was an athlete, but in my imagination he checked all the boxes and it made me feel happy for him that he was able to find a niche in addition to or in lieu of sports.


My daughter, a total non athlete, attended Bates, which has much in common with the schools you mentioned here. Bates has a high percentage of athletes and she was definitely a little concerned. She had nothing to be worried about. She had great friends who did a wide variety of things: ballroom dancing, knitting, Chinese cooking club, board games, concerts, theater, campus wide dances, and so on. Her main friends weren’t athletes, but she knew plenty of people who were and she even attended an occasional sporting event.

My daughter’s boyfriend was not an athlete and neither were his guy friends. I can at least vouch for her boyfriend, who had a great four years.

There is enough to interest students at these types of schools apart from athletics, and even athletes get involved with other things. Your son will find likeminded people, I’m sure.

I should add that a great thing Bates offers, and I’m guessing some of the other colleges, is the campus wide dances. ALL the students show up. The athletes, the nerds, the tree huggers, and everyone in between. My point is that these colleges generally foster a good community spirit. I believe most of the colleges you mentioned have balanced gender ratios, so there are going to be plenty of students of both sexes who are doing more than just playing a sport.


I think the experience can be different for a boy than a girl. With that said, many of these schools have outlets for sporty kids who aren’t varsity athletes. Lots of intramural sports, outdoors clubs, club sports (rugby, ultimate) etc. TbH, a lot of guys at these schools DO bond through their sports and it can be a little tough for a kid who has always had that to be on the outside of it…

I also think that as long as he uses his eclectic interests to get involved in things, he’ll be fine. He just needs to be prepared to work a little at finding his niche.


Aren’t athletics usually emphasized a lot less at DIII schools so why are you worried?

NESCACs LACs, in particular, tend to be notable for the high percentages of their students who participate in varsity athletics, with half of them (Bates, Bowdoin, Williams, Middlebury and Hamilton) appearing in this Newsweek article:

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“Approximately 1,700 people make up the student body at Bates, 47 percent of which play on varsity teams,”

Would a DIII school such as Bates have as many as 800 varsity athletes?

If considered in the context of what might seem plausible, note that a typical NESCAC fields more varsity teams than, for example, Stanford.

Smaller DIII schools with a large number of teams like Bates are exactly the schools with the highest percentage athletes. Bates has ~30 varsity teams, some of which have larger rosters, like track & field and football. And they only have ~1800 students, so they need a large portion of students to be athletes to have enough students to fill the roster on the many teams. Filling the roster becomes much easier as the division competitiveness decreases, particularly for selective colleges who have their choice of highly qualified admits. In contrast DI schools tend to be larger colleges and usually have much fewer teams, so athletes tend to be a far smaller portion of students.

That said, the specific numbers in the linked article seem off, and the rankings are nonsense. Bates and other NESCAC schools do have a lot of varsity athletes, but fewer than half of students. Most are in the 30-40% varsity athletes range. Some specific numbers are listed in a Bates ad for a coaching position posted a few weeks ago at Assistant Women's Soccer Coach in Lewiston, ME for Bates College , which is quoted below.

“More than 63% of Bates students participate in some form of formal athletic competition every year, with approximately 40% of the student body competing as varsity athletes.”

A good report on how having such a large portion of students being athletes influences various aspects of another NESCAC college, including the perceived divide between athletes and non-athletes, is at https://www.amherst.edu/system/files/media/PlaceOfAthleticsAtAmherst_Secure_1.pdf . The report also mentions 35-38% varsity athletes at Amherst.

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Colleges have to report athletic data to the government. Data are available at this Equity in Athletics site. Bates had 639 athletes (not counting Nordic skiing) in 2019.


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Please focus on the OPs question rather than calculatingly percentage of athletes per college.

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I agree with gardenstategal that at some of the NESCAC (and similar) schools it can be relatively more difficult for a non-athlete male student than female. My D is an athlete at Bowdoin and says the community is inclusive and there is no non-athlete/athlete divide. Sure, parties might start as a mixer between two teams, but later in the evening will open up to all (obviously there are no parties right now). @homerdog do you have anything to add?

I agree with circuitrider about Wesleyan that it’s relatively larger size ensures that athletes are less dominant in the social scene.

I would advise OP to talk to as many students at the various schools on the list to get feedback. When my D was going thru the recruiting process she did hear students speak of an unhealthy non-athlete/athlete divide at Williams and Amherst, and to a lesser extent Middlebury. Of course, YMMV, that can be dependent on who one might know at these schools and/or speak with during a given visit.

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We have a male athlete at Bowdoin. His sport is a three season one so he is with his team a LOT. No doubt they are his best friends since he works out with them six days a week. That being said, he wanted to make sure he’s making friends outside of his sport and has made a concerted effort to do so. He has many friends from classes or his dorm who he socializes with. In fact, when he has to choose a Covid pod this semester, he made a point to make one with kids outside of his sport. I think the athletes at Bowdoin aren’t just athletes. Many of them were multi-EC kids in high school - writers, artists, science kids, etc. and they continue to identify with those kids once they get to college.

Most of the parties that S19 went to last year were with his team and the women’s team of his sport. I didn’t get the impression that kids not on the team went to these parties. That being said, he only went to anything that resembled a party maybe once a week on Saturdays and it certainly was not every week. Many weekend nights were spent hanging with a group from him dorm in someone’s room and then they would head to Super Snacks which is a late night feeding frenzy at the dining hall on weekends.

As for your son? I think you really need to find non-athletes at the schools he’s considering. My guess is that each NESCAC has its own identity when it comes to athletes and socializing.


I struggled with this with our middle child who is now a Freshman at a LAC. Our oldest daughter was an athlete and she chose not to focus on that in college. She is happy and participates at the club level and is involved in a variety of organizations she may not have had time to do if she was a Varsity athlete. For our middle child, I always said college was the first choice and not to pursue Varsity athletics in college. However, when we visited colleges, many of the ones you listed, and I watched my son observe other athletes on the campus, I saw him light up and then a flicker of defeat crossed his face. I realized at that moment that participating in sports was a large part of his identity. He said he would be happy at college not participating as a Varsity athlete but I began to wonder why I had not even allowed us to consider this as a possibility. We were vary late to the game. It wasn’t until his senior year that I openly looked for ways for him to play a sport in college. I told him we would throw the net out and see what happened. He could then look at all the possibilities and decide what he wanted to do. He is happily at a top LAC and a member of a Varsity team. It is not one of the NESCAC colleges though. For him, I am glad we decided to give it a shot and realized for him it would enrich his college experience by being apart of a team at a great LAC even if it’s not in the NESCAC division. For our daughter, continuing to play at Varsity level in college wasn’t as important. Best wishes to your son.

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Can’t speak to a male experience but my daughter graduated from Middlebury in 2019 and she was not a varsity athlete. Wasn’t a problem for her at all. The teams do spend a lot of time together (even though they are just DIII) so there does seem to be built in friend groups based on athletics. I guess it didn’t bother her though as Middlebury is a big enough school that students have plenty of opportunities to make friends in a variety of contexts.

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my son at Bates was not even on his high school track team and he tried out and played track for 2 seasons at Bates…his interest was to train & be in shape and see how it went… good experience. It is NESCAC DIII in Maine - you have to be in shape but it is not DI or even DII.

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There are definitely walk on opportunities both for track and XC but one can’t jump on the XC or track team as a distance kid if you aren’t ready to run at least 45 miles a week!

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Not “worried” particularly, but like anyone, interested to know what the culture might be like at the various schools for which he has some interest.

Very encouraging, thanks lr4550!

Yes, @circuitrider, we like the size of Wesleyan for just that reason! It certainly seems like kids would have lots of options for building connections and making friends.

That’s very encouraging, @Lindagaf - it sounds like your daughter really made the most of her time at Bates!

Yes, @gardenstategal, that’s what I’d hope to be the case. His sister is a non-athlete at Bowdoin, and has a great group of friends - including athletes and non-athletes alike.

@Yankeefan20 Not “worried” particularly, but like anyone, interested to know what the culture might be like at the various schools for which he has some interest.

@Mwfan1921 I appreciate your input - Bowdoin is such a great school - and what you’ve described is just one of the reasons why it is. Good suggestion about talking with kids at these other schools, for sure.

Agreed, @homerdog - lots of very well rounded kids at Bowdoin, athletes and non-athletes alike. I wonder if our kids know each other? My daughter is in the same year there. Another thing we like about Bowdoin (and appeals to my son) is that there are such great opportunities for outdoorsy types.

Nice to hear your son is having a good experience, @lr4550 - do you mind sharing where your son ending up deciding to go. I feel like we are early enough in the process that it’s still worthwhile casting a wide net!

@ddsc2021 that’s so impressive that your kid was able to do that - wow! Running will never be my kid’s thing, though I could see him doing club rugby or something somewhere.

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