Williams, Middlebury, or Bowdoin?

Hi everyone! I’m a rising senior with good enough stats to have a shot at any of these LACs ED, and I’m trying to figure out which one would be best for me. I go back and forth between them every day. I’m interested in Environmental Science, and every school here seems to have a great program. I’m also super outdoorsy, and Middlebury seems to be the best school for backpacking, etc. I like that Williams seems to be the most diverse and least wealthy/preppy of all of these schools. I also like that Williams seems to have the smartest and most intellectual kids. Bowdoin’s food is a big plus. What would you say the key differences between these schools are that could help me discern them? Thank you everyone!

Consider applying ED to the school which best meets your academic interest regarding environmental science if otherwise undecided.

Middlebury College has more undergraduate students (about 2,700) than the other two schools. Williams College enrolls about 2,000 undergraduates while Bowdoin College is the smallest of the three at about 1,825 undergraduates.

With respect to immediate atmospheres, Williams and Middlebury offer proximity to mountains. Those of Williams create a backdrop that impressed Thoreau, who wrote that “It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain.” At Middlebury you can view the Adirondacks — which contain the only substantial extent of old-growth forest in the Northeast — from McCardell Hall.

Thank you so much!

Thanks! Do you know what the differences between the Esci programs of the schools are?

Bowdoin offers access to the Atlantic Ocean. Do you prefer mountains or ocean ?

I would say Mountains. Although it seems like Bowdoin would have access to both, and Williams has a program with Mystic Aquarium. Maybe it would just be a drawback for Middlebury, but I’m not that interested in the ocean anyways.

Middlebury definitely has an edge in Environmental Science, then Bowdoin. You should look at Colby, as well.

At Middlebury you would be pursuing perhaps its strongest program, and one with a national reputation. At Williams you would be selecting a strong program as well, but one less central to that college’s identity in comparison to Middlebury. However, in your post you noted an appreciation for the intellectual attributes of Williams students, which represents an important general characteristic that should be considered alongside program strength.

@5lay3r, Williams definitely has smart, intellectual students, but whether they are smarter or more intellectual than those at Bowdoin or Middlebury is arguable. I would say that the level of academic achievement and intellectual curiosity is equal among the three school, as is the support that students get from their professors. In other words, academically you can’t go wrong at any of these schools. (You probably don’t need another choice, but you might also look at Hamilton.)

My son chose Williams because of its accessibility to nature – mountains, forests, rivers which offer a wide range of outdoorsy activities. I haven’t visited Bowdoin or Middlebury so I can’t compare, but for sure Williams students take full advantage of their mountain village location, especially during Winter Study (January term) when everyone kicks back and takes one course, mostly for fun.

Williams Outing Club was founded in 1915 and has 750 members. It organizes both sport specific events and events that are shared by the whole campus (see Mountain Day).

Environmental Studies is both a major and an interdisciplinary concentration. Both feature both the science side and the policy side. You can read about the Center for Environmental Studies here:

Note that Williams places notably highly by independent assessment (as does Bowdoin in this example) in “classroom experience,” which includes factors such as quality of professors and amount of in-class discussion: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings?rankings=best-classroom-experience.

Middlebury’s environmental studies program is the oldest in the nation, and is widely regarded as one of the best among small colleges. The Middlebury Mountain Club, founded in 1931, is the college’s oldest and largest student-run organization, leading free trips to mountains, lakes, and rivers throughout Vermont, New York’s Adirondacks (which you can see from campus), and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Midd really is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. Also, the campus is breathtaking. The level of intellectual curiosity at the three schools you mention isn’t appreciably different.

Bowdoin also has a rich tradition of exploring the outdoors, which starts with the orientation trips:


In addition to Environmental Studies, you can study Earth and Oceanographic Science at Bowdoin. Resources include the Schiller Coastal Studies Center, consisting of 118 acres of coastal spruce-pine habitat. There’s also a scientific station on Kent Island for summer study.

However, the range in some related, objective aspects may be worthy of mention. The 25th percentile SAT score for Williams (1420), for example, places its students among the highest in the nation by this criterion. Bowdoin, by this measure, though very high as well, registers a significantly lower score (1340) in comparison. (The corresponding figure for Middlebury does not appear on its CDS.)

I’m not sure that an 80-point difference on a standardized test (which is now optional for most schools this coming year—and has been optional at Bowdoin for decades) is representative of a significant difference in intellectual curiosity.

Middlebury has been test flexible for a while as well.

Students orientations which include extensive outdoor activities is the norm for the NESCACs (my kid spent her orientation repairing Green Mountain hiking trails).

Bowdoin is more suburban than either Williams or Middlebury, albeit the “suburbs” of Brunswick, Maine (population 20,329, but the county has a population of over 280,000). In would be considered as rural, if you compared it to, say, USC or Harvard. However, it is not rural when compared to the other two. Middlebury is the most rural of the three.

Williams has a prettier campus, but Middlebury has the prettier surroundings, IMO.

Each of these colleges has their strengths, and Middlebury’s strengths are environmental science and languages.

Again, Bowdoin is an amazing college, and a student attending Bowdoin would get an amazing education in every major which they have there. However, Middlebury has the edge in environmental science.

Of course, if a student decides to attend Bowdoin and major in environmental science, they would get an excellent education in the field.

Personally, I would pick Bowdoin. Their environmental science program is quite impressive as is the building it’s housed in, the Roux Center for the Environment. And yes, there are mountains, the ocean (Bowdoin has a wonderful research facility right on the coast!), rivers, etc. all nearby. As you mentioned, the food is incredibly good to boot!

It sounds like you’ve done some research and know that all three are great, but differ in subtle ways and also in more profound aspects. Go with you heart and don’t look back.

When D20 applied to Midd last fall, test flexible meant that applicants still had to submit standardized test scores, but they had the choice of submitting results of ACT, SAT, or 3 SATs.

My Williams-bound D would disagree, she still thinks Midd is the most beautiful campus she’s seen, but she was deferred from Midd ED1, and even though she was accepted RD, she ended up picking the “uglier” school. (I think they’re both stunning, but would probably pick Bowdoin bc I prefer the coast.)

I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Robert Venturi once said of Middlebury, “If anyone had told me that gray stone boxes set in lawns could be so beautiful, I would have said they were crazy. Middlebury looks like what everyone thinks an American campus should be but seldom is.”

@5lay3r As you can see, you will have no real “help” in choosing between the three. On the other hand, as you can probably see, there is no bad choice. There are three amazing choices. All three are beautiful campuses in beautiful areas, all three provide amazing educations, in all three you will be surrounded by smart, intellectual, hardworking students. Importantly - the vast majority of students who attended or are attending any of these colleges will tell you how much they love/loved attending their college.

As @Edusmith wrote - “choose with your heart and don’t look back”.