Bowdoin is a small private college in Brunswick, Maine and is regarded as one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Bowdoin was established in 1794, and its alumni list reads like a who’s who of American heroes.
Bowdoin was chartered in 1794 by Samuel Adams, the governor of Massachusetts (which Maine was part of until the 1820s). At the time, it was the easternmost college in the United States. Bowdoin is often said to have "begun and ended the Civil War," as Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her controversial novel Uncle Tom's Cabin while her husband taught at the school, and Bowdoin alumnus Joshua Chamberlain received General Lee's surrender at Appamottox.
Bowdoin modernized rapidly in the 1970s, making the SAT optional in 1970 and admitting the first women in 1971. In the 1990s, Bowdoin abolished its fraternities, replacing them with the college house system in 2000. Bowdoin is also noted for having the oldest continuously published weekly paper in the country, The Bowdoin Orient.
Today, Bowdoin offers over 40 majors, the most popular being economics and government. Beginning with the class of 2010, all students must complete a well-rounded core curriculum.
The college has changed drastically since its founding in 1794. Hundreds of buildings have been renovated and more built, including the award-winning Kanbar Hall, built in 2006,where the Psychology Department is located. The college is currently building the gigantic Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, scheduled to open in the fall of 2008, which will house the Community Service Department and other resources to aid Bowdoin Students in giving back to their community.
Bowdoin currently enrolls approximately 1,700 students from across the United States and around the world each year. It boasts 120 buildings on its 215-acre campus, and the school year consists of two four-class semesters.
The Bowdoin campus is a very small, tight-knit community where most everyone knows each other. Hence, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Bowdoin Bubble.” Students hang out in the Smith Union and dining halls for hours (the food here is considered America’s best), or party in the social houses and at the on-campus pub when not immersed in work.
Most students will say that their favorite aspect of the school is the beautiful scenery and natural resources. The campus itself contains a beautiful quad, where students play sports, toss Frisbees, and study when the weather’s nice, and occasionally ice skate and build snowmen during the long winter months.
The main place to be on campus is Smith Union, or, as students refer to it 'The Union.' It’s a huge building in the middle of campus that houses the mail center, a workout room, basketball and squash courts, and a plethora of comfy study spaces. It also has ping-pong and billiard tables (which are usually taken), Bowdoin’s own convenience store (the 'Bowdoin Express'), The Café, the Bowdoin Bookstore, and The Pub.
The Union is an awesome place to go and hang out, share a coffee, check the mail, get snacks at any time of the day, or work out. I find myself going to the Union just to check it out and see who’s around, and since it has such a variety of resources, ALL types of Bowdoin students can be found there. It’s always lively, especially around 4 p.m. when most students are out of class getting packages, and around 8 p.m. on weekdays, when students head up to the Café to grab a Chai Latte or an Espresso to help them stay awake while studying for that Biochemistry quiz.
The Union is also host to the Common Hour on Fridays, a period from 12:30-1:30 p.m. during which Bowdoin hosts talks by environmentalists, entrepreneurs, authors, politicians, critics, historians, you name it. The topics are always noteworthy and typically draw a huge crowd of students, faculty, and Brunswick residents.
The Pub in the Union is very popular on Thursday nights. Depending on the band or performer, Pub Nights can attract small crowds of 5-20 students to crowds of as many as 100, causing a line to form out the door. Depending on the group performing at the pub, the room could be occupied by students looking to bump and grind to a DJ or jump up and down to alternative rock.
A frequent pub group is The Mathematicians, a group of three pocket protector- and suspender-rocking rockers in their thirties who really know how to rile up a crowd, especially if that crowd has any of Bowdoin’s ultimate Frisbee team. But regardless of whether it’s Thursday night or not, the Pub is always open and offering a delicious selection of greasy foods such as chicken fingers, pizza, grilled cheese, burritos, nachos, falafel, assorted soups, club sandwiches, onion rings, oh, and Caesar salad. But you have to use your polar points for the Pub- it isn’t gratis or included in your tuition like dining hall food is.
Other than The Union and The Pub, the main places students hang out are The Café (also within the Union), the dining halls, and the Hawthorne-Longfellow and Hatch Libraries, though students spend proportionally more time studying than socializing in the libraries. In the warmer months, such as August, September and October, students spend a lot of time hanging out on The Quad, which is the ideal spot for picnicking, reading a book, tossing a Frisbee with friends, or just hanging out.
Students spend their weekend free time chilling in their dorms with friends or attending parties at one of Bowdoin’s eight social houses, Harpswell Apartments, Pine Street Apartments, Brunswick Apartments, or other random party hot-spots like Red Brick or Cleveland Street. Each house usually has a large TV and is a hot spot for sports and parties with the game 'Kings' and mojitos. The problem with students having so many options for weekend hangout spots is that they often end up scattered throughout campus, and there is never one central spot where everyone hangs out together. Most people venture out in groups to a party here or there before ultimately returning to their rooms to hang out, or head to Super Snacks.
A little piece about the Bowdoin Polar Bear:
Made of cement chiseled to the finest point and smoothed out by the most skilled of artisans, the polar bear outside of Smith Union is the epitome of Bowdoin. Head held high, the bear is proud, but not supercilious. Some say the bear is simply searching for the Bowdoin sun through the clouds, or looking out for next Noreaster (a fierce winter storm). Others conjecture that the bear is simply stargazing, or contemplating the meaning of existence.
Either way, the bear is clearly content with its surroundings of pristine Maine wilderness, and feels no desire to leave the cement block on which it so majestically resides. The Bear experiences all seasons to their extreme, has an excellent view of the Quad, the chapel, the Union, Moulton Union, and several freshmen dorms, and is a prominent figure on an all-around extraordinary campus. This polar bear is thankful not to have to worry about finding an iceberg to swim to, and is proud of the school that is dedicated to preserving those icebergs for the bear’s buddies at the poles.
It is clearly fit and athletic, never to be overlooked by any and all who pass it. The bear knows that it is an exquisite creature, powerful and daunting, but it feels no need to in any way boast about its positive attributes. It stands representing the fiercest land-animal on the planet, and is always ready for any White Mules or Bobcats who dare to venture into the Arctic Zone.
Brunswick, ME isn’t a typical college town with a bustling bar and club scene. However, students have favorites spots that they frequent religiously. If the Bowdoin Bubble gets boring, there’s always the 24-7 L.L. Bean in nearby Freeport.
Bowdoin is located in Brunswick, ME, a town of about 21,000 people on the Maine coast. The town has a plethora of resources for students, especially in the 'downtown' area on Maine Street. Typical of a small town, there are restaurants, small shops, churches, community centers, gelato and organic ice cream bars, bakeshops, discount stores, a large grocery store, and a smaller market. Maine Street is no more than a five-minute walk from campus and is a popular place to find Bowdoin students, who frequent its many restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theater, and bowling alley. Upperclassmen often hang out with groups of friends at Joshua’s Tavern, and some students live in off-campus housing on Pleasant and School Streets. Dunkin Donuts, 7-11, and Dominos are also frequent late-night options for students.
In Brunswick, two of the places that students are most obsessed with are:
Adventurous ice-cream connoisseurs beware: Gelato Fiasco may be the best thing that ever happened to you. The gelato shop, located in Brunswick, ME, opened in the summer of 2007, and has an atmosphere that’s about as slick as its ice cream scoopers and about as hip as it comes. Couches and comfortable chairs sit on shiny hardwood floors and accompany the ambience provided by alternative music and calm lighting. The gelato, which is made fresh within the shop and is the brainchild of owners Josh and Bruno, is made with local milk and only the freshest ingredients. Or, if you don’t feel like the cold stuff, order a hot chai tea or coffee and indulge in a freshly baked cookie or brownie. Moral of the story: you can’t go wrong at the fiasco, and students are slowly discovering that.
If Frontier Café could be described in one phrase, it would be eclectic organic. Located in the back of an abandoned factory, the café has maintained the factory’s wood floors and authentic old-Maine feel. It is a great spot for the typical Mainer and Bowdoin Student: quiet, cozy, chill, and organic. The café offers a wide range of organic teas and coffees, freshly made cookies, granola bars, and other baked goods, mouth-watering paninis and yummy salads and soups. The menu rarely offers the same thing two days in a row. Its walls display the work of locals, and the café serves as a sort of gallery for emerging artists. The café also contains a theater that hosts weekly plays, concerts, and independent films. There is no better place to be in the world than at Frontier Café, drinking green tea with a friend, indulging in a hot panini and looking out over the Fort Andross Dam.
Options beyond downtown Brunswick are less quaint and more mainstream, such as Starbucks, Shaw’s, Coldstone Creamery, Target, and Wal-Mart in the neighboring town of Topsham and areas of Brunswick beyond Maine Street. Students utilize these resources for necessities and occasional trips out of the 'Bowdoin Bubble,' but most quickly and happily return to the close Bowdoin community and Maine Street Brunswick.
Bowdoin is close to Portland, a fun, active city with a great cultural scene, there is a major airport just 30 minutes away, and the 'freakishly perfect' town of Freeport with its massive, 24-7 L.L. Bean, Patagonia, and North Face stores is only 20 minutes away by car. Likewise, students occasionally drive to Portsmouth, NH and dine or hang out on the charming main avenue. For those students from New York City or Boston (of whom there are quite a few) the drive home is six or and two and a half hours, respectively, and a flight to New York City is only 45 minutes long. Likewise, road trips to nearby BC, BU, Colby, and Bates colleges are common and easy, and occasionally brave students will venture all the way up to Canada with there buddies to party in Quebec.
Most students are also active in the Bowdoin Outdoor Club, which makes weekly trips to hike mountains like Katahdin and Saddleback around Bowdoin, sea kayak on Casco Bay (just 15 minutes away), and even surf year-round at Popham beach. During ski season, starting in the first week of December, students make countless trips to Sugarloaf Mountain and Sunday River to ski with friends and stay for the day or overnight.
Originally, I wasn't planning on looking at Bowdoin because I assumed that Maine would be too cold. After talking to a family friend of mine, though, I learned that because Brunswick is only seven miles from the Maine coast, it's only slightly colder than Boston and significantly warmer than some of the other schools I was looking at in Vermont and Massachusetts.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much there actually is to do in Brunswick. There is way more to do in town than where I grew up, 20 minutes outside of Boston. There's a cheap movie theater (with couches in the first few rows), a bunch of restaurants (seafood, of course, but also at least four coffee shops, Thai, Indian, bistros, and even a Mexican-Irish hybrid named Pedro O'Hara's), great shopping in the thrift stores, a few bars (some sketchy, some not, but you'll need a real ID for all of them)...and that's just within walking distance.
With a car or a bike, you can go to Cook's Corner, where there's a much bigger movie theater, a Starbucks, a Target, and some more restaurants (including a decent Chinese place). You can also go to Freeport, the outlet capital of New England, where there's everything from the North Face to J. Crew and Abercrombie (all Bowdoin staples) to Nine West and the Gap, as well as even more restaurants and, of course, the world-famous L.L. Bean flagship store, open 24 hours a day. Portland is also 25 minutes away, with everything a typical city would offer, and Boston is just two hours or so south.
When school first starts, hiking and trips to the beach are frequent -- there's usually a school-sponsored trip to Popham Beach with buses for those who can't drive themselves. Acadia and Bar Harbor, two of the most beautiful spots on the East Coast, are only about an hour and a half away. Once the snow hits the ground, people get serious about skiing. Sunday River and Sugarloaf are each about an hour and a half away (which, as someone used to driving from Boston, is pretty close for snow that good), and Bowdoin sells great discount passes that cover both.
The main off-campus hangouts are coffee shops, and there are plenty of opinions at Bowdoin as to which one is the best. The most popular by far is Little Dog Coffee Shop, which is exactly the kind of place that Starbucks imitates (and puts out of business). Even though it’s a fifteen minute walk from campus, any time you go to get a latte, you are guaranteed to see at least ten other Bowdoin students taking advantage of the free wireless and doing work.
If you want to be a little more anonymous, you can go to Boho, or the Bohemian Café, which is less crowded even though it’s close to campus, because it looks a little shady since it’s in the middle of the Hannaford’s parking lot. However, it’s actually super-cozy inside, with great coffee, gelato, and even board games.
On the weekends, lots of people will grab dinner at Scarlet Begonias, a tiny bistro where you can bring your own wine – assuming you can get in, because there are about ten tables and it’s always packed. They have a huge variety of pizza, good pasta, and really fresh salads and seafood.
Many of Bowdoin’s unofficial campus traditions died with the Greek system on campus, so there are fewer unofficial campus traditions that do justice to the school's character. It is safe to say, however, that the College House System is accumulating some “unofficial” traditions as the years go by, such as the “graffiti party” that Baxter House has hosted for two years, or the coffee houses that take place periodically at Quinby House.
“Polar bearing” is an unofficial tradition that draws many Bowdoin students (especially Bowdoin Outdoor Club-types) to dive into Maine’s arctic waters once a month in their birthday suits. Although this tradition uses the name of our mascot in its title, many coastal schools have similar traditions. It is only a tradition attemtped by the bravest of souls.
Ivies week - Perhaps the most highly valued tradition at Bowdoin is Ivies week, which dates as far back as 1865. The celebration’s name is reminiscent of the time when graduating seniors would plant ivy on Bowdoin’s buildings. The week, typically the last in April, is notorious as a time when the quad is littered with solo cups, students sneak alcohol into class, and every day of the week is like a Saturday. Students are rarely productive during this week, and faculty are aware and fairly accommodating.
The main attraction for Ivies week are the concerts, however, because the Friday of Ivies week is a day when Bowdoin always plays host to famous artists and performers like Talib Kweli, Ok Go, and Ben Folds. During this week, Bowdoin is united in the common goal of PARTAY like there’s no tomorrow. And in accomplishing that goal, the campus comes together through its intoxication in a strange way that makes Ivies week a favorite for all Bowdoin students.
Matriculation- Another unofficial tradition takes place during an “official” tradition, Matriculation. During Matriculation, every member of the new freshman class signs the Matriculation books, checks out the signatures of famous alumni such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and shakes the president’s hand. The unofficial tradition has become rubbing the head of the polar bear statue on Barry Mills’s desk, a tradition that he apparently is not that fond of, which is all the more reason to do it.
Joshua Chamberlain (1852)was a distinguished Union General who went on to famously end the Civil War at Gettysburg before becoming Bowdoin’s president and the governor of Maine.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1825) was a famous American writer.
Oliver Otis Howard (1850) was a founder of Howard University.
Alfred Kinsey (1916)was a controversial entomologist-turned-sexologist.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1825)was a famous American writer.
Franklin Pierce (1825) was the 14th president of the United States.
Bowdoin’s sports teams play in the NCAA Division III and athletic participation is extremely popular on campus.
There is no one popular team, but instead the school features a wide-ranging and thriving jock community made up of sports team from across the board, from rowing to Nordic skiing. These teams include the student-run varsity Frisbee teams The Stoned Clowns (men) and Chaos Theory (women), as well as New England Small College Athletic Conference sports and nationally-ranked teams like our hockey, basketball, and squash teams.
Most people will agree that Bowdoin’s most popular sport is hockey, because it draws the most people to its games and tends to deliver an entertaining and competitive match. Likewise, most Bowdoin students might agree that the most disappointing sport is Bowdoin football, which consistently loses and in general has performed poorly for the past ten years or so. Other than that, however, Bowdoin is supportive of its many athletic teams, and its women’s field hockey team won the national championships this year.
One thing that defines sports at Bowdoin, is the fact that almost every team can be categorized or stereotyped for different hairstyles, clothing styles, body types, and social tendencies. Jocks often become close with their teams and form a community that resembles itself and conforms to a distinct 'type.'
Bowdoin students don’t tend to get too riled up for sporting events, but they go crazy in preparation for most competition against our neighboring Maine rival, Colby. While it’s a well-known fact that the polar bears are superior to Colby’s 'white mules,' we love the opportunity to confirm this fact whenever we face Colby in any form of competition, be it the annual Bowdoin-Colby hockey game, which is the most attended of the year, or the recycling competition. Of course, the rivalry is a legitimate one, and occasionally Bowdoin does fall to its northern adversaries. But without that sense of uncertainty, the rivalry would have died long ago, and we wouldn’t have that added motivation to so actively attend Bowdoin-Colby face-offs and ritualistically chant, 'mules are sterile' at hockey games.
There’s a Pee Wall in the basement of Quinby House that you shouldn’t lean on because it’s covered with a thin layer of urine that has accumulated over the years!
Head of Security Randy Nichols was once a radio show host and has a great on-air voice.
The president’s father-in-law invented Tootsie Rolls.
"Do a Disk" - What the Frisbee teams are referring to when they quickly consume five beers out of a Frisbee.
Bowdoin offers a unique arctic studies program, where students utilize the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center.
Racer-X is a group of Bowdoin professors who get decked in eighties gear and play cover songs once a semester for Bowdoin Students.
In the John Irving novel The Cider House Rules (1994) a Bowdoin-educated doctor forges a Bowdoin diploma for a young protégé.
The main character in the 2000 movie Where the Heart Is falls in love with a Bowdoin man. The film, which has a scene "at Bowdoin," is based on a novel of the same name.
In the movie Kinsey, about the sex researcher who attended Bowdoin, there’s a scene in the movie where Kinsey’s father opposes his decision to go there.
A cappella is extremely popular at Bowdoin. There are five groups at a school with 1700 people.
The founder of Students for Barack Obama graduated from Bowdoin in May 2008.
Super Snack is a late-night meal available at Thorne dining hall every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and features an eclectic assortment of music, blinking neon lights, nachos, cereal, cookies, grilled cheese, and occasionally hot dogs.
Due to the small size of the university, the walk to class is never longer than a few minutes, no matter where you live. At Bowdoin, traditional dorms are occupied by freshman, while sophomores try to get placed in the social houses, where the parties are, instead of the less popular “Chambo Doubles.” Upper classmen usually opt for off-campus housing. One of the major hang out spots on campus are actually inside these dorms and social houses, all of which have a common area. Besides large rooms by college standards, dorms at Bowdoin have automatically flushing toilets, floor housekeepers and hotel-like swipe cards in freshman housing.
The major dorms on campus can be broken into four groups: freshman bricks, on-campus upperclassmen, off-campus upperclassmen, and social houses.
Freshman bricks consist of eight dorms, six of which surround the quad, and two of which are across the street that runs down the middle of campus.
One dorm, which rotates every year, is always “chem-free,” meaning no alcohol or other illegal substances can be kept in the rooms. The bricks on the quad are four-story dorms called Winthrop, Maine, Appleton, Hyde, Moore, and Coleman, and over the last two years, they have all been completely renovated into quads with a huge common room and two smaller bedrooms. All the dorms are no more than a five-minute walk to Moulton Dining Hall, Smith Union, and most of the academic buildings. The remaining two dorms, Osher (formerly known as East) and West, are five-story dorms of doubles and triples, with the fifth floor of each building reserved for upperclassmen housing. Osher and West are probably now considered to be on the bad side– but just two years ago, they were the best, so that tells you something about the quality of freshman housing at Bowdoin. I’ve been in student housing (not including tours) at Tufts, BC, Duke, Williams, and Middlebury, and rooms in Bowdoin freshman dorms were at least 50% bigger (if not twice as big) as all of the freshman rooms I saw at those schools.
On-campus upperclassmen dorms aren’t quite as amazing as the freshmen dorms, so for a sophomore, living in what would be a typical dorm at other colleges feels like a step down.
One major dorm for sophomores is Chamberlain, a large upperclassmen building located right behind Thorne Dining Hall. A “Chambo double,” which is just a bedroom shared with another student, is generally considered the worst housing on campus, even though it’s really not that objectionable. Sophomores can also live in the top floors of Osher or West, or in Brunswick Apartments, which are doubles or triples with one or two bedrooms, a bathroom, a common room and a kitchen. Brunswick is considered to be pretty good – the only drawback is that they’re about a ten-minute walk from campus, which is incredibly far at Bowdoin.
A huge amount of sophomores choose to live in social houses, mostly for the social life, but also because the rooms are usually much better than any of the dorm options for sophomores. There are eight college houses (a.k.a. social houses) on campus, each of which is affiliated with one of the freshman dorms. Baxter and Ladd are located on the main campus, while Burnett, Howell, Helmreich, Quinby, and Mac are located across the street on College Row, with Reed around the corner on Boody Street. Some houses are associated with parties they throw every year, such as Quinby’s ’80s party, Ladd’s toga party, Baxter’s blacklight party, or Mac’s haunted house. Bowdoin replaced the fraternity system with social houses in 2000 for a variety of reasons. Today, the houses are coed, and while they are non-exclusive, a few houses still have certain characteristics associated with them (such as the football house, the chem-free house, or the stoner house).
As a junior or senior, there are a large variety of options, including a lot of off-campus houses. The big three that underclassmen are familiar with are the Tower, Harpswell, or Pine Street, because that’s where the parties are. Coles Tower is a 16-story dorm, which used to be the tallest building north of Boston. The Tower quads are suite-style, with four bedrooms, a common room, and a shared bathroom – the first eight floors are mostly juniors with a few sophomores, and the rest is almost entirely seniors. Harpswell and Pine Street are both four-person apartments which are almost identical – Harpswell is mostly juniors, while Pine Street is mostly seniors. Pine Street is sort of like a social house for upperclassmen – the people who live there usually throw the first party of the year, “Pinefest,” the Halloween party, and “Pinestock,” the biggest party of the spring semester on the last night of Ivies weekend.”
All of the dorms have many things in common. For the most part, people from the get-go become very close with their floors, if not their entire dorms, and as far as I’ve observed, these relationships continue throughout students’ time at Bowdoin. One unique thing about Bowdoin housing is that guys and girls share floors, which makes for close friendships between sexes and discoveries that a neighbor is prone to nakedness when intoxicated, or that a female neighbor looks very different without makeup on.
Additionally, all of the freshman dorms are incredibly well maintained due to the mostly respectful behavior of the students and the excellent work of the housekeeping staff. A lot of students grow quite fond of their floor’s housekeepers, and although each dorm has had its share of holes punched into walls and puking incidences, students are for the most part quite clean, even on weekends.
All the dorms have a unique entry system: each student has a hotel-like swipe card for entering most buildings on campus, and any student can enter another freshman dorm before 1 a.m. This system is great, because no one wants to carry around big metal keys. The only downside is that fact that the keys are prone to slipping out of back-pockets, so many a key has been lost in the school’s plethora of automatic-flushing toilets.
When it comes to room size, the units are a whole lot roomier than the first-year dorms on other campuses, but they’re by no means spacious. Advice for first years: when packing, put all that you think you need in a corner of your bedroom. Okay, now divide that by half. That’s what you should bring to college. Trust me, you won’t wear half of the cute things you plan on bringing here. As long as you have a Patagonia fleece, some t-shirts, a down jacket, a durable pair of jeans, Bean Boots, a scarf, clean underwear and socks and maybe some gloves, you’re fine. Really, you’re set. Don’t complicate your life.