Saturday, April 9, 2016

B,B,C: Three liberal arts colleges in Maine

I’ve visited several liberal arts colleges back to back in the past week, so I know the spiel from admissions officers at small schools well.  Plus, I have taught in liberal arts colleges in my past career as English professor so I’m already biased about their advantages. 

The B,B,C in Maine—Bates, Bowdoin and Colby—really do have a lot in common as they are not only similar in size and origin but they are all located within an hour of one another, about two and a half hours or so from Boston. 

The three schools share the hallmarks of a comprehensive liberal arts education:
--a broad and deep dive into the liberal arts
--small classes
--a collaborative and supportive learning environment
--close relationships with and mentoring from faculty
--opportunities for undergraduate research
--the ability to balance several extra-curricular activities with academic life

Each school offers a pre-orientation adventure or service trip to build community and all three emphasize their study abroad programs. 

So how are they different?  During college information sessions, campus tours led by students, and more research on websites here are some of my observations:

This school is the most mission-driven of the three.  Founded by an abolitionist, Bates remains true to its mission of inclusivity.  There are not requirements for joining any group or club, including its nationally ranked debate team and there has never been Greek life on campus.  Classes are tiny, not just small, and there is also an emphasis on community outreach in the working class town of Lewiston through the college’s Harwood Center on Community Engagement. 

Another feature of Bates is its 4-4-1 calendar, which means two semesters and a short term at the end of April through May instead of January.  This gives professors and students more opportunities for outdoor explorations in Maine as well as overseas projects and travel.  Our tour guide told us that she has been meeting with a professor all term to help plan a trip to Rwanda this spring to film a documentary interviewing survivors of the genocide.

Finally, Bates is one of a handful of colleges in the U.S. that actually requires a senior thesis or capstone project for every student.  Students participate in an on campus research conference called the Mt. David Summit where they share their projects with the student body, faculty and community members.

The most selective in admissions of the three schools, Bowdoin is popular for its strong STEM   The town of Brunswick where the campus is located is more prosperous and coastal than working class Lewiston, Bates’ location.
programs—natural sciences (including marine science and Arctic Studies), and more recently computer science—as well as its robust liberal arts traditions.

One of Bowdoin’s hallmarks is its residential life.  Like Bates and Colby, it has no Greek system, but it does maintain the houses where fraternities and sororities were once located in.  These houses, the “College House System” have become residences for about half the college’s sophomores and they are also a social hub for the campus.  The residents of each house are tasked with organizing and hosting social events for the whole school throughout the year.  In this way, students gain leadership experience and move on to other positions on campus afterwards.  Each incoming freshman is affiliated with a house, giving every student an automatic social and residential connection beyond their first year.

Bowdoin students, like those at Bates and Colby are outdoor oriented and all participate in a pre-orientation adventure or service trip before the start of freshman year.  The Outing Club is the most popular on campus and sponsors trips for skiing, hiking, and even ice climbing.

Located outside of the small town of Waterville, Colby is perhaps the most “pastoral” of the three   Its  It offers the same small classes, inclusive community and focus on a broad and deep engagement in academics.  Similar to Bates, it has a short term but Colby’s occurs in January between fall and spring terms.  Many students take this opportunity to pursue internships or short-term travel with professors.  More than two-thirds of Colby’s students participate in at least one study abroad opportunity during their time on campus. 
campus is lovely and spread out with gorgeous vistas.

To me, the most distinctive feature of Colby is its impressive collection of American art housed in a new museum opened in 2013. Colby students have firsthand access to this premier art collection; the art department’s major integrates both studio art and art history using this resource. All told, Colby offers more than 50  majors including other popular programs in economics government, English and international studies.

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