Bowdoin vs Middlebury campus life?
April 2, 2015 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Our daughter is looking at both Bowdoin and Middlebury for college this coming year. She's got a pretty good idea of what they're about academically but not much of an idea of how campus life (physical campus, social life, student body mix) might differ. Anyone with knowledge (of both care to offer a comparison? We live in Seattle and visited Middlebury during the summer (no students) and have not seen the Bowdoin campus, so her direct experience is very limited.

Note that she is expecting to spend her spare time hanging out with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye working up elaborate production numbers.
posted by skyscraper to Education (10 answers total)
Several years ago I ran into an old softball teammate who went to Middlebury. All she could talk about was how their Quidditch team was the best in the nation. Apparently it was a Very Big Deal on campus at least around 8-9ish years ago. If that helps with the social aspect of the school at all.
posted by phunniemee at 12:02 PM on April 2, 2015

I grew up relatively near Bowdoin and attended Middlebury's summer language program.

Middlebury is a teensy tiny town in Vermont with all that goes with it. I could walk from campus to the town, and the town itself was very small that I could walk around the town and back to campus really easily. Beautiful summers, and I remember being told by the locals that of course Middlebury had very Vermont winters. Middlebury had excellent food in the summer -- most of their food is sourced from local farmers, etc. No idea how the regular school year is comparatively.

Bowdoin is in Brunswick, which is very much more of a full college town these days. There are lots of restaurants and shops in Brunswick. It's close to Freeport and not terribly far from Portland. Brunswick will also have very New England winters, but it's less nothing-around-it compared to Middlebury.

Middlebury is very much a rural campus, and Bowdoin is a town campus, so there's that to consider as well.

Both campuses are lovely. Both schools are excellent. Both will have very similar demographics. Bowdoin is a bit smaller than Middlebury in terms of student population.
posted by zizzle at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never been to Middlebury, but I live very near Bowdoin, and have been on campus many, many, many times.

She knows, right, that the Maine State Music Theater sits right on the Bowdoin campus?

Bowdoin is an extremely beautiful campus, nested inside one of the loveliest small cities in Maine. Lots to do in Brunswick, both in terms of going out and also recreation - its about a twenty minute drive to the ocean, plus lots of other outdoor things to do handy. Brunswick also hosts Artwalk Maine on the second Friday of every month.

She can also easily hop on the train to get to Portland or Boston. Portland is consistantly named one of the top foodie cities in the nation, and has a thriving arts culture.

I presume she's looked through this website.

I highly recommend zipping around on Streetview to get a sense of the campus and how it is set right within the city.
posted by anastasiav at 12:18 PM on April 2, 2015

I'd suggest poking around on YouTube. There will be lots of official videos made by both colleges, but also a lot of student-made ones that should give her a little of the flavor of the schools.
posted by MsMolly at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2015

I live in Brunswick and took my niece to look at Middlebury for an academic year 2012 start. When I was in grad school, I studied on the Bowdoin campus a lot, and I'm also friendly with quite a few Middlebury alums. From my experience, Bowdoin is far more integrated into the town of Brunswick than Middlebury is to the town of Middlebury. Bowdoin has several restaurants, a movie theater, and a supermarket within easy walking distance. Middlebury had similar stuff within walking distance but the scope felt smaller and students we met discussed the campus bubble and how rarely they got into town. Both campuses are extremely beautiful but Middlebury is far more rural. Brunswick is about 25 minutes from Portland, the largest city in the state. Middlebury is about an hour from Burlington, the largest city in Vermont.

I noticed you mentioned the stars of White Christmas, so she might be looking forward to snow. Middlebury has it's own ski lodge and is right in the middle of a great winter recreation area. It receives way more snow than Brunswick in an average year, since it is inland and lakey. Although Maine has quite a bit of skiing, Bowdoin is pretty far away from all of it. On the coast, snow accumulation are wetter and smaller.

Neither of them have greek life, but they've both got a "social house" system. I understand that it's quite small at Middlebury, like 1-2 houses, and bigger at Bowdoin. We asked about living off-campus at both places, and the answers were similar. At both you're required to live on campus for the first two years. After that, Bowdoin has no policy, and Middlebury requires students who are interested to participate in a lottery, in order to limit the population that lives off campus.

Oh, and the food at Bowdoin is supergood. It's been ranked #1 in the country more than 1 time, and I'll sometimes eat on campus at the places that are open. We ate at Middlebury and it seemed better than institutional food normally is, but not anything I would ever, like, crave.

Good luck making the choice. I second the youtube idea. Hope this helps.
posted by wizardpants at 2:31 PM on April 2, 2015

The responses above are great. I'll just add that I've done parental "campus visit" in both places, years ago, and have had occasion to visit both campuses subsequently, and if I had to pick, I'd pick Bowdoin. Keep in mind that either way, it's small town New England, not Seattle. But the cultural opportunities in and around Brunswick are likely to be better than Middlebury. (And I live in Vermont.)
posted by beagle at 5:37 PM on April 2, 2015

I have only been to Bowdoin once but I live an hour or so from Middlebury, second what everyone's saying about it being rural. Look at this page to give you an idea of how hard it is to get OUT of Middlebury if you want to go elsewhere. If she has a car, awesome, otherwise she will mostly be in a very small town a lot of the time. Which is one of those things, it's terrific if that is what you are into and can be a little off-putting otherwise, particularly in long winters.
posted by jessamyn at 6:51 PM on April 2, 2015

Brunswick now has Amtrak service south to Portland/Boston, if that matters.
posted by JanetLand at 5:56 AM on April 3, 2015

FWIW, I grew up going to hockey camp at Bowdoin, and have to second that the food there is great. Granted, that was 25 years ago, but ...
posted by k5.user at 7:04 AM on April 3, 2015

I'm Bowdoin '68. That's long ago, but I have a couple observations that are still relevant. I have not been to Middlebury, but the Bowdoin campus is fairly compact, at least compared to Williams where my son went. That's important on the cold nights. The winters in Brunswick are not as severe as inland Maine due to the moderating effect of the ocean.

If you call the Admissions Dept., they can set you up with recent alum (or current student) to talk to. Probably true of Middlebury, too.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:34 PM on April 3, 2015

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