It’s essay time for college applicants everywhere. Scott Meiklejohn—Bowdoin’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid—has some worthwhile advice for students, whether they are working on some finishing touches or just beginning to write.
I looked out my window one day this week as I was finishing a phone call. An out-of-state car pulled into our admissions parking lot, and out popped a mother and son. They stretched, maybe shaking off the drive. They came together at the back of the car, the son pulling on his sport coat. Here for an interview, I thought. His mother brushed her hands a few times over his shoulders, down the sleeves, tugging on the lapels—acts of care and support. Doing a bit of lip-reading from the second floor of Burton-Little, I was pretty sure she said, “Have fun.” Good message. He gave his mom a peck on the cheek and headed toward our front door.
It’s early November, so wonderful scenes like that will be less frequent for a while, as we get closer to our application deadlines. Early Decision I is coming up on November 15, with our regular and ED II deadlines about six weeks later.
For many high school seniors, the visits to campus, interviews, college fairs, and other elements of the deciding and applying process are largely over. Students are focusing on their fall coursework, their applications, and of course, their essays.
Most of what our applicants will submit as part of the application process is now either already done or not theirs to do. Academic records over three-plus years of high school are unchangeable and already baked (hopefully not “completely baked” as Benjamin Braddock said in The Graduate); teacher recommendations are out of their control; guidance counselor comments will not be subject to their review; and all of the interesting artistic, athletic, church, service, employment, and summer activities that we learn about in the application are pretty much in the rearview mirror at this point. Only the essays remain, and they are students’ final and very important opportunities to convey ideas and experiences in ways that help paint a full picture of themselves to us as we read their files.
We particularly enjoy reading essays that seem true and connected to the person we’re meeting in the rest of the application. The best essays stay with us and become models for the entire office, and I know that this application season will bring at least a few that get shared among all of my colleagues.
Advice about college essays often begins with words like honest, authentic, and concise. That simple and excellent guidance notwithstanding, it’s clear that some students feel a ton of pressure to pick a topic or a style of writing that will stand out. We get a lot of very good writing from Bowdoin applicants, so most students handle the assignment well. But some writers get pretty far out on the limb with style, vocabulary, and choice of topic. My most frequent advice to students is: please have the nerve to just be yourself in your essay, and help us get to know you by writing about something that is authentically yours, both in topic and style. All students have opinions, reflections, and stories from their lives. All students have read books that inspired, heard music that moved them, or read something in the paper that made them ask, “Why is the world like that?”. These real-life experiences, observations, and ideas are always the best starting point for essays.
I do a great deal of writing in my work, and sometimes I become aware that the keyboard has been idle for a bit and the words are not exactly flowing onto the page or the screen. Usually that’s a signal that I have drifted away from what I really intended to write. Students who are struggling with their essays and who might have hit that pause, or that moment, may find help by returning to a more authentic idea or story about which they can write without reaching for words and phrases to manufacture a great college essay.
A few specific points of advice to students and parents:
• Have someone else look at your essay, at least once. Good choices include a respected teacher, a counselor, a sibling, a parent, or a friend whose writing you respect. After several drafts, it’s easy to become blind to typos or spelling errors that a fresh set of eyes will easily catch. And, in the age of technology, spell-check is not always your friend. We had an essay last year from a student who wrote about his experiences at “________ Predatory School.” We’re pretty sure it was supposed to be “Preparatory.”
• Parents: You might be the person invited to review an essay, but you are not a co-author. Allow your children to write in their own voices and express ideas that are truly their own. If they’re ready for Bowdoin, they surely can handle the essay assignment with only gentle editing from you.
• Understand that we will learn not only from how you write, but also from your choice of topic. We received an essay two years ago from a young man who described his success at reaching level fifteen of some apocalyptic video game. We learned in detail about his strategies for slaughtering warriors or zombies or space aliens or whatever it was, and the hours he’d spent polishing his craft. There wasn’t anything wrong with the writing, but the lasting impression was of someone who seemed to spend a significant amount of time alone in front of a game screen, and we had to wonder if he would fully engage with the people and opportunities of a fabulous small college.
• Some topics and styles are difficult and probably should be avoided. Video games could be one of them. Sex or bodily functions? No, and no. We don’t want to read about these. Breakups and other drama with current or former loves? Usually not a good idea. Humor can work well, but it’s tricky. What cracks you up might not be so funny to the reader of your application. Haiku? Not recommended. Imaginary friends? See above.
• Remember that we are making decisions that are primarily about intellectual promise. You might be very attached to your collection of wacky-colored socks, and you may feel that they say something vital about your personality. Personality is important. Bowdoin isn’t just admitting GPAs—we admit real people. Your application should absolutely express who you are. But making your point about the socks in a way that gives us a stronger understanding of you as a college student could be a challenge.
• Avoid the “SUGs.” There was a teacher at my high school who wrote “SUG” in the margin when he thought a student had made a Sweeping Unfounded Generalization. For instance, each year we read a lot of essays about community service. Occasionally, the conclusions and life lessons based on a chance encounter with a homeless person in the subway, or a week of service abroad, seem so positive, life-changing, and dramatic as to be out of scale with the time invested or the nature of the experience. Some of the best service essays, on the other hand, have been from students for whom service opportunities generated complex questions or confusion rather than simple answers. Speaking of lessons, we had an essay last year from a girl who wrote that “the lesions from that experience will stay with me for a lifetime.” I’m not making it up (see spell-check, above).
• Finally, be sure that the essay does more than simply recount a story or convey what happened. Many essays fall short of being wonderful because the writer provided only the facts, and not his/her reaction or point of view. We don’t learn about you from knowing what happened. We learn about you from how you reflect on what happened.
Over the next five months, we will read approximately 14,000 essays. We look forward to our reading, and I look forward to reporting on the Class of 2017 as it takes shape between now and May 1.
Admission - Policies and Procedures
In May 1989, the Governing Boards of Bowdoin College approved the following statement on admissions:
Bowdoin College is, first and foremost, an academic institution. Hence academic accomplishments and talents are given the greatest weight in the admissions process. While accomplishments beyond academic achievements are considered in admissions decisions, these are not emphasized to the exclusion of those applicants who will make a contribution to Bowdoin primarily in the academic life of the College. In particular, applicants with superior academic records or achievements are admitted regardless of their other accomplishments. All Bowdoin students must be genuinely committed to the pursuit of a liberal arts education, and therefore all successful applicants must demonstrate that they can and will engage the curriculum seriously and successfully.
At the same time that it is an academic institution, Bowdoin is also a residential community. To enhance the educational scope and stimulation of that community, special consideration in the admissions process is given to applicants who represent a culture, region, or background that will contribute to the diversity of the College. To ensure that the College community thrives, special consideration in the admissions process is also given to applicants who have demonstrated talents in leadership, in communication, in social service, and in other fields of endeavor that will contribute to campus life and to the common good thereafter. And to support the extracurricular activities that constitute an important component of the overall program at Bowdoin, and that enrich the life of the campus community, special consideration in the admissions process is also given to applicants with talents in the arts, in athletics, and in other areas in which the College has programs. The goal is a student body that shares the common characteristic of intellectual commitment but within which there is a considerable range of backgrounds, interests, and talents.
Although Bowdoin does not require that a student seeking admission take a prescribed number of courses, the typical entering first-year student will have had four years each of English, foreign language, mathematics, and social science, and three to four years of laboratory sciences. Further, most will have taken courses in the arts, music, and computer science.
Candidates applying to Bowdoin College are evaluated by members of the admissions staff in terms of the following factors: academic record, the level of challenge represented in the candidate’s course work, counselor/teacher recommendations, application and essays, overall academic potential, school and community involvement, leadership, and personal qualities.
APPLICATION AND ADMISSION PROCEDURES
Students may apply to Bowdoin through the regular admissions program or through either of two early decision programs. The application deadline for Early Decision Option I is November 15. The deadline for Early Decision Option II and regular admission is January 1. Application materials for all programs are the same, except that early decision applicants must also complete the Early Decision Agreement that is included with the application materials.
The Common Application includes the Personal Application, the Secondary School Report, a Mid-Year School Report, two Teacher Evaluation forms, optional Arts and Athletics supplements, and the Early Decision form, if applicable. Students may apply using the Common Application or the Coalition Application; the requirements are the same, with no preference on which application is submitted. The College is also a Questbridge partner and accepts match and non-match applications (with the required supplementary short essay). Those who wish to be considered for financial aid must file the College Scholarship Service PROFILE online or the appropriate International Aid form. US citizens and permanent residents seeking financial aid are required to complete the FAFSA. Applicants for admission must also submit the $65 application fee or an application fee waiver. Application fees are waived for first-generation-to-college students and/or for any student applying for financial aid from the College.
The following items constitute a completed admissions folder:
1. The Common Application, or the Coalition Application, or the Questbridge Application, and essays/required supplementary materials submitted with the application fee ($65). The postmark deadline for regular applications is January 1.
2. School Report: The college advisor’s assessment of the candidate’s character and accomplishments and a copy of the secondary school transcript should be submitted to Bowdoin no later than January 1. A transcript of grades through the midyear marking period (Mid-Year School Report) should be returned to Bowdoin by February 15.
3. Recommendations: Each candidate is required to submit two teacher recommendations, which should be completed by two core academic subject teachers and submitted as soon as possible and no later than January 1. Core academic subjects are English, foreign language, mathematics, science, and social studies.
4. College Board or ACT Scores: Bowdoin is test-optional and allows each applicant to decide if his or her standardized test results should be considered as part of the application. In recent years, approximately 20 percent of Bowdoin’s accepted applicants decided not to submit standardized test results. The candidate is responsible for making arrangements to take the examinations and for ensuring that Bowdoin receives the scores if they want them to be considered as part of the application. Students should also arrange for an official report of the scores to be sent by the testing agency. Students choosing to submit their SAT I (Reasoning Test) and SAT II (Subject Test) or ACT scores should complete all examinations no later than January of the senior year.
Students will indicate their choice regarding use of tests on the application.
5. Visit and Interview: A personal interview is strongly encouraged. Interviews are available with a member of the admissions staff or a senior interviewer on campus. In addition, members of the Bowdoin Alumni Schools and Interviewing Committee (BASIC) are available in most parts of the country to provide interviews on a local basis. For further information on BASIC, see Alumni and Community Organizations. A number of carefully selected and trained Bowdoin senior interviewers conduct interviews to supplement regular staff appointments during the summer months and from September into December. On-campus interviews are available from the third week in May through early December.
6. Notification: All candidates will receive a final decision on their application for admission by the end of March. A commitment to enroll is not required of any first-year candidate (except those applying for Early Decision) until the Candidates’ Common Reply date of May 1. To accept an offer of admission from Bowdoin, a student must submit a $300 admissions deposit, which is credited to the first semester’s bill.
7. Bowdoin will waive the application fee for any first-generation-to-college student and/or for any student applying for financial aid from the College. Other candidates requiring an application fee waiver may request the standard College Board form from their guidance counselor or have the counselor write to request a fee waiver, explaining the extent to which the fee would represent an excessive burden for the candidate’s family.
Bowdoin offers admission through two Early Decision programs in addition to the Regular admission round. Candidates who are certain that Bowdoin is their first choice may wish to consider this option. The guidelines for Early Decision are as follows:
1. Candidates’ application files must include the Early Decision agreement form, indicating that they wish to be considered for Early Decision and that they will enroll if admitted. Early Decision candidates may file regular or non-binding early applications at other colleges, but only with the understanding that these will be withdrawn and no new applications will be initiated if they are accepted under an Early Decision plan.
2. The Common Application, or the Coalition Application, or the Questbridge Application, essays, accompanied by the Early Decision agreement, a School Report Form, a secondary school transcript of grades, two teacher recommendations, and the application fee of $65 (or fee-waiver form) must be submitted to Bowdoin by November 15 for Early Decision I (notification by mid-December), or by January 1 for Early Decision II (notification by mid-February).
3. Candidates admitted via Early Decision who have financial need as established through review of required financial aid documents by the College will be notified of the amount of their award along with their Early Decision acceptance, provided their financial aid forms are on file at Bowdoin by the application deadlines.
4. Submit SAT or ACT scores if the candidate so desires.
5. An Early Decision acceptance is contingent upon completion of the senior year in good academic and social standing.
6. There are three possible admission decisions for Early Decision I candidates: admission to Bowdoin, deferral for consideration in March, and denial of admission. In addition, Early Decision candidates may be placed on the waiting list for possible admission in May or June. Each year a number of applicants who are deferred under Early Decision are accepted in March, when decisions on all regular admissions are released. Early Decision candidates may be denied admission if the Admissions Committee concludes that their credentials will not be competitive for further consideration in the Regular admission round.
7. Responsibility for understanding and complying with the rules for Early Decision rests with the candidate. Should an Early Decision candidate violate the provisions of the program, the College may rescind any offer of admission and financial aid.
Admitted students who wish to delay their matriculation to the College for one year must request a deferred enrollment from the dean of admissions by July 1, explaining the reasons for delaying matriculation. Bowdoin will hold a place in the next entering class for any student who is granted a deferment. The student, in return, must agree to withdraw all applications at other colleges or universities and may not apply for admission to other institutions during the deferral year. Financial aid candidates must reapply for aid during the year following the deferral. The $300 nonrefundable admissions deposit is still due by the May 1 reply date.
Admission with Advanced Standing
Bowdoin recognizes College Entrance Examination Board Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate results and may grant advanced placement and credit toward graduation for superior performance in those programs. Applicants to Bowdoin are encouraged to have AP and IB test results sent to the Admissions Office.
Decisions on both placement and credit are made by the appropriate academic department in each subject area. Some departments offer placement examinations during the orientation period to assist them in making appropriate determinations. Every effort is made to place students in the most advanced courses for which they are qualified, regardless of whether they have taken AP or IB examinations before matriculation. Determinations of advanced placement and credit are made during the student’s first year at Bowdoin. Credit and placement policies for AP and IB examinations may be found on the Bowdoin website at bowdoin.edu/registrar/forms-policies.shtml.
Some students have the opportunity to enroll in college-level course work prior to graduation. Bowdoin College will consider granting credit for pre-college course work, providing the following criteria have been met: the course work must have been completed on a college campus, must have been completed in a class with matriculated college students, may not have been used to satisfy any high school graduation requirements, and must represent a standard of achievement comparable to what is expected at Bowdoin in a field of study characteristic of the liberal arts.
First-year students who matriculated prior to fall 2013 may apply a maximum of eight course credits toward the degree from the Advanced Placement program, the International Baccalaureate program, or pre-college course work. Students who matriculate beginning in the fall of 2013 may apply a maximum of four pre-matriculation credits toward the Bowdoin degree from approved exams or other approved college/university courses.
Home-schooled applicants and candidates applying from secondary schools that provide written evaluations rather than grades are required to submit SAT I (Reasoning Test) and two or more SAT II (Subject Test) test results or ACT test results. SAT Subject Tests should include Math Level I or Math Level 2 and a science. In addition, home-schooled candidates must submit the Home-School Supplement, which can be found on Bowdoin’s website at bowdoin.edu/admissions/. A personal interview is also strongly recommended.
The Admissions Committee welcomes the perspective that international students bring to the Bowdoin community. In 2016–2017, approximately 1,000 international students applied for admission to Bowdoin.
Admissions policies and procedures for international students are the same as for regular first-year applicants, with the following exceptions:
1. In addition to the admission forms required of all candidates, students whose secondary school education has followed neither the standard US format nor the International Baccalaureate must submit the International Supplement, which is available from the Common Application or from the Bowdoin College website.
2. Students whose primary language of instruction at the secondary school level is not English must submit official results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) by the appropriate deadlines. If necessary, students may substitute results from the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for the TOEFL.
3. The TOEFL may be waived for students whose primary language of instruction for the past three years has been English.
4. All international students who submit the College Scholarship Service Foreign Student Financial Aid Form or the Bowdoin International Financial Aid Form or Canadian students who submit the Canadian Financial Aid Form (both available on the Bowdoin website) when they file the application for admission will be considered for Bowdoin funds to defray part of their college costs. Bowdoin has limited scholarship funds for students who are not US citizens or US permanent residents and eligible candidates are evaluated under a need-aware admissions policy. These scholarships often cover the full cost of tuition, fees, and room and board. The competition for these financial aid packages is intense. Candidates who do not apply for financial aid during the admissions process should not expect funding at any time in their course of study at Bowdoin College.
Each year, a limited number of students from other colleges and universities will be admitted to sophomore or junior standing at Bowdoin. The following information pertains to transfer candidates:
1. Citizens of the United States should file the Transfer Common Application or Transfer Coalition Application and essay (a brief statement indicating the reasons for transferring to Bowdoin), and the Bowdoin Supplement (available from the Common Application or Coalition Application or Bowdoin’s website at bowdoin.edu/admissions/) with the $65 application fee by March 1 for fall admission. March 1 is also the deadline for those seeking spring admission, although space is rarely available in the spring. International students must file the application by March 1 for fall or spring admission and include the Bowdoin Supplement, the International Supplement, and the application fee. Applicants must arrange to have submitted by the same deadlines transcripts of their college and secondary school records, a statement from a dean or advisor at their university or college, and at least two recommendations from current or recent professors. Interviews are strongly recommended but not required. As soon as it becomes available, an updated transcript including spring semester grades should also be sent. Candidates whose applications are complete will normally be notified of Bowdoin’s decision in early May.
2. Transfer candidates usually present academic records of “B+” work or better in a course of study that approximates the work that would have been done at Bowdoin, had they entered as first-year students. Bowdoin accepts transfer credit for liberal arts courses in which a grade of C– or higher has been received. Transfer students should understand that although they may expect an estimate regarding class standing upon transferring, official placement is possible only after updated transcripts have arrived at the registrar’s office and have been appraised by the appropriate dean and academic departments. To qualify for the bachelor of arts degree, students must complete Distribution Requirements and Division Requirements, and these requirements normally must be satisfied by courses taken at Bowdoin.
3. Although two years of residence are required for a Bowdoin degree, students who have completed more than four semesters of college work are welcome to apply for admission, with this understanding. Students who have already received their bachelor’s degree are ineligible for first-year or transfer admission.
4. The financial aid funds available for transfer students may be limited by commitments the College has already made to enrolled students and incoming first-year students. US applicants for aid must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service’s PROFILE by March 1. International applicants for aid must file either the College Scholarship Service Foreign Student Financial Aid Form or the Bowdoin International Financial Aid Form (available on the Bowdoin website) by March 1. Canadian applicants must submit the Canadian Financial Aid Form (available on the Bowdoin website).
Each semester, as space within the College and openings within courses permit, Bowdoin admits a few special or visiting students who are not seeking a degree from Bowdoin. In general, this program is intended to serve the special educational needs of residents in the Brunswick area who have not yet completed a bachelor’s degree, as well as students who are pursuing a degree elsewhere and who, for truly exceptional reasons, wish to take a course at Bowdoin. Teachers wishing to upgrade their skills or Bowdoin graduates who need particular courses to qualify for graduate programs are also considered for this program. Special students are billed at a per course rate for up to two courses per term. No more than two credits may be taken each semester. No financial aid is available for special students. Interested applicants should submit the completed special student form and enclose the $65 application fee at least one month prior to the beginning of the semester. A personal interview is required. Inquiries should be addressed to the Special Student Coordinator in the Admissions Office.
Summary of Application Deadlines
Application materials for admission include the completed Common Application, Bowdoin Supplement, and supplementary essay. New applicants should submit these materials in accord with the following deadlines:
Early Decision I
November 15: Common Application or Coalition Application or Questbridge Application and supplementary essay
Early Decision II
January 1: Common Application or Coalition Application or Questbridge Application and supplementary essay
January 1: Common Application or Coalition Application or Questbridge Application and supplementary essay
Must submit materials according to the deadlines above: Common Application, Coalition Application, supplementary essay, International Supplement, TOEFL Report
Fall: March 1: Common Application or Coalition Application and supplementary essay
All correspondence concerning first-year and transfer admission to the College should be addressed to the Office of Admissions, Bowdoin College, 5000 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011; Tel. 207–725–3100, Fax: 207–725-3101