Is Bowdoin College Ivy League? Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

A private liberal arts college chartered at the end of the 18th century in Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College stands as one of the most historic campuses in the United States. 

The school predates the state of Maine itself; it had to be redesignated and brought under the supervision of the Maine legislature when its campus became part of the land separated from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Bowdoin’s curriculum over the years consistently reflects the school’s mission of broad-based education. 

Students take required courses in writing, mathematical or statistical reasoning, natural sciences, power and inequity, international perspectives, and visual and performing arts.

By providing students with this breadth of foundational knowledge, Bowdoin seeks to create fully developed citizens of the world, capable of ethical leadership. 

And the school has produced generations of leaders, iconoclasts, and fearless individuals.

Social and cultural forces like Geoffrey Canada and Hodding Carter. Mayon clinic founder Augustus Stinchfield. Speaker of the house Thomas Bracket Reed and Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville Fuller. President Franklin Pierce. CEOs of American Express and L.L. Bean; founders of Netflix and Subway.

Not one but two Arctic explorers, Donald MacMillan and Robert Peary—the school’s mascot became a polar bear in tribute. And two foundational American writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Historic campus in the northeast, liberal arts with an ethical mission, illustrious alumni: Bowdoin adds up to Ivy League, doesn’t it?

Is Bowdoin College Ivy League?

Bowdoin College
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

No, Bowdoin won’t be found on the list of the Ivy League schools. 

Those are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia.

As a defining term, the “Ivy League” refers to an athletic conference. 

Many people now use “Ivy League” as a universal term for excellence because it conjures up a particular image in an educational context. 

New terms like “Ivy Plus” try to be more accurate while still evoking the prestige of the original phrase. 

Schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago are typically called “Ivy Plus” since they often overlap with the Ivies in professional organizations and collaborations.

Now more terms like “Public Ivies,” “Hidden Ivies,” “Little Ivies,” and “New Ivies” confirm that the term “Ivy League” has become a kind of branding. 

These lists consider that there are many more than eight elite, academically-rigorous campuses in the United States capable of educating the next generation of leaders.

No matter how prestigious, academically rigorous, or selective Bowdoin may be, it’s not technically an Ivy League school. But it’s not the only school people have erroneously associated with the Ivy League.

Why Is Bowdoin College Confused As an Ivy League School?

It’s hard to blame anyone for mistaking Bowdoin for an Ivy League school. The Economist referred to Bowdoin as one of the “almost-Ivies” in an article noting Bowdoin’s increasingly selective admissions process. 

Besides the benefit of an outstanding curriculum, Bowdoin traditions and amenities provide its students with experiences quite comparable to those on an Ivy League campus. 

Since the 1990s, fraternities have been banned on campus, in favor of the college-house system that mirrors that of many Ivy League campus housing societies.

The oldest continuously published student weekly newspaper in the United States, The Bowdoin Orient, comes from Bowdoin. Its dining services, where students enjoy an annual lobster bake and produce from the school’s organic garden, rank among the best in the nation.

The quality of education and the capabilities of the student body at Bowdoin reach the standards of the Ivy League. When Bowdoin students leave for graduate school, four of their five top choices are Ivy League institutions.

Bowdoin ranks, based on student SAT scores, among the smartest liberal arts schools in the country, according to Business Insider. And Bowdoin’s tuition, before scholarships and aid, comes in at an Ivy-League level.

And that ivy-planting tradition the sportswriter invoked when he named the Ivy League in the first place? Bowdoin practiced its own ivy planting starting in 1865.

Bowdoin College – Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

Bowdoin College Campus
Ilove2run, Bowdoin College Quad, CC BY-SA 3.0

Bowdoin’s ranking shows that it doesn’t even need the Ivy League comparison to prove its value. It’s often listed in the top three liberal arts schools and the top three small colleges in America.

Bowdoin ranks among the top ten for undergraduate teaching and for value. A survey of college administrators placed Bowdoin among the top 25 schools nationally for first-year experience, acknowledging Bowdoin’s programs designed to help new students acclimate to college life with ease.

The Class of 2025’s admissions cycle marked the lowest rate of acceptance in the school’s history, and 60% of students accepted Bowdoin’s offer of admission, the highest rate of student acceptance Bowdoin has seen.

Bowdoin has a reputation as a selective institution; CBS ranks it among the top 20 hardest schools to get into

How to Get Into Bowdoin College 

A hundred years ago, Bowdoin was known for educating the elite of Maine. But 71% of the Class of 2025 hails from outside New England, and 17% represent the first generation of their families to attend college.

Bowdoin evaluates applications on a need-blind basis; the school assists all accepted students\, providing financial aid packages. Student aid at Bowdoin consists of grants and scholarships, as the school gave up loans in hopes that students would choose careers based on their passions and their desire to serve the common good, rather on their ability to repay student loans.

While many schools have adopted a test-optional policy for the SAT and ACT in the wake of the pandemic, the SAT has been optional since 1970 at Bowdoin. 

Knowing that Bowdoin admissions doesn’t see the SAT as the best indicator of success at Bowdoin, applicants should only include their SAT scores if they bring exceptional benefit to their overall application.

Bowdoin’s process prioritizes high school record above all other features of the student portfolio. While the school does not require a particular course of study in high school, most admitted Bowdoin students take four years each of English, mathematics, social science, and foreign language, along with three to four years of laboratory sciences.

Besides a high GPA and consistent coursework in the liberal arts, students hoping to attend Bowdoin should enroll for the highest level of academic coursework available through their high school. Participating in AP, International Baccalaureate, or other advanced coursework can enhance a student’s transcript.

Bowdoin looks at a student’s grade history and choice of coursework as evidence of academic potential. 

The school places weight on teacher recommendations as well, and students should cultivate relationships with their high school teachers so that they will be able to provide as full a picture as possible of the student’s ability to perform well in the rigorous academic environment at Bowdoin.

Since Bowdoin wants to gauge each student’s ability to do well as an undergraduate in their curriculum, the application essay serves an important purpose in the process.

Bowdoin’s freshman course plan includes an intensive writing program; writing and critical thinking skills are important to the Bowdoin experience.

Students applying to Bowdoin can take advantage of an optional supplement, a spontaneous video response to a question from Bowdoin. Students receive a link in their application portal where they can activate a randomly-selected question, and in 30 seconds, the recording begins.

Bowdoin offers this option as a way for students to communicate about themselves in a less formal manner. No editing or planning is involved in the process.

Bowdoin accepts the Common Application and the Coalition Application. Bowdoin’s participation in QuestBridge’s National College Match provides another excellent opportunity for students to matriculate at Bowdoin.

Recap: Bowdoin College Is Not an Ivy League School. However, It Is a Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College

The term “Ivy League” has come to stand for an elite college education. In fact, there are only eight schools officially part of the Ivy League.

But many more schools offer elite education, prestigious faculty, rich traditions, and historic campuses. Whether it’s called a Little Ivy, New Ivy, an Almost-Ivy, or a Hidden Ivy, Bowdoin College in Maine gets mentioned alongside those Ancient Eight of the Ivy League.

Bowdoin draws some of the highest achieving students across the country, and while it is a private institution, it’s committed to graduating students without debt. 

Dating back to the origins of the nation and graduating leaders in politics, the arts, and industry, this small college plays a big role in American culture.

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