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First-year files: supportive learning environment at a rigorous liberal arts college

March 2nd, 2021

It’s time for our next edition of First-year files! Today we introduce Bella, who attends Bowdoin College in the coastal town of Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin is a small liberal arts college known for its rigorous academic culture and close-knit community.

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Bella’s unique entry for our blog underscores the fact that some highly selective colleges can be quite responsive when it comes to learning support needs. At Bowdoin, enrolled students who need learning accommodations have also proved themselves to be exceptional scholars during their time in high school. While the supports offered are not comprehensive as at some other schools, it is wonderful to see such compassion and concern manifested for the individual needs of Bowdoin’s students.

We appreciate Bella’s vulnerability and willingness to share her experience. Her message about thriving in her college setting continues to support our motivation to find the right fit for each individual student.

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed on college students—especially first-year students such as myself—my experience living at Bowdoin College was memorable and educational.

Because of Bowdoin’s small student body, I think that making friends was easier for me than it would have been if I went to a larger research university. The first couple days at Bowdoin were difficult because I had to acclimate to a life of constant COVID testing and quarantining from my peers: but, despite the isolation, I could always connect with students living in my hall or find someone to get mail with at Smith Union, which I think speaks volumes about the student culture of Bowdoin.

I’ve also developed relationships with many of my professors during my Scientific Reasoning in Biology, Queer and Trans Global Ethnography, Differential Calculus, and Introduction to Psychology courses that I took during the fall. I was pleasantly surprised at how passionate my professors were about the subjects they taught, as well as how willing many of them were to help me outside of class. As an example, after I got my grade back for my final exam for calculus last semester, my Math professor spent an hour and a half going over the problems that I missed with me. Had I gone to another college, this likely would not have been the case. But, at Bowdoin it isn’t unusual for professors to take extra time out of their day to assist their students. Although Bowdoin’s professors are incredibly supportive, it’s important to acknowledge that Bowdoin students have a large and difficult workload. Students who are passionate about learning should absolutely consider going to Bowdoin, but students looking to attend simply because of the school’s prestige should be careful when applying to Bowdoin, as a love of learning is intrinsic to Bowdoin’s students and school culture.

I chose to attend Bowdoin College in part because of their incredible disability services. Lesley Levy, the Director of Student Accessibility at Bowdoin, has gone above and beyond in providing me the accommodations that I need in order to succeed, and supports me both academically and personally. One time, my personal printer that I use for my accommodations wasn’t working and I contacted Mrs. Levy to ask if she had any suggestions as to how to fix it. She, without hesitation, emailed me to ask which hall I lived in, and drove directly to my hall: she picked up my printer and fixed it at her house that night, and returned it to me the next morning. Also, when I got declined to live on-campus in the spring, I was concerned about the amount of support I would receive for my disabilities, and Mrs. Levy provided me a laundry list of resources to use while studying remotely.

But, as with any college or university, there are some negatives. There is one negative worth mentioning, namely many international students do not feel supported. Many of my international friends told me that when they requested to be on-campus in the spring, their requests were denied. So, international students had to find a place to live in the United States because many of them were banned from going back to their home countries due to the pandemic.

Despite this, my experience at Bowdoin thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to live in an intellectual, encouraging and tight-knit community.