Bowdoin students must design an education in the context of their own developing goals and aspirations and in relation to the College’s vision of a liberal education, its distribution requirements, and the requirements of a major field of study. The distribution requirements encourage exploration and broaden students’ capacities to view and interpret the world from a variety of perspectives; the major program challenges students to develop a deeper understanding and self-assurance as independent and creative contributors to an area of study. Throughout their four years, students build intellectual capabilities, self-confidence as independent thinkers and problem-solvers, and come to know the pleasures of discovering and developing proficiencies in new areas of knowledge. A liberal education founded in both breadth and depth teaches students how to continue learning as the world changes and demands new perspectives, knowledge, and skills.
The College’s curriculum introduces students to academic disciplines that bring conceptual and methodological traditions to bear in teaching disciplined inquiry, analysis, argument, and understanding. Students choose a major, using the departmental or interdisciplinary approaches available at Bowdoin, as a way to engage a discipline in depth. Furthermore, they must distribute their courses across the curriculum in order to broaden awareness of the varying ways that academic fields make sense of the world.
Bowdoin offers a course of study leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The College requires students to seek breadth in their education through a modest set of distribution and division requirements that stimulate students to explore the curriculum more widely on their own. To graduate, a student must also complete an approved major.
Designing an education is an education in itself. The most fulfilling liberal arts education cannot be fully planned before the first day of class because such mapping would not permit the many new paths for exploration that students discover as they learn about unfamiliar fields, find exciting questions and ideas, and uncover unanticipated interests and talents. Nor can a challenging education emerge if a student selects courses one by one each semester; a liberal education is much more than the sum of thirty-two credits. Bowdoin College permits a wide set of choices to enable students to broaden their views of the world and of their own talents and interests, and to deepen their knowledge and capacities. Designing an education thus requires self-examination, careful thought, substantial flexibility, some intellectual daring, and the wise counsel of academic advisors.
A vital part of the educational experience takes place in the interaction between students and their academic advisors. Each student is assigned a pre-major academic advisor at the start of the first year. The pre-major academic advising system is intended to help students take full advantage of the first two years of Bowdoin and begin to plan the remaining years. It provides a framework within which a student can work with a faculty member to make informed academic decisions. Such a partnership is particularly important during the period of transition and adjustment that typically takes place during the first year in college. Academic advisors may make recommendations about courses, combinations of courses, or direct students towards other resources of the College. They may also play a role at moments of academic difficulty. The effectiveness of the system depends on the commitment of the student and the advisor. Students must declare their majors by early in the fourth semester of their college enrollment and afterwards are advised by members of their major departments.