Location: Bowdoin / Off-Campus Study / Guidelines / Application Process

Off-Campus Study

Application Process

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You need to apply to Bowdoin as well as to your program, whether you intend to study on a short-term summer program or for a full semester or academic year.

Summer programs

For a summer program abroad, use the transfer of credit form put out by the Registrar's Office (a preliminary application is not required). There are full instructions on the front of the form. Make sure that you have obtained the necessary faculty signatures and answered all the questions. The completed application is due in the OCS office no later than 1 April, but it is recommended that you discuss your plans with OCS staff well before that, especially if your program's application deadline falls earlier, or if the program's application includes a form on which the OCS office needs to confirm that you have the College's approval and are in good academic standing.

Semester-long or year-long programs

Before starting on your application form, please read the online Guidelines for Off-Campus Study in their entirety. Make sure that you are eligible to apply, and understand Bowdoin's rules for participation. If at the time of application you are on social or academic probation, you may still submit an application; but if you are still on probation at the time of your proposed off-campus study, or are subsequently placed on probation, you will not be permitted to study away.

There are two parts to the Bowdoin application process: First, there is a preliminary application, due by 1 November, in which you specify the period (fall, spring, or full year) in which you wish to study abroad. The full application, in which you name the program in which you would like to participate, and give a provisional list of courses that you will be taking, is due no later than 21 February. Both applications are required, and both need a signature from an advisor in what will be or is your major department.

If you fall into one of the following categories, you will also need to submit a petition to supplement the application:

  1. You wish to apply to a program that is not on Bowdoin's Program Options List
  2. You wish to apply to two separate programs in the fall and spring semesters
  3. You do not meet one of Bowdoin's normal requirements for off-campus study (for example, you missed the application deadline)

If any of these apply to you, please read the instructions below.

Preliminary application. This is intended to ensure that students begin to plan their study away in connection with their intended major early in their sophomore year, and that the College can better anticipate and manage the number of OCS applications that will be received for the fall and spring semester. We recognize that your plans to major in a particular department may be still evolving in the fall semester of your sophomore year; but the opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion with a faculty member in that department of what a major involves and how off-campus study can support it should help in the evolution of those plans, and allow you to chart which Bowdoin courses are the most appropriate to take before you leave for your off-campus study, and even when you return. At this point in the process you do not have to know exactly which program you want to study on, but it will obviously be helpful to you to have a short list in mind.

Full application. After your final decision, with your new major advisor, on which program makes the best academic sense for you, you should formally declare your major (if you are a sophomore) and complete an application form, available from the OCS Office or here in PDF, for permission from Bowdoin to study on that program. Applicants for the Twelve College Exchange need submit to OCS the OCS full application as well as the 12CX application (but note the Exchange's early 1 February deadline). You will need to provide the following information:

  • the program you wish to attend
  • the period of study (fall, spring, or full academic year)
  • the title and a brief description of each course you wish to take, as accurately as is possible at the time of your application
  • an indication of any courses for which you seek major or minor credit
  • the number of credits you expect to earn for each course, in the system of the host institution
  • a summary of your academic planning, explaining the connection of your off-campus study with your course of study at Bowdoin, and confirming the reasons for your choice of semester as stated on the preliminary application

Ask your advisor, in the department in which you intend to major, to review and sign your application. You are expected to discuss your plans with your advisor before the application stage; but your application should be fully complete when you ask for your advisor's signature. If you intend to double-major, you should obtain signatures from both departments, whether or not you intend to take courses in both subjects. Be prepared to have course descriptions available if necessary. Do not leave the completion of the form to the last few days before the deadline, and do not expect an advisor to sign it if you have not discussed your plans, or if the form is incomplete. You may also wish to obtain the signature of a representative of a department in which you intend to minor, if you will seek credit toward the minor for any of the courses. Once the application is signed, your department may ask for a photocopy to be left on file. You should make your own copy for your records; you will probably need the course information when you complete the program's application form.

If you have not yet completed enough semesters at Bowdoin to be eligible to declare a major, you may ask your pre-major advisor to sign your form. You should have a clear sense of what your major will be, however, and should consult that department on the requirements you will need to fulfil. If you are approved, you will also need to visit the Registrar's Office for advice on how and when to declare your major.

Your advisor's signature at the bottom of the form indicates that the program and courses you propose appear to be appropriate to your course of study at Bowdoin. Your application then goes to the Off-Campus Study Office for approval. Provided that your plans are approved and that you complete your coursework satisfactorily, you will be able to transfer graduation credit to Bowdoin upon conclusion of your program.

Your advisor may also sign preapproval of major credit for specific courses, up to a total number of credits fixed by the department. You do not need a signature for individual courses that are not for credit in a major or minor. Final approval of major/minor credit, as with graduation credit, will come only at the conclusion of your program, upon arrival of your transcript and, usually, upon evaluation in your department of syllabi and written assignments or portfolio.

Please answer all the questions on the application form. If the OCS office has to ask a lot of students for more complete or clearer information, or for additional courses to substitute for unsuitable ones, the approval process is slowed down not just for those individuals but also for the entire applicant pool.

Applications may be submitted to OCS as soon as the major has been declared in February. They are due no later than 5:00 PM on 21 February of the academic year preceding study away. (If the 21st falls on a weekend, the deadline will be extended to the first weekday thereafter.) Students who wish to study away in their sophomore year do not have to declare a major, but should observe the same deadline as upper-class students. They are likely, however, to be asked to wait for a response until courses from two semesters are recorded on their Bowdoin transcript; in any case, priority will be given to students applying to study away as juniors.

Only in exceptional circumstances beyond the applicant's control will late applications be accepted. As a small college that sends over half of its students to study away, Bowdoin is unusually affected by fluctuations in OCS enrollment. Once the OCS applications have been processed in early March, the College starts at once to plan for the number of students it expects to admit and have on campus for the coming year. Those plans take into account not only the OCS application numbers but also the fact that a certain percentage of those who are approved to study away will in the end decide to remain at Bowdoin. To be fair to those students who went through the advising and application process in the expected way, and to ensure that all our students' OCS plans are developed not in haste but with the full benefit of Bowdoin's advising resources, the only applications that can be considered after the deadline are those that combine a good explanation for why the application was late with a cogent academic rationale. A petition is required to support any late application.

After submission of the application, changes of program or period are also not normally allowed. Approval of an alternative program, as long as it meets Bowdoin's standards, can generally be given for a student who submitted a complete application in good time for a program that turned out to be full, or who has his/her department's support for a significant change of academic direction that makes a different program more suitable. In such cases, please consult with the OCS office as soon as possible. A new or revised application will be required.

Usually, approval letters will be sent out shortly before Bowdoin's spring break. Students who have failed to declare a major or whose applications are incomplete will not be approved.

Note on eligibility. Any Bowdoin student is eligible to apply for off-campus study, although the chances of approval may be affected by the conditions given above. You do not need to be in good academic or social standing at the time of application, but you must be in good standing at the time of the proposed off-campus study. If you are placed on probation or suspended after approval for off-campus study, you will lose that approval. Do also note that most programs will ask at the time of application if you are currently or have ever been on probation.

Bowdoin students who have unusual academic needs may conclude that a program or university that does not appear on Bowdoin's program options list is best suited to meet those needs. Such students should submit a petition to the Off-Campus Study Office as a supplement to the normal application. If you are considering a petition, it is strongly recommended that you make an appointment in the OCS Office for a date no less than two weeks before the 21 February deadline, to discuss the viability of your choice. You should also by then have discussed the program thoroughly with your prospective major advisor.

Before embarking on a petition, please consider carefully the criteria that Bowdoin considers in placing programs on its options list, and whether your proposed program would satisfy those criteria. The most important factors are a curriculum that is consistent with Bowdoin's, high academic quality, attention to cultural immersion, and an administrative structure that offers good student support, including proper attention to health and safety, and is understanding of Bowdoin's requirements. Programs considered to be unsuitable, as well as those that fail to meet the broad criteria above, include those that focus on internships or subjects outside the Bowdoin curriculum (such as business, journalism, and other pre-professional areas), travel to multiple locations, have a term that includes less than twelve teaching weeks, or are not selective in admitting students with the necessary background.

Bear the points above in mind in looking at unfamiliar programs, which vary widely in quality, aims, and focus. Study abroad is now a highly commercial and competitive business. A study abroad organization can advertise in the Orient, or hire somebody to tack its posters to bulletin boards on campus, without any connection with or endorsement by the College. Even if Bowdoin uses one or more programs offered by a study abroad organization, you should not assume that other of its programs that are not on on the options list are suitable. Do not be influenced by claims that credit will transfer (that is Bowdoin's decision to make). Although it is not insignificant that a program is selective and might have admitted some students from good colleges, even prestigious schools can have different curricular needs and traditions from Bowdoin's; and, upon investigation, such claims by programs often turn out to be based on participation of a single student many years ago, or not for credit. Finally, do not choose an unlisted program because you assume that there will be fewer Americans in that location, or simply because you want to do something "different"; once you have eliminated the programs that are unsuitable, you are unlikely to find that those you are left with offer anything significantly different.

You should provide your application and supplementary petition materials in a form that makes them easy to photocopy or scan for the purposes of CIC, the faculty committee that reviews such requests. You will normally be informed of the decision about two weeks after the deadline. By no means all petitions are approved; you should be prepared to apply to a program from the options list as a backup.

The application to your chosen off-campus study program or university is your responsibility, although the OCS Office is always ready to assist you with the process. The pieces required to complete an application depend on the program, but typical elements include the following:

  • a personal statement
  • a Bowdoin transcript
  • a home-school approval form
  • one or two letters of recommendation from faculty
  • a physical examination (which Bowdoin's Health Services can perform)
  • your passport number, or a scan of the passport's data page

Make sure that you have not overlooked any of the application requirements; applications for many programs and universities, however, do not include all the above. You will need to assemble and mail the materials yourself, except for IES (all programs), DIS (Copenhagen), CHP (Prague), and Twelve College Exchange applications, which you should send or have sent to the OCS Office, including your official Bowdoin transcript. It may seem like an obvious point, but do print all the requested information very clearly.

Personal statement. Programs and universities alike generally expect an unelaborate description of your academic grounding and plans, rather than the more personal essay that is typical of US college admission applications. Follow the instructions carefully, but in general you should plan to write a short statement of 250-300 words. As with any application, the essay should of course be your own work, but the OCS office would be happy to take a look at a draft if you are not sure that you are on the right track.

Bowdoin transcript. Complete a transcript request form at the Office of the Registrar counter in Moulton Union. The Office of the Registrar will not release your transcript to anyone, including the OCS Office, without your written request. You can pick up the transcript yourself, or if necessary have it mailed in a sealed envelope to OCS or directly to your program.

Institutional approval form. Your program's application probably includes a form (sometimes electronic) called "Institutional Approval," "Dean's Report," "Study Abroad Advisor's Approval," "Home School Nomination Form," or something similar. We sign all such forms in OCS; you should not ask Student Affairs or a faculty advisor. The forms typically ask for confirmation from OCS that you have been approved by your home college to study on the program, and that you are in good academic and disciplinary standing. You will normally need to complete a section of the form with your name, the name and period of the program, etc.; often you will also need to sign one or two releases. If the form asks for the address of the office to which your program transcript should be sent at the end of the program, you can leave that section blank, as we have an address stamp for the Registrar's Office in OCS. The form may also ask for a billing address; remember, whether or not you will receive financial aid from Bowdoin, that you should ask for all fees and deposits to be billed directly to you, not to Bowdoin. When you have filled out your parts, just drop the form off at the OCS Office, and we will have it completed in a day or so, once we have been able to check your Bowdoin file. (We cannot complete the form until you have submitted an application to Bowdoin; if you have applied, but have not yet received formal approval from Bowdoin, we can in most cases say on the form that you have the College's provisional approval, which is adequate for the program's needs.) Because of the nature of the information requested, it is generally easier for us to complete the form and send it directly to the program (you do not need to provide us with a stamp or envelope, but make sure that we know where and by when we need to send it), but we can if necessary give you the completed form in a sealed envelope. A small number of programs simply ask for a letter from us to confirm your approval and good standing; we prefer to fill out a form, but will write a brief letter if we have to; just tell us exactly what information the program is asking for.

Faculty recommendation. This is often a simple form; sometimes a separate letter is required. Many faculty members will write a letter on departmental letterhead and attach it to the standard form. Most programs will want either one or two recommendations. Choose a Bowdoin faculty member who has taught you for at least a semester; but do not worry if you do not feel that the professor does not have a close familiarity with your work, as the letter does not need to go into great detail. Please give the professor at least a week's notice, make quite clear when the letter is needed, and whether you will pick it up in a sealed envelope or it should be mailed directly to the program. Letters should be addressed to the appropriate office of your program, not to Bowdoin's OCS Office. Recommendation letters do not usually need to be sent to OCS, unless they are for programs (DIS, IES, CHP) for which OCS will collect and mail the entire application.

Twelve College Exchange. Application for the Twelve College Exchange (excluding Williams-Mystic and NTI) should be made through OCS. Please note the early 1 February deadline. The Twelve College form serves also as a Bowdoin application; you do not have to complete the yellow Bowdoin form as well.

American University Washington Semester. Application to the program should be made through the program's institutional representative in Bowdoin's Government Department, Professor Janet Martin; a regular Bowdoin application should be submitted to OCS.

DIS, IES, and CHP. If your Bowdoin application is for DIS, IES, or CHP, the OCS office will contact fall or full-year applicants shortly after Bowdoin's deadline to explain the application process. Qualified DIS and IES applicants can be directly admitted by Bowdoin's OCS office to those programs. (You may begin the DIS or IES programs' online application process in advance, but the automated response you will receive from the program will be a little misleading, as it will not take account of our direct admission agreement with the program.) There will be a separate application process in the fall for spring semester applicants.

Do I need a back-up program? Application to a single program is usually sufficient, as long as all parts of the application are submitted in good time and you meet the program's requirements. If you are applying to a selective university in a popular location and academic field (like English or History), a backup may be worth the extra time and money. But you should make a clear decision as to which is your first choice; submit no more than one application to the OCS Office. It is also important to give the courtesy of prompt notification to any institution whose offer you have decided not to take up.

Direct application or third-party provider? Direct application to most English-speaking universities is straightforward. Alternatively, you may apply through a third-party organization such as the Institute For Study Abroad at Butler University, (IFSA-Butler), Arcadia University's College of Global Studies, CIEE, or API (not all of these organizations work with all of the English-speaking universities on Bowdoin's options list); you will be enrolled in the foreign university just as if you had applied directly. Application through a third-party provider is usually significantly more expensive, and the additional expense is not covered in financial aid calculations; but third-party providers typically offer services such as the following:

  • Application. The application form is usually easy to complete, and may permit the selection of backup institutions (these should be on Bowdoin's options list)
  • Housing. In cities where university housing is hard to come by, the third-party organization may have its own housing, or an allocation of integrated university housing.
  • Billing. Billing will come from the third-party organization, with payment accepted in U.S. dollars. Note that in some countries, notably New Zealand, immigration authorities require confirmation of tuition payment from the university before issuing an entry visa; direct applicants have to make the payment arrangements themselves.
  • Scholarships. Third-party providers often offer need- or merit-based scholarships, for which we encourage you to apply.
  • Advising. The organization will have a toll-free phone number and staff, both in the U.S. and in the host country, to assist with course selection and credit.
  • Orientation. Most providers give a more extended introduction to the local culture and to health and safety issues than can be given by the host university; excursions may also be offered.
  • Backup and emergency assistance. The provider is available to lend assistance in a difficult situation or emergency.
  • Transcript. A U.S. transcript is issued, along with that of the host institution. This may be useful in a future application to a medical school, although our strong recommendation is that you do not take any health professions prerequisite courses away from Bowdoin.

Apart from the expense, another negative reported by students who go through a third party is that after orientation with other Americans it can take stronger will power to break away and form new friendships with host-country students, especially if they have separate housing. For two of the English-speaking universities on the approved list, however, Cambridge and Cape Town, enrollment through a third-party provider is still the most practical option.

GPA requirements. Most programs and universities set a minimum GPA for admission, stated on their website. A typical requirement would be an average of 3.0 (a B average), with a few universities looking for 3.3 or even as high as 3.7 in the more popular disciplines such as History and English. Some programs are flexible if a GPA is only slightly below the requirement, especially if it is higher in courses related to the program, or you have strong letters of recommendation from your advisors. But do not count on it, or assume that programs are swayed by assumptions of Bowdoin's high quality; the programs we use are taking most of their students from colleges and universities that are comparable to Bowdoin. If your average is below 2.5 you are unlikely to be successful in applying to any program it is worth attending. Find out your own GPA (printed on your Bowdoin transcript), and be realistic about your chances.

Language requirements. Language programs usually require at least two years of college-level instruction or the equivalent. (In other words, if you came into Bowdoin with some high-school background in the language, and completed a single fourth-semester-level class here, you would meet the requirement for any program that wanted two years of college-level language.) But if you have no background (or great aptitude) in language, you are by no means restricted to study in English-speaking countries. Some of the best programs (e.g., ISLE, SITA, the Swedish Program, DIS) require no previous knowledge of the language of the country, and have valuable offerings for students in a wide range of fields. Whatever your major, you are strongly encouraged to look into the options in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where you will find good programs for English-speaking students. Once you are in the country, of course, you should take your program's introductory language course; without it you are unlikely to acquire more than a superficial understanding of the culture.

Application deadlines and fees. Your program's application deadline will be printed in its catalogue. You should assume that this is the deadline for receipt of all application materials, not a postmark deadline. In any case, you should definitely not leave the application to the last few days, as many institutions start admitting students on a rolling basis before the final deadline; you may also have more housing choices if admitted early. Usually, programs allowing entry in both fall and spring have different deadlines for each term. A few programs and universities have deadlines before Bowdoin's February deadline (for example, Oxford, Cambridge, Hamilton in Paris, ISLE early decision); others, such as LSE and SIT, have rolling admissions (you can check SIT's website under "Apply" to find out if your program is filling fast). But most fall or full-year programs will want to see a transcript with your grades for the previous fall semester. If you have to apply to a program before Bowdoin normally accepts applications at the beginning of February, ask if you may submit your Bowdoin application early. Upon review of that application, we can nearly always sign an approval form with an indication that approval is pending, and we do not anticipate any problems. Most spring programs have deadlines in September or October, and expect to see a transcript that includes your grades from the previous spring; a few have much earlier deadlines, and you will need to have the necessary paperwork, including faculty recommendations, ready before you leave Bowdoin for the summer.

There are no firm rules to help predict how long a program will take to inform you of an admission decision. At some universities decisions are made by each academic department in which you wish to take courses. Most institutions respond in three or four weeks to applications submitted comfortably before the deadline, but it is not unusual for an offer of admission for the fall to arrive during Bowdoin's summer vacation. Many but not all programs send a copy of the admission letter to the OCS Office. Please get in touch with OCS immediately if you learn that you have not been admitted to your program of first choice, or if you decide that you want to remain at Bowdoin after all, so that we can help you make alternative arrangements.

Many programs charge an application fee. Use of credit cards has nearly done away at last with the need for checks in local currency, but they can be obtained if necessary from your bank, for a fee. IES waives the application fee for Bowdoin students, unless you miss their deadline.

Housing. Many programs offer more than one option, such as homestay (living and eating with a local family), dormitory housing with a meal plan, or self-catered apartments. A separate housing application may have to be submitted after the primary application. Bowdoin's firm recommendation is that you take the option that gives you the closest contact with the host culture and separates you from other U.S. students; sharing an apartment with Bowdoin students is strongly discouraged. Although the homestay option may seem intimidating at first (and it is important to remember that many host families do not fit the stereotypical pattern of mother, father, and young children), many Bowdoin students return saying that the homestay was one of the most valuable aspects of their entire experience.