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The Academic Program and Advising

The Bowdoin College Catalogue provides a comprehensive explanation of the curriculum and its associated academic standards and regulations. Just as students are responsible for the content of the Student Handbook, so too are they responsible for reading and following the academic policies and regulations of the College presented in the Bowdoin College Catalogue. The Student Handbook supplements the catalogue and references those topics/issues that most frequently concern students. When students have questions about the academic program, they should turn first to the catalogue for an explanation and second to their faculty advisor or a member of the dean’s office for interpretations or answers to specific questions.

You will find information on these and other policies and regulations in the catalogue:

  • Course Load
  • Attendance and Examinations
  • Incompletes
  • Deficiency in Scholarship
  • Leave of Absence
  • Medical Leave of Absence
  • Transfer of Credit
  • Recording Committee


A liberal education cultivates the mind and the imagination; encourages seeking after truth, meaning, and beauty; awakens an appreciation of past traditions and present challenges; fosters joy in learning and sharing that learning with others; supports taking the intellectual risks required to explore the unknown, test new ideas, and enter into contructive debate; and builds the foundation for making principled judments. It hones the capacity for critical and open intellectual inquiry - the interest in asking questions, challenging assumptions, seeing answers, and reaching conclusions supported by logic and evidence.

A liberal education rests fundamentally on the free exchange of ideas - on conversation and questioning - that thrives in classrooms, lecture halls, laboratories, studios, dining halls, playing fields, and residence halls. Ultimately, a liberal education promotes independent thinking, individual action, and social responsibility.

Bowdoin understands the obligation to direct liberal education toward the common good. In the twenty-first century, that obligation is stronger than ever. The challenge of defining a "common good" and acting on it is highlighted, however, in an interconnected world of widely varied cultures, interests, resources, and power. To prepare students for this complexity, a liberal education must teach about differences across cultures and within societies.

A liberal education is not narrowly vocational, it provides the broadest grounding for finding a vocation by preparing students to be engaged, adaptable, independent, and capable citizens.


Pre-Major Advising
The Offices of the Dean of Student Affairs and the Dean of Academic Affairs jointly coordinate the pre-major academic advising system. In partnership, the Dean of First-Year Students and the Faculty Liaison for Advising work together to match incoming students with a pre-major academic advisor. A number of factors are considered when making advisor/advisee matches, but the most important factor is a shared academic or research interest. Every attempt is made to assign students an advisor in their anticipated major (if they have one) or in an academic area that the student favored in high school or would particularly like to explore at Bowdoin.  The pre-major academic advising model is a generalist model in that all pre-major academic advisors are familiar with the curriculum and the distribution requirements and are able to help students complete the requirements of the general program before declaring a major.

In unusual situations, students may be able to switch an advisor. Students wishing to do so should consult with their current advisor or their dean and then identify another advisor. Once a new advisor has been identified, the student should stop by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs on the second floor of Moulton Union and complete an advisor change card. The dean’s office will then record the change, collect the file from the current advisor, and forward it to the new advisor.

Advising at Bowdoin is based on the understanding that seeking advice involves a rich and lively association between the individuals where each plays an active role in a constructive dialogue and each contributes information and perspectives in a worthwhile exchange. An effective engagement with the Bowdoin curriculum places great emphasis on the role of the student as an active learner. As a form of learning crucial to building a liberal education, advising is never passive but involves a process of exchange and engagement with a wide variety of others concerning academic choices and personal direction. Designing an education is an education in itself. A vital part of the Bowdoin educational experience takes place in the interaction between students and their faculty academic advisors. Engaging in an advising partnership involves the recognition that advising is a collaborative relationship with a goal of building a responsive, individual curriculum. An effective advising relationship depends on the exercise of responsibility by the student who seeks guidance and the individual(s) providing the information, insight, or supportive criticism. The focused activity of both parties is essential to developing a productive exchange.

The faculty academic advisor should generally attempt to inform and sometimes challenge the student. She or he may often play the part of a supportive critic, who clarifies academic directions and objectives. The faculty advisor will listen and discuss, supporting some decisions, challenging others, cautioning against possible pitfalls, always respecting the student's responsibility and accountability.

An advisor’s signature on required material should indicate that the advisor and student have discussed the course selections. The advisor’s signature is required for formal registration at Bowdoin. Individuals who misrepresent or forge advisors’ signatures on registration cards violate the Social Code regarding honesty.

Major Academic Advising
Bowdoin students retain their pre-major academic advisors until they declare a major during their fourth semester. After the student selects a major, the advising responsibility shifts to the major department. Each student is assigned a major advisor by the major department (double majors will have an advisor in each major). Students should consult with their major department should they desire to change their major advisor. Major advisors are familiar with the requirements necessary to complete a major program in a given area. As such, the major advising model is more of a specialist model. 

Other Important Academic Resources