Leigh Weisenburger of Bates College Answers Six Questions

Bates College was founded in 1855 by abolitionists who believed strongly in freedom, civil rights and the importance of a higher education for all who could benefit from it. Several of the college's earliest students were former slaves. And its religion department was formed when the school merged with the Parsonfield's Cobb Divinity School, whose seminary served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

That mission of inclusivity is carried on today at the Lewiston, Maine, private liberal arts school -- there are no sororities or fraternities on campus, student organizations are open to all, and 95% of students live on campus, with residential life an important part of the academic experience.   

Set on 109+ acres in a residential neighborhood of the state's second largest city, the campus is home to more than 2,000 students, who arrive from 46 states and 65 other countries. With a student-faculty ratio of 10-to-1, Bates offers 35 majors including American Cultural Studies, Biology, English, Environmental Studies, Geology, German, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Politics, Rhetoric, and Theater, as well as a dual degree program in engineering and liberal arts. In addition, students can pursue environmental research and education within the 654-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, a nature preserve managed by the college about an hour's drive from the Lewiston campus. Two-thirds of the student body participate in study abroad programs during their time at the college. A "top producer" of Fulbright Scholars, 12 students were named in 2013 to the prestigious program awarding grants for research, study, travel and teaching.

When not in the classroom, students can choose among more than 90 student-run clubs and organizations -- from dance, the literary magazine SEED, and the all-male a capella Deansmen to the Masterpiece Theatre Club, Paintball, the improvisation group Strange Bedfellows and the Physics Society. Bates' Brooks Quimby Debate Society is ranked sixth in the nation. And 15 major theater department productions take the stage on average each year on campus.

The Bates Bobcats compete in the NCAA Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), fielding 31 varsity teams including cycling, ice hockey, Alpine skiing, rugby, squash, basketball and water polo. In addition, there are 13 club sports on campus -- a women's equestrian team, men's and women's fencing, sailing and ultimate Frisbee. Within a short drive, students can take advantage of outdoor recreation areas such as the Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary (357-acre wildlife preserve), White Mountain National Forest, and Sebago Lake, Sunday River and Sugarloaf USA ski resorts, as well as three of the nation’s top-ranked golf courses (Sugarloaf, Belgrade Lakes and Sunday River)!

Prominent alumni include author Elizabeth Strout, poet E.L. Mayo, television journalist Bryant Gumbel, 2008 Olympic gold medalist in rowing Andrew Byrnes, Microsoft's Rick Thompson, Medco CEO David Snow, and Manhattan Project scientist John Googin.

Fun facts: Ally McBeal's brother attended Bates. Meadow Soprano interviewed there, but we don't know if she was later accepted. And in real life, musician Dave Matthews claims his career was sparked by a concert given on the Bates campus.

Please join Leigh Weisenburger, Bates College Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, to learn more about what kind of student does well at this private liberal arts school, how her admission department reads applications, and her best advice for students -- and parents -- about applying. You'll also find out about the annual tradition of the "Trashion Show" and exactly what "Bobcat Paws" are.

What is the future direction of Bates College?

This is an exciting time in Bates’ history. The college’s eighth president, A. Clayton Spencer, was appointed in July 2012. President Spencer is committed to continuing Bates' leadership as a prominent liberal arts institution known for opportunity and excellence. Founded by abolitionists in 1855, Bates has always sought and enrolled students regardless of race, gender, or religion.  Consistent with the values of access of and equality, Bates has never had fraternities or sororities. These seemingly “modern” ideals are historic Bates values, as much at our core as they were in the mid-19th century.

Bates will also continue to be a leader in the engaged liberal arts with a superb faculty exploring innovations in pedagogy in conjunction with the forces that are changing how we live and learn in a rapidly evolving world. Finally, recognizing the realities of our global economy, Bates will become known for embracing the notion of “purposeful work” as central to our mission in the liberal arts. We will provide opportunities for our students to explore and test real work opportunities during their time at Bates, so that they may ultimately find true joy and purpose in their lives after Bates.

For more information about Bates’ future, please visit:

President Spencer’s inauguration

$11.5 million Catalyst Fund supporting Bates’ transformational future

What kind of student does well at Bates College? How would you describe the student body?  What would you most want an applicant to the school to know?   

The type of student who does well at Bates is one who is bold and confident, yet not arrogant or self-involved. Our students are delightfully independent, yet deeply engaged community members. They are competitive with their own high standards – but not with each other. Grades are not unimportant, but their goals are more aligned with true knowledge gathering.

Bates students are intellectually curious. They like to ask big questions and ponder the answers, solutions, and findings collaboratively with their fellow students and faculty. Our students work hard and are driven. They do not pretend to be perfect, nor are they striving for perfection. They are seeking challenges and grow and change as a result.

As for the student body as a whole, it is one full of pride and a real sense of the collective. Bates students feel profoundly connected to one another and their shared Bates experience. This follows them for a lifetime.

What I want applicants to know most about Bates is that it is a community of independent thinkers who are joyfully eager to learn from each other, with each other, for each other, all with a foot in and an eye toward the greater world.

How does Bates read applications?

At Bates, we read each and every application twice as part of a thorough and holistic review process. Each application is “first read” by the respective “geographic dean” who covers the high school or region where the student lives. With a high level of familiarity for that particular high school, the reader has a precise eye for details and context, which is thoughtfully applied. The application is then “second read” by an associate dean who has a greater context for the entire applicant pool. The first reader will spend 15 to 20 minutes on the application, while the second reader will spend 5 to 10 minutes, amounting to 20 to 30 minutes of a highly personalized review for each applicant.

Beyond the reading process at Bates, each applicant “makes it to committee.” This is the time where the entire admission committee spends two to three weeks reviewing all 5,000+ first-year applicants alongside each other. 

What is your best common sense advice about the application process for students -- and parents?

Tip #1: High school students need to be high school students.

What do I mean by this? In order for a student to ultimately be successful in the college search and application process, they need to focus on their number-one job, which is being a top student. So often we see students focusing their time and energy on what they believe will help them get into college – whether it be particular classes, summer programs, activities to boost their résumé, etc. Instead, they should spend their time taking classes that they’re prepared for, challenged by, will enjoy, in which they will learn, and be successful. Similarly, they should be thoughtful and intentional about how they choose to spend their time outside of the classroom. What truly interests them? Do they have a part-time job? Do they have one primary passion or maybe two?

All in all, it is about being authentic and quality over quantity. College admission counselors can read through what is “manufactured” vs. what is real. And we want the real you!

Tip #2: Become fluent in all things financial aid.

This applies to both students and parents. Frequently families spend 90% of the college application time focusing solely on the admission application process, when concurrently they should be researching the financial aid options, programs, and application processes. It’s as simple as creating a spreadsheet with financial aid program details and deadlines just as students so often do for details related to the admission application process. Also, when researching and visiting schools, strive to have one-quarter of your notes/questions related to financial aid information. Even bigger picture, while it may be difficult, as money can be an emotional topic, it’s important that families have open and honest conversations about what is financially feasible early on in the college search process. What can we afford? What is in savings? Who will pay? Who will take on loans? All basic questions that are often forgotten, avoided, or left until the very last minute, when it may be too late. 

What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately? What keeps you up at night?

I’m concerned that more and more students are not getting the true personalized guidance and assistance they need through the college process. Call us. We want to work with you and help you explore and ultimately apply to Bates if it is the right match for you. Our “doors” are open, and we are here to be a resource and eager to help.

On the flip side, we also want students to work hard in school and through the entire college application process. Good things will come of your efforts. If/when you hear “no” or don’t quite get the response you were hoping for, treat it as a learning moment and opportunity to grow. We’re working with a generation that rarely hears “no” and is accustomed to getting what they want. As admission professionals, we need to be mindful of the emotions and psychology behind our work, while coaching students and families more than ever before. We must help families recognize just how competitive the admission landscape is, while not adding to the anxiety. We need families to understand that we are denying an application, not their child.

What is your favorite thing about Bates College?

The people. Hands-down. The people are my favorite thing about Bates. Bates is a place where people smile most of the time and walk around campus with their heads up ready to say “Hello.” I love that welcoming environment. Newcomers feel at home at Bates, and that sentiment remains throughout their four years and beyond. The friendliness one finds at Bates is genuine. People are deeply curious about who you are, what makes you tick, and what you can learn from each other.

One of my favorite Bates events is the annual Mount David Summit. Each spring our students from all class years across all academic disciplines proudly gather for the entire day to showcase their research. There are large poster sessions, grand art exhibits, creative performances, stimulating dialogues, and more. The entire community takes the day to attend and celebrate each other’s work.

Beyond that, traditions like the annual “Trashion Show”, seniors climbing to the top of Mount David the night before commencement to watch the sunrise together, and “Bobcat Paws” --cookies dipped in chocolate (you can find the recipe here) -- all make me proud to call Bates home.


You can follow Leigh Weisenburger -- and Bates -- on Twitter: @LeighinLindholm.



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