**General / About: The first thing to say about COA is that this is an alternative educational institution in every sense of the phrase. If you are looking for a "normal" college experience, you can press the back button right now because COA is not what you are looking for, guaranteed. COA says they teach "experimental education" because they are always attempting to evolve based on student initiatives (whether they actually do this is debatable in my opinion) and they focus on learning through hands-on outdoor application and doing. We are an extremely tiny 300, yes that's right only 300 (sometimes as low as 280 in the Winter) person college off the coast of Maine, located on Mount Desert Island next to Acadia National Park. The small size and naturally stunning location on the coast of Maine / is what allows us to be so focused as a respected Green college (we only offer 1 major centering around environmental application) and is the schools largest asset, but at the same time I feel like the minuscule school size plus the isolated location is the largest drawback. Being located on an island on the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Maine is what allows the outdoor education concept to thrive based on ease of wildlife, marine, and environmental research opportunities. But as I said, at the same time, it is honestly miserable being so cut off from the world. Make no mistake this is an extremely isolated and bubble-like college experience. Get ready to run into everyone of your teachers at the single grocery store in town. Bar Harbor is a booming international resort town situated next to gorgeous Acadia National Park in the summer, but around only 5-10 businesses remain open in this small, rural island town from September - April during the "off-season". Of course the off-season is what makes up most of the school year, when the island is mostly only inhabited by the 300 COA students +50 some faculty and then maybe a couple hundred Mainer locals. The next town a half hour over, Ellsworth, has more to offer in the winter if you get sick of the island, but if you don't have a car you are stuck. The largest small city an hours drive away is Bangor, which is pretty much a dump. Next is Portland, about 4 hours away, and Boston is about 6 hours away. Maine is really far out there (you will start to see Canadian flags even!) and getting to the school is a total challenge for everyone. Flying into Bangor / Bar Harbor is super expensive, so you can take a bus to Bangor and get someone to pick you up. The problem is, doing this every time you leave / come to the island is a super big hassle. Like I said, the location and small size is what you will appreciate during your best moments here like taking in the once in a lifetime experience of viewing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain; and the small size / isolated location is what you will despise when you haven't seen a new face in months and feel so cut off from the rest of the civilization. Overall, attending COA feels like you are attending a $50,000 summer camp more than a college. I'm pretty sure I'm going to transfer for more options but we'll see.
**Academics: COA only offers 1 solitary major / program of study that they call Human Ecology. Why they picked this name for this general Environmental Studies major is beyond me, because it is a total hassle trying to explain to people who ask what's your major what Human Ecology really is. They should have picked something self-explanatory. The problem is, it's not well defined even by the school. All students under the 1 Human Ecology self-design a combination of the three "subject areas" 1) Arts 2) Environmental Sciences 3) Humanities to their liking, as there are next to know prerequisites or graduation requirements this major is completely self-defined. All graduating seniors submit a "Human Ecology Essay" before they walk the stage, with the goal of providing a synthesis of their self-defined studies and how they contributed to their understanding of Human Ecology. Now to discuss each of the three subject areas and the breakdown of the college. Basically every "department" at COA has only 1 or 2 professors, besides Biology which has 5 or 6 professors. While at a regular college there would 50 different professors offering Math classes for example, we have 1. This really cuts back on the availability of classes; in general course selection is rough and it's getting more cut-throat to get into classes. For example, most classes are only offered once a year, and if it's with a teacher you don't like you're stuck waiting a whole other year. If you show up on the first day early you can try to win teachers over for a spot, but seniors have priority so if you are an underclassmen, good luck. The Arts program is in my opinion the weakest program of the 3 here, most students don't come here to take art or music classes, although the GIS classes are thought to be better than most. The Environmental Science program is inter-woven into all of the curriculum, especially the general sciences, but my major critique is that we actually don't offer specialized Environmental Science classes to go along with the general sciences like Bio, Chem, and Physics that are offered here. I don't understand how we are ranked as one the best school to study Environmental Science, when we actually don't have a single professor with a degree in Environmental Science on staff or a class series of Environmental Science, like we do for Bio 1 and 2, Chem 1 and 2, etc. It's pretty mind-boggling, as that is what I'm trying to study but have to figure it out on my own / hope it hits me in the "interwoven environmental focus". The third program, Humanities, is pretty strong, but there are not enough languages offered at COA for being such an international college. We only offer French and Spanish on a regular basis. All classes are small at COA, but my major problem is that the classes seem to be largely student-taught / run. There is a total lack of teacher participation it seems. Most of the time you will have only 1 or 2 hand in assignments per class per term. It's pretty ridiculous; grading is usually based off 1 or 2 hand in assignments and then your participation in class. Overall most of the teachers I've had have not impressed me, but there are a few standouts.
**Admissions / Financial Aid / Affordability: It's pretty much a breeze getting accepted to this college. Take advantage of the Fall Fly In program, they will pay for your flight and stay to come visit the school! The financial aid office is the best, if you need money, discuss it with them frankly, and they will help. There is alot of scholarship money awarded as well if you don't have financial need. One of the problem with this school though is definitely the price tag... it's ridiculously expensive and for what the school offers in terms of courses and student activities it's definitely extremely over-priced. The campus is super-small, there is only 2 student-dining halls, next to no student activities or events offered, so I just don't get where all the money is going.
**Jobs/Internships: Most students who receive financial aid will also receive an on-campus work placement called "work study". This is a great program, but you can only work a set amount a week, usually 10-12. If you need a second job on the island, it is next to impossible to find part time work in town during the off-season. All students must complete an internship to graduate.
**Diversity: We have probably the highest international student rate in the country. People come from all the world through the UWC scholarship program. However this school distinctly lacks in diversity of the American students, which is grading after a while. Most are white, liberal, spiritual non-religious, hippyish / hipsterish. We are very accepting of almost anyone except maybe if you are capitalistic or materialistic. LGBT population is pretty large but underrepresented. We have students from all economic backgrounds and walks of life here from all over the United States as well as the world. If you attend religious services other than church, there is no synagogue or mosque nearby at all.
**Athletics: None to speak of except the newly founded Quidditch team.
**Campus Safety / Drug Safety: The two elderly night watchmen keep everything under control. If you're caught smoking or drinking we have a "point system" that basically means you get a verbal slap on the wrist if they roll up on their scooters mid-toke, but you basically can continue smoking once they leave. We are super accepting of usage especially the ganga, although we do have a large substance-free housing community that keeps to themselves. Safety / crime wise, It's the type of town / campus where everyone leaves their doors unlocked. People leave their laptops in the cafeteria unwatched, it's probably the safest campus / town in America. The Bar Harbor Police Department on the other hand is notoriously corrupt and loves to pick on COA students, so if you get pulled over keep as straight a face as possible. Also just a heads up which they give you fare warning of during Freshman orientation, it is a FEDERAL crime if you are caught smoking / drinking on Acadia National Park grounds by the park rangers, so be careful!
**Campus Housing / Off-Campus Housing: Required for all freshman, therefore mostly freshman live on campus because it's away cheaper to find your own housing off campus. The substance housing dorms in the Blair-Tyson ("BT") community houses are not as nice as the substance free houses in "The Village", but what can ya do. If you are looking to live off-campus, start in advance because people start signing leases way ahead of time in this tourist town. Most of the student off-campus houses are split by roomates and are around $1000-$2000 a month during the off-campus season, but then flipped into resort houses during the tourist season and sold for $1000 a week to ritzy vacationers.
**Campus Dining: Food is generally pretty good, and really really healthy! They work hard to provide a variety of ethnic and dietary options. There is a huge vegetarian / vegan population and all meals are served with a vegetarian / vegan supplement option. There is only 2 places to eat on campus, the main cafeteria nicknamed TAB which also doubles as the main study hall, and the Sea Urchin cafe which sells lunch options in the Village on the otherside of campus.
**Computers / Facilities: Computer labs are always accessible, b/w printing is free in library so bringing a printer is not nessacery! The campus itself is super small about 10 buildings some single families homes converted into student housing or offices or classrooms. It's pretty-make shift and super tiny. They make an effort that all buildings are as environmentally sound as possible. Parking is totally accessible.
**Transportation: Getting to the island is super difficult without a car, you are stuck relying on people to take you and pick you up in Bangor. There is no shuttle to Bangor (closest airport / bus station) which pretty much sucks. There is a night bus service (which is actually just a mini van) offered so you can get from campus up the road into town easier at night, but the day bus service in the morning is only during the winter term. During the tourist season there is a free shuttle bus around the park but that stops in October, otherwise you need a car to get into the park unless you like biking the Carriage roads which is actually pretty fun.
**Student Activities / Extracurriculars: Student government is replaced by the All-College Meeting (ACM) which is actually pretty active. There are a couple student-run open mics / talent shows / dances every term, but that get's super old super fast after your freshman year, they become a bore after you've been to one you've been to all. There is awful lack of any sort of actual clubs or student groups on campus that meet with regularity or attendance. There are a few regular ones like hula hoop club or whatever, but that's honestly the only one I can think of. There's a giant rope swing on campus that is super popular, I guess that could be considered our largest student activity.
**Nightlife / Daylife: Nightlife and the social / dating scene at COA is a joke. Parties were always small house parties in town, but they are dwindling down now because there has been a series of arrests in the town where students will get arrested for having other COA students drinking on their property. So now it's becoming more small "potluck" dinners with drinking but it feels like you are 50 more than 20 when you attend these. Definitely not a typical college social experience, most of the time you see all the same faces all the time and there is not much ever going on.
**Weather: Bring snow boots AND rain boots... and LOTS of layers... That's the only way to beat the Maine winter!!! We get alot of cold and wet weather !! It's MAINE!! Although it is super beautiful year round on the island, it's spectacular in the summer, still gorgeous on a sunny-snowy winter day.