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COA is an alternative college currently in flux

May 02 2014Other
COA is an alternative college currently in flux. Formerly vegetarian and all about hairy-legged hippie freedom, it's now more for marine-bio loving artists and hikers who want to butcher their own meat.

Visit, and if you're at all skeptical like I was, trust your instinct and don't go. If you love it to death, think it's totally your thing, and are wholly enthused, you will probably get exactly the education you want from it. It's all about what you put in. COA isn't for people who just want to do homework, classwork, and get a degree. It's at its best when you've got projects and subjects that you want to tie together in unconventional ways.

But there's a caveat.
If you get sexually assaulted on campus, hope that your rapist doesn't have a lot of money. What I've heard is that, despite an internal investigation finding an affluent senior student guilty of raping a freshman, his "expulsion" consisted of giving him a degree and whisking him out the door. I would qualify this as much more than a rumor, given how many people have told me this, some of whom I believe were on the judiciary committee, one of whom knows the victim well, and all of whom know the perpetrator (his part of this came as no real surprise).It's just especially sad since it feels like such a safe school. To taint your reputation by letting rich parents buy their son's degree despite him being convicted of assault is just unacceptable. I don't care how strapped for cash you are; that's not a compromise you get to make without being held accountable. I also wish that the otherwise activism-trigger-happy student body had protested this AT ALL, especially considering how up in arms they were over a stupid juice machine. It really revealed a lot about the whole COA environment for me.

1st Year Female -- Class 2014
Campus Aesthetics: A+, Education Quality: D-

People are generally nice, but you grow out

Jan 16 2014Psychology
People are generally nice, but you grow out of this place pretty fast. A lot of students are superstars in the environmental movement and will usually not hesitate to tell you so...several times. And judge you for whatever heathenistic environmental damage you're causing by drinking juice. The arrogant are not the majority, but they are the loudest.

Academics are hit or miss. I generally enjoyed my classes here, but the grade inflation is crazy and probably 80% of my professors took an "A for effort" approach. Working one on one with profs in office hours or doing independent studies is the best way to get the most out of the experience. I was a visiting student at a large university at one point, and COA is definitely not as rigorous as a mildly competitive state school. Social life sucks for most people, but I enjoyed building relationships with locals, and now I spend more of my time in town and less at school. Can't beat Bar Harbor in terms of beauty and adventure. It is dead and isolated in winter, though, so people get super depressed and a lot of drinking and sleeping around takes place because people are bored.

4th Year Male -- Class 2014
Campus Aesthetics: A+, Extracurricular Activities: C-

I would never go to an ivy league

Aug 01 2014Music - Composition/Theory
I would never go to an ivy league college over COA as an undergraduate. Public schools are also a huge buzz kill because of the seemingly infinite requirements, which for many, means graduating in 5+ years. I did my entire college education in 3 years, 2 full years at COA and 1 semester at Vermont and 1 semester at Hawaii (I had some AP credits too). It was fucking awesome overall. A lot of the negative comments on here are accurate, but in my opinion, exaggerated.

There is a lot to talk about for such a small college. I'm going to assume the reader knows the basics: alternative, tiny college in Bar Harbor with one major: Human Ecology.

In a nutshell, here's my perspective.
This place is the ideal learning institution if you want to attend something like Plato's Academy, OR alternatively, if you are really anti formal education and are a self-starter, an independent learner. That being said, they have limited resources because of their size - if you're into hard science, you won't find adequate research opportunities with the significant exception of life science (ecology, biology, etc.) - in fact my friend just got into a Yale PhD program for biology from this school. But physics, math, computer science, chemistry, and engineering will at the very least require supplemental off-campus coursework to make it work, despite some extremely talented faculty (Dave Feldman, math).

The coolest thing about this college is that you can design your own program almost entirely and that your college adviser is actually more of a mentor in the (awesome) traditional sense rather than someone who merely signs your checksheet of requirements, like at a traditional university. Case in point: I focused my Human Ecology program in Music, even though there is only 1 full time music professor: John Cooper. I was basically able to study under him for 2 years, doing my own independent studies, a music-based internship, and a musical senior project (my first album) off-campus with other professionals along the way. This is crazy, because I enrolled at COA thinking I would do education and I initially took improvisation in music at COA as an 'elective,' my first ever musical experience in college (I had done 2 years prior as a Natural Resources person). When I first got there, I couldn't even read music - now I can compose fluently, I have a new musical network which I sought out myself, I can play jazz, and I'm well-versed in theory and history. And it was FUN AS HELL doing the whole thing on the coast of Maine (I could see the ocean from my dorm) while living it up in Acadia National Park (across the street, with a new access trail FROM CAMPUS!).

COA isn't perfect. The small community is both amazing and sometimes intimidating. It can feel a bit like high school due to some cliques (international students form a large one), but it is possible to be friends with just about everyone. Some students are a bit hyper radical environmentalist to the point of being closed-minded. But others are very level-headed, discerning, critical thinkers - (I humbly hope to include myself in this category). When I first read the reviews here, it said Bar Harbor 'closes down' in the winter. That's simply not true. Bar Harbor, or rather, Mount Desert Island, has a small but charming year round community with a lot of smart people around due to the College, Acadia National Park, and the Jackson Laboratory (world renowned science lab). Summer is the peak season when all the rich tourists come in on cruises, etc, and the town is fully hopping from June to maybe October (fall foliage). This is actually pretty awesome, because my summer dishwashing job paid $14 per hour, and it was beautiful and amazing to hit up Acadia National Park and go swimming in the lakes and sometimes cold ocean the whole season like a local. I miss it there!

Anyway, your degree in Human Ecology is both a blessing and a curse. It's great for you because if you're wise, you will diversify and take all kinds of cool courses. This helps in the job market later, when you can 'shift' your focus depending on the particular job you're applying to. But it also sometimes is just too 'out there' for people to give a damn what you studied. But you know what, most people who go to COA, myself included, think it's better to study and really learn how to learn, with a mentor, in college, as opposed to simply pumping out requirements to get a pre-professional 'certificate.' That's fine if you want to do that, but in my humble opinion, it's not what college was supposed to be.

COA is probably the closest example to what the original college was like, maybe Plato's Academy. It lets you study whatever you want, but rigorously, and it produces and/or attracts intelligent, and some VERY intelligent, people. Lots of people in my class are going to the best grad schools in the country, and some of our transfers are from ivy leagues.

Overall, if you like the idea of going to a beautiful place across the street from a National Park, have an interest in environmental / social causes, and would be open to a small, but resourceful community, try COA. Especially if you are a transfer student, like me, who didn't really know WTF to do at a public school, but was wary of the preppy liberal arts colleges, and was kind of skeptical of higher education. COA makes a great 2 year college, and 4 years can be done here no problem, especially since they let you take classes at other institutions and/or independent study off campus.

2nd Year Male -- Class 2014
Faculty Accessibility: A+, Collaboration/Competitive: C

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