Campus Spotlight: College of the Atlantic

Looking for a truly unique liberal arts experience? The College of the Atlantic offers more than just small class sizes and broad-based academics. All students at this carbon-neutral institution design their own interdisciplinary paths to a degree in human ecology with one central mission: To make the world a better, safer place.

College of the Atlantic COA Kaleber Hall liberal arts college

A Natural Approach

The College of the Atlantic (COA) shares some traits with other liberal arts colleges. It has a small student body, low student to faculty ratio and offers broad-based, interdisciplinary academics. But COA takes these things a step further. Enrolling under 400 students, this close-knit community is united by one guiding passion: A desire to tackle the world's social and environmental problems.

There is only one major at COA, the Bachelor of Arts in Human Ecology. (Graduate students can also earn a Master of Philosophy in Human Ecology.) The program is based on the premise that people need a multidisciplinary education in order to overcome the challenges of today's world. In addition to the core human ecology course, students are required to take a quantitative reasoning course, a writing course, a history course and at least two courses from the three COA resource areas: Human studies, environmental sciences and art and design.

But that's as far as the graduation requirements go at this institution. In order to earn the human ecology degree, students must build their own interdisciplinary plans of study from the three resource areas listed above. The college does offer several sample focus areas, including marine studies, educational studies, sustainable business and field ecology and conservation.

In fact, COA is particularly well suited to students who are interested in the natural sciences. The college prides itself on being one of the few liberal arts colleges in the U.S. that emphasizes natural history, and students have many opportunities to receive hands-on instruction right outside their classroom doors: The campus sits right next to the ocean on Maine's beautiful Mount Desert Island.

College of the Atlantic COA Seaside Garden liberal arts college

Diversity and Sustainability

Although COA is small, the student body is remarkably diverse. About 13% of COA students are international and they currently enroll someone from every state in the union except one. COA students seeking to broaden their horizons also have plenty of opportunities to study in other places, both in the U.S. and abroad. The college frequently receives international students from one of the 13 United World Colleges located around the world, offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) degree to high school students. It also partners with such institutions as the Olin College of Engineering outside of Boston and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.

COA also offers quite a bit of funding for students who want to construct their own educational travel plans. Some awards programs are themed, such as the fund for global and civic engagement and the geographic information systems (GIS) enhancement fund, while others provide broad-based opportunities for international study.

Finally, the College of the Atlantic is notable for its serious commitment to environmental sustainability. The school is a member of the Eco League, a consortium of colleges working to 'green' higher education, and is devoted to sustainable building, living and even cooking practices. In fact, COA is currently the only college in the U.S. that has successfully reduced its carbon impact to net zero. With renewable hydro power, super-insulated buildings and offsets for unavoidable things like student travel and prospective student visits, the COA has achieved a remarkable carbon neutrality.

Excited by off-campus study opportunities? You might also be interested in Colby College's January Plan.

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