While Bowdoin students were home this winter break, students at many other NESCAC schools were back at school. This year, Bowdoin’s five-week Winter Break was longer than seven of the other 10 NESCAC schools. Some of these schools go on winter break for three to four weeks, while others, such as Amherst (which has an option “Interterm”), Williams and Middlebury, have a short winter term called  “January Term,” “J-Term,” “Jan Plan” or “Winter Term.” 

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster used to be the chair of Bowdoin’s Calendar Committee, which builds the school year around holidays so that every semester has exactly 68 class or “teaching” days. Last year and this year Bowdoin had only 66 and 67 teaching days respectively, which Foster said was due to the timing of holidays as well as 2016’s leap year. 

“I think there’s this misconception that Bowdoin has this really long winter break and Bowdoin has this two-week spring break and that’s unusual, and that we’re not in school very often,” said Foster. “Actually what you’ll notice when you look at the class days is that we are at the very high end.”

For the spring semester, only Amherst and Hamilton will surpass Bowdoin’s number of teaching days, both with 70. Bates only has 60, though that does not factor in a 25-day ‘Short Term’ running from late-April to late-May that Bates students are allowed to participate in a maximum of three times during their college career. Foster said that Bowdoin has no plans to implement such a program. 

“[A Jan Plan has] never been something that’s gotten a lot of consideration,” said Foster. “Part of the reason being that most times when Jan Plans exist on our peer school campuses, the courses are taught by visiting faculty members, they may or may not be for credit, it’s usually a single course that someone takes.” 

According to Foster, the general attitude toward Jan Plan courses is that they are “soft courses,” because the three-to-four week time constraint prevents them from having the same academic rigor as semester-long ones. 

“I could quote some of my colleagues at other places saying, ‘Oh, the Jan Plan, you mean where someone can come back and take a soft class, ski, and drink, and then drink some more?’” Foster said. 

In January of 2013 and 2014, the College partnered with the Fullbridge Program, which took place in the final two weeks of winter break and offered students the opportunity to take business classes, but the program was discontinued last year.  

According to Foster, the late-January return is unrelated to the cost of maintaining the school in the winter, though the College does close Coles Tower and several other residences and academic buildings on campus to minimize its carbon footprint. 

Foster said a big factor in extending Bowdoin’s winter break into January was the desire to hold commencement in late May, over Memorial Day weekend.

“A week before Commencement happens, suddenly things bloom, the lilacs come out,  the grass on the quad starts to get a little bit green and we have a beautiful commencement on the museum steps,” Foster said.

Foster also recognized that Winter Break is an important research period for faculty. Many take the five weeks to travel internationally. 

Not all Bowdoin students stay away from campus the entire break. This year, 350 students returned to campus early for a variety of reasons. Eighty percent of them returned to train for their winter varsity sport, while the remaining 20 percent returned to work on honors and research projects or for Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training for the Bowdoin Outing Club. 

“I really like having three weeks to relax at home, and then coming back for track. If I didn’t have track it would be too long,” said Anthony Bellavia ’16. Varsity Track and Field returned two weeks early, while most other winter sports returned three to four weeks early. 
For other students, especially those living outside the Northeast, five weeks was just enough time to settle in at home. 

Jeff Josephs ’19 is originally from Haiti, but now lives in Florida.

“I think people should have the option of coming back early if they want,” he said. “But for me personally I thought it was perfect because I wanted to be home. I didn’t see my family for four months, so I wanted to be with them and see my friends.”