Bennington's classes are amazing, and in my first two years I had but one bad class. The teachers are all professionals in what they do, so for instance, a music teacher may teach three days a week, and then go play the Broadway pit for "Chicago." In fact, one music faculty just received a Tony, and others have artwork in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA. Faculty are generally very engaged with the students and available outside of class. Bennington is also entirely unique in that each student designs his/her own academic plan from their freshman year. Students are responsible for outlining their academic plan with a committee of faculty, and having their plan proposal approved, and evaluated throughout their time at Bennington. In this way, you never have to take classes that don't interest you. The plan process is truly one of the most incredible aspects of Bennington.
Student feedback on classes affects whether professors stay at the college or leave. Faculty members don't get tenure, which might discourage more renowned individuals from teaching at Bennington. Faculty members also seem to feel hesitant to speak their minds about the administration since they are frequently fired without explanation. Nonetheless, they are wonderfully available to students, incredibly knowledgeable, and willing to spend hours discussing students' ideas and plans outside of class. Classes are tiny, discussion based, and intense. We work incredibly hard because we're encouraged to study exactly what excites us most, without the constraints of arbitrary course distributions. The Plan makes us figure out what's most important to us through a series of essays and meetings with faculty members.
All student and profs are on first name basis. You will often find students baby-sitting teachers kids or pet and having lunch together. My favorite classes are with Betsy Sherman, an amazing woman, even if you don't like science. My least favorite class? None really, I loved everything I took, for the most part and it was all my choice taking it. Students never study, but they are almost always working on class/their focus stuff. Class participation is HUGE. No competition. Chemistry of color. Arts department has some problems with plan stuff but science and music are just amazing. No academic requirement, you design your education, it's great but harder then it sounds. Learning for your own sake is always the most important, process over product.
Academics at Bennington aren't about getting grades and getting a job. We spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week learning and working. Most students refer to their current project/homework as their "work", the way a professional artist, writer, designer, scientist, etc would. Everyone is excited about the work they are doing and want to discuss it with friends. Personally, I have amazing relationships with my professors. They are amazing. I've spent time with several teachers outside of the classroom. Many of them open up their homes to students and host dinners/bar-b-cues/parties for their students. It may sound gratuitous but I've loved every class I've taken during my time at Bennington.
Professors who I have never had know my name. I had a class this past semester called "Varied Vessels; Diverse Dishes", a ceramics course taught by Aysha Peltz, an amazing potter herself. My least favorite course: "Extreme Weather", I only say this because it was at 8 am and was one of the more lecture orientated courses I have taken, however, you could tell that Joe, my professor loved the topic and was excited to educate us every morning. Students are very competitive (more so the visual and performing arts) but I think everyone should be, you will learn more from someone who wants to be the best than from someone who is just settling.
Bennington is geared towards learning for the sake of learning: grades are optional (instead narrative evaluations are commonly used to review students). I wouldn't say that going to Bennington isn't geared towards getting a job, though: with Field Work Term, experience-based labs and classes, and faculty who actively practice what they teach, if anything you are more ready for the working world than at a traditional grade-based school. There have been quite a few students who leave Bennington before graduation because of being hired by past FWT jobs and such.
I have a really good relationship with all of my teachers. Classes are generally pretty small so the teachers know everyone pretty well. Class participation is common, but every class has shy students. I think one of the goals of Bennington is to encourage students to NOT be so competitive, which is why we don't have grades, unless you ask for them. I think people either love the Plan process or hate it, it depends on what you are studying and who is on your committee. I would say the education at Bennington is geared more towards learning for learning's sake.
Small classes. Teachers really get to know you & you them. Annabel Davis-Goff is an amazing though daunting professor. Oh, by the way, most teachers go by their first names, but not Professor Milford Graves. He is Professor Graves. Look him up. He is an incredibly interesting man. Take a class with him as soon as you get the chance. There aren't any required classes, or weren't before these Design labs, and grades are optional, but that doesn't mean the classes aren't challenging or time consuming. Work hard, it's worth it.
Bennington is a place where you can delve into academics exactly how you want to without many restrictions. It is a place where you are immediately submerged into your work in hands-on and project sort of way as opposed to taking exams and intro courses before you can actually get your feet wet. You dive in. It takes a certain type of person to attend Bennington, discipline themselves in their education and be willing to motivate themselves--and be motivated to spend the time it takes to make masterpieces of our work.
I am in the Dance program which is amazing at Bennington. The class curriculum changes a lot every term and the faculty has a wide range of experience in the dance world which is really important. It is really this way with every department and because at Bennington the teachers are currently working in their field their perspective into their field is very up to date and interesting.