I think Bennington students are pretty friendly for the most part. We are a mostly white school, (an issue the Admissions Office has really been thinking about lately), but have a huge range of socioeconomic diversity. While everyone is very open about sexuality, students have seemed hostile towards religion, as well as towards more conservative attitudes. People seem too wrapped up in their work to follow sports, politics, etc. (Not only do we not have sports at Bennington... we only have one or two television sets. For the entire campus. I view this as a good thing.) Bennington students are from all over the place. While a lot come from New York and the New England area, I know tons of students from Oregon, as well as California, the mid-West, and the South. We also have a small international population, which isn't surprising for such a tiny liberal arts school. I think a student who wasn't self-motivated and needed a tremendous of guidance, or on the other hand was looking for a conservatory education would not like Bennington. Students with strong religious beliefs or very conservative views might not feel comfortable, either.
No. Crazy things do still happen at Bennington, (i.e., everyone running out to the lawn banging pots and pans when the power goes out, waging wars against other houses with rotten apples-- just like any other small liberal arts college with creative people), but no more giant orgies, (that I know of), and not everyone has dreadlocks and smokes pot.
Bennington currently has no core curriculum; this means no Math 101, Introduction To Literature, etc. The school has just recently incorporated "Design Labs" into its curriculum, classes focused on solving real world problems, and sometimes involving cross-disciplinary work. The expectation is that all freshmen are required to take at least one design lab, choosing one from several options. A Bennington academic "journey" looks something like this: your first year, you are encouraged to explore all your interests, taking various classes. (You're also set up with an academic advisor the day you arrive on campus-- you can always switch advisors later on, which happens frequently and isn't a difficult process.) Your sophomore year, you write what we call a PLAN ESSAY. (This is our way of declaring a major.) Every sophomore writes a plan essay, saying what he wants to focus in on during the remainder of his tiem at Bennington. This essay might include some classes he wishes to take, and suggestions for future field work terms and a senior project. All of these essays go to the dean's office, and the dean sets each student up with a plan committee, three faculty members who specialize in what the student wishes to study. This plan committee meets with you throughout the rest of your time at Bennington to go over how you're doing, making sure you're doing advanced work, and giving you guidance about classes, etc. It's just the right combination: while there's no hand holding, you know that you have the support of your plan committee while being in charge of your own education. Bennington is really for self-motivated students. While there's a healthy sense of competition, I think people are working for themselves, and doing their own personal best. Bennington students are always working, always busy, whether it's choreographing, writing, reading. I very rarely have "tests" like I did in high school: final projects usually come down to creative options, or papers. Discussion is a huge part of almost every single class. The biggest class I've ever had was almost 40; the smallest was 7. Last time I checked, the Bennington teacher to student ratio is currently 8 to 1. Work and play really start to blend at Bennington; people are doing amazing work for classes that you might not be able to do at a more typical school, (i.e. giant puppet shows, documentaries about the Bennington security office, illustrating children's books, etc.)
Always something going on at Bennington. The Campus Activities Board is responsible for bringing in bands and speakers, as well as planning big events like Sunfest, where we have a three day music festival in May. There are movie screenings in Kinoteca, our little movie theater, about three times a week. The houses, (dorms), take turns hosting parties, which usually involve themes, like Astronaut vs. Alien or Supermodel vs. Superhero. The visual art lecture series happens once a week, where visiting artists come to give presentations about their work. Because Bennington's so small, we have special Bennington traditions, like Roll-R-Rama, where the school rents out hundreds of pairs of rollerskates, and we all go rollerskating around Greenwall Auditorium. We have Bowl-R-Rama and Midnight Movies in town, where the school rents out the bowling alley and movie theater for us to go bowl or watch a movie at midnight. Midnight Breakfast is my favorite: on an unannounced night near the end of every term, when people haven't slept in a week because of final projects, they'll hear firetrucks driving through campus with their sirens going at midnight, signalling Midnight Breakfast. We all make our way to the Dining Hall, where our professors serve us food, and our librarian's band plays music. There is no Greek life at Bennington, and only one real sports team: we have a co-ed soccer team that plays area high schools and other nearby small colleges. If you don't drink or don't smoke, I think there's plenty to do on campus during the weekend. (Or if you do.) Students generally leave their doors open, and feel really safe on our little campus. Security comes through every now and then, just to check on us. Dating at Bennington is tricky; people tend to sleep with lots of people, or have a relationship like a married couple. (I believe the school is currently around 65% female.) Housing is the best part: we all live in houses with about 20 other people. Freshmen and sophomores have roommates, and juniors and seniors are guaranteed their own rooms. Each house has its own personality: some are loud and play music all the time, others are more quiet and studious. Every Sunday night at 10 we get together in our house living rooms for coffee hour, where we eat food and talk about what's going on on campus, in addition to any house issues, etc.
I think that a lot of people's parents hear Bennington and still think the school is as out of control as it was in the 80's before the current president of the school came in and re-organized everything. The more college-aged generation, (or even high school students), have associated Bennington College with our alum Bret Easton Ellis's novel Rules of Attraction, (which is based on the college), or the movie version made from it. I also think people associate Bennington with other hippy schools like the University of Vermont and Hampshire, and automatically think everyone has dreadlocks and smokes a lot of pot.
What I love most about Bennington is that there seems to be an unspoken rule that everyone must be invested or curious in SOMETHING. This might be ceramics, this might be dance, this might be feminist literature combined with an interest in chemistry. Whenever I think of my friends who are just in school to get a degree and get it over with, Bennington seems so refreshing, as everyone is interested in learning. However, this can also mean that students tend to be self-focused because they are so caught up in their work. (I was hoping for classmates who were a lot more interested in community service, politics, the environment, etc.) There's something for everyone at Bennington. There are the hipsters from LA and New York, the hippies who NEVER shower, the larper population, and people like me who don't fit into any of those categories, but we all feel at home, spread out in our little houses around Commons Lawn. Because almost every student lives on campus and there's not much going on in the town of Bennington, this means that there is ALWAYS something going on on campus. This might be a visiting band, a gallery opening, a visiting historian, a play, and a hiking trip all going on in the same night... and you can only do three things. We are a small school-- this is good and bad. With only 600 of us, we have close relationships with the people in our houses, (dorms), and our professors. This also means it's hard to avoid people. Bennington has something very special in addition to its unique system of declaring a major. Field Work Term began in the 30's because the school didn't have enough money to heat the houses during the winter; it was decided that all the Bennington girls would go off and get experience in the working world for two months, and the tradition continues, (even though we now can afford heating throughout the winter). Field Work Term is invaluable; every Bennington student completes a seven week internship for every year he is enrolled at the school. This internship usually relates to what the student is studying, but not always. There is a helpful Field Work Term Office on campus, where you can go to look up suggestions in our internship database, get help writing a cover letter or resume, and most recently, get career counseling. Students do all kinds of things: I know people who have taught disabled how to ski, helped young women in Rwanda, worked for production companies, sculptors, greenhouses, museums, architects, schools... It's an amazing feel to graduate from college already armed with an impressive looking resume. Bennington is a magical place-- there is a strong sense of community that unites us all in feeling pride for our little school. No one really can understand what it's like to look up from studying to hear firetrucks come through campus with their sirens going at the end of every term, announcing our biannual Midnight Breakfast, and watching the shadows of your friends move across the lawn towards the Dining Hall, where our professors serve us pancakes and tater tots and eggs. You'd have to be there to understand, watching our history professor move up and down the stairwell, offering doughnuts to students waiting in the long line to get inside. I've had the best and worst times of my life there; every friend I've made is unlike any person I've ever met. I've had great support and advice from my teachers and the staff, and always can't wait to go back as soon as I leave.