Bennington College is hands down one of the most fascinating, exciting, and strange experiences of my life. Seated at the top of a hill in rural Vermont it is like a wee microcosm of creativity and very rarely fails to surprise. Because of our rather isolated existence the students are forced in many ways to make our own fun and keep things interesting on campus and we do so with great enthusiasm. Although there is no shortage of wonderful things to get involved in outside of the classroom, because of the strenuous work load people sometimes tend to get a little too wrapped up in their studies . However students often manage to intertwine their social life and work life very well, in a way that enhances the both of them.
There are no required credits or 101-classes, but instead highly specific, highly engaging and challenging seminars that are designed solely by the students needs and requests and the teachers interests. It is highly unlikely to find yourself in a classroom where neither the teacher nor any students is disengaged with the course. There is an emphasis on learning through experience (hence the introduction of their required 7-week off-campus Field Work Term experience every year) and designing ones education through their own curiosity and exploration. During their four years at the college each student integrates different areas of the curriculum that are of interest to them around central ideas or questions – this ultimately results in their Plan, Bennington’s equivalent to a major. The 8:1 student-teacher ratio and the close-knit nature of the campus means that there is a huge support system and sense of community that is often hard to find. Despite strengths in many different academic fields, many students declare, either with great enthusiasm or resentment, that it is undeniably an art school. There is definitely a very creative, arts-oriented feel to the place (as well as being the birthplace of modern dance) however it is very possible to successfully pursue interests or all fields.
Bennington is a good place to transform an idea for a major into a sophisticated set of questions. Bennington's Plan process forces you to find something you're genuinely passionate about, to be able to articulately speak and write about it, and to research everything about it. Curiosity is the overarching trait in Bennington students, and people will leave parties to argue about ideas discussed in class. The Field Work Term, a program which puts students in internships related to their academic interests for 7 weeks in the winter, grounds the whole process in useful networking and a killer resume upon graduating.
Bennington is about a personalized education: it's about working hard and designing your own plan of study (we don't have majors, we have "plans"). A plan basically describes your concentration, or concentrations, and addresses how you plan to answer the questions and concerns that drive your studies. The small size allows for close collaboration with faculty and staff, meaning that you are not entirely on your own (because the process can seem daunting as a sophomore--which is when you begin to write your plan).
It's a weird place, but I love it. Last term I was in a class of twenty people, & everyone complained because it was too big & not enough people were able to contribute their ideas. How many other colleges have students complaining that a class of twenty is too big? I complain about Bennington sometimes, it's true. It's a small place, so running into people you'd rather not see is pretty unavoidable. I thought about transferring a lot my first term, but now I'm glad I didn't. I don't think I could go anywhere else. I'm used to my course schedule being completely customised, to being able to access my professors whenever I need them, & being able to develop film at four in the morning if it strikes my fancy. People complain a lot about the male to female ratio. Read the news, read about other colleges & universities. The Bennington ratio is becoming the norm.
Bennington is an art school, plain and simple. Don't believe otherwise. Sure, you can study history and psychology and even math (though there is only one math teacher at the moment). But everything is definitely artsy. Also, you would expect there to be creative writing but alas, there is not. The dining hall often is complained about, but unless you're super picky I find that it does a good job (particuarly for such a small school). There are a lot of vegetarian options and even vegan options. Although there are a few meals I don't like, there are also ones I love- like the squash lasagana and the feta pancakes. The desserts are really good, i love the carob chocolate chip cookies.
Bennington is pretty tiny. Roughly 600 students. Everywhere you go, you see people you recognize or know either by name or reputation. Meals are held at set hours, so if you have an awkward night with someone, hoping you don't end up in line behind them at dinner may be useless.
Bennington is a bubble. A lot of time is spent doing work & de-stressing and re-stressing about work. There's not a big sports push by any means. The town of Bennington has a pet store, a crappy gaming store, an art store, a thrift store & big name standards: Staples, K-Mart, Wal-mart(puke), Home Depot, CVS, Hannaford's.... etc.
Bennington is a tiny liberal arts college nestled in the middle of nowhere on an old farm. There are only about 750 students, undergrad and graduate combined, and at times all you want to do is hide in the library than see the same group of faces again. But it's also great that it's small because you are forced to be with people who are interested in similar things as you are. I think the academics are the best thing about Bennington. The teachers at our school are required to do what they teach, as opposed to just going to teaching school and then finding a job at a university. They are so experienced and we truly get to learn from experts, which is really lucky. I spend most of my time on campus, on campus... it's really small so people are usually in their room or someone else's room or in the dining hall where we all eat together at the same time or in the student center. There is no college town. The closest city is Albany, NY which is about 45 minutes away. The town of Bennington consists of a Wal-Mart, a Hannaford, Price Chopper, multiple car dealerships, a bowling alley, and a Taco Bell/KFC joint restaurant. I do have to give "Four Corners" (where main street has an intersection with 3 other streets in the heart of Bennington) more credit than we do because it's very cute and has a coffee shop and a pet store and other places where Bennington college students could hang out but we don't. I'll always remember driving to school for the first time and looking out across the highway and seeing Bennington College sitting on a green hillside all by itself with all the clapboard houses and the big clock on the commons building.
Bennington is a great place for focused and self-motivated students. Depending on who your academic advisor is, you can either have a lot of willing and useful help and discussion about your studies, or, like my case, you can see your advisor twice a term and get almost no guidance at all. Bennington is a very small school (only 600 undergraduates) which is a gift and a curse. By the end of your time there, you'll probably recognize everyone, but it can be a little claustrophobic. Generally when I tell people from home where I go to college, the response is "Where?" because it seems the vast majority of people have never heard of Bennington. When people actually have heard of the place, they are usually impressed. Every person should be able to have a Bennington free-form, do-it-yourself, do-what-you-love education, but I think that the price tag is a deterrent for a lot of people, since it was just increased to $48,000 a year. One unique aspect to the Bennington education is the Field Work Term, where students go out into the real world for eight weeks and work internships or jobs related to their fields of study. It is a great experience and a way to network as well as graduate with real-life work experience.
Bennington thrives on it's tight knit community. Everyone knows everyone else if not by name than by face. The size certainly enhances academics, but can make social life demanding and intense if you let it. All in all I would say that the most distinguishing characteristic about Bennington's students is their motivation. Most everyone is interested in what they are doing, and in what everyone else is doing. Plenty of of collaboration. The administration can be both amazing and lousy depending on the circumstances. I personally have very little good to say about our president Liz Coleman. She has done wonderful things for Bennington in the past, but after being president of an institution for twenty years, I feel she is beginning to just take the college in a direction that she wants without the input of students.
Bennington is a very close knit community of free thinkers. A lot of people I tell about Bennington think that I go to a joke of a college, but in fact, I have so many freedoms. With those freedoms come responsibility. In one year of college I have grown independant, and responsible.
The best thing about Bennington in my opinion is the other students. I've come to the realization that Bennington is as much of a college as it is a collection of some of my generations most out-of-the-box thinkers. Being there affords me the possibility to truly learn whatever I want (and not through the faculty, necessarily) because anything I want to learn someone else has probably already mastered somewhere on campus.
The question of Bennington's size is completely relative, sometimes on a day to day basis. There are times where more people would bring me down and there would be far too much to deal with and there are other times that the fact that the school is so small and news can sometimes travel too fast becomes a problem for me.
One experience of Bennington that I will always remember was part of my tour before I was a student. The tour had actually finished and I still hadn't seen the music building so I asked where it was and my guide gave me directions. I drove up to see it and as soon as it came into view about a quarter mile up the hill all I could say was "no way". The building is literally a mansion, given to the school when the owners died, that sits on a hill overlooking the school. Trust me, it's an incredible sight still after two years. But the thing I remember most was the first time I walked into the building. The lobby has been left almost completely intact except for a few fire alarm panels on one wall. The fireplace is enormous and has two iron lion's head ornaments like you would see in the movies.
Bennington is concerned with providing the environment for students to truly make the change in the world they want to see or be. The president and administration are working very hard to make sure that the students are fluent in current events, and can be apart of the "bigger picture" outside of the college world during Field Work Term and in the classroom.
A gorgeous campus with a dedicated faculty, and an active social scene. Some call it a bubble, and it really is. If tight community and intensive, self-driven work is what you're into, Bennington is the place to be.
The best thing about Bennington? The list would go on for days. I guess it's important to highlight just the people that surround you everyday. You will be inspired not only by your professors but by your peers. Everyone is always excited about some new project they are working on and someone is always available to help. PROFESSORS KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT! and they want you to be just as excited as they are all the time. I think it's good that prospective students (AND THEIR PARENTS) know that they are getting all that they are paying for education wise. Campus is beautiful- there is nothing else I can say, you just have to see it. Every house really does have it's own personality, and if you are not placed in the right house upon arrival, you WILL eventually find the place that you belong, there is a place for everyone. Bennington is a crazy collection of the most driven and inspired people in the country. If you have chosen to attend or are contemplating, just know that you will be surrounded by people who WANT to work, and if you are not driven... you WILL stick out like a soar thumb.
I love the size of Bennington. Small enough to recognize almost everyone's face and large enough not to know them all by name. The curriculum is amazing and diverse and the Plan process is one of a kind. It is you taking charge and deciding what the heck you want to study and learning to articulate what it is that makes you tick.
Bennington College is like Hogwarts.
The house you live in has a definite personality and relationship to the community and you generally become more familiar with them and when drama insues (it always does) you'll find your house grows to be like a family.
You either love here or you hate it here. Even when you love it, it's like an old married couple kind of love, where you're constantly making snide, bitter remarks about the Dining Hall food.
Speaking of Dining Hall, this becomes a huge part of your life. You are required to pay for the Dining Hall for all your meals. Breakfast, Lunch Dinner. Its a favorite point of common grievance between students. The food is often exotic, bad, and bland. Our Dining Hall often makes meat-eaters into vegetarians. And yes. There are many meat-eaters at Bennington College.
The Adminstration is not well-liked. They have made many decisions recently that have filtered out some of the Bennington stand-bys. The book store guy that used to be a porn-star who was always there for advice had his position terminated. Our own beloved security guards who give how-to-fix-your-car classes on the side and who will take care of you and who are more concerned about you not dying that about busting you are having their positions placed in jeopardy. And while they are firing the people that we love, they are putting in a swimming pool. We don't understand. Nobody understands. Everybody blames and hates the admistration. I say Hogwarts because you are not just signing up for a school here, you are signing up for a world. You learn from everybody, from the sculpture tech, from your fellow students, from your faculty advisors. There's not a lot of university brand school pride. But there is a lot of passion. This is not a place for the weak because the bubble will drive you insane. You have to have passion to survive here.
The best thing about Bennington is the support. Everyone is so support of each other. We all work really hard and it's exciting to see what your friends have been working on while you were holed up in your room or studio. That sense of support and community extends beyond the student body and into the faculty and staff. It is common to see professors from every department at plays, concerts, art openings, and readings; supporting their students.
Nice small size, very close knit community. Everyone knows everyone else. People either don't know about Bennington, think it's a good school, or say "Hey, isn't that the school where everyone is naked all the time?" I spent most of my time in my house Booth, VAPA, or Dickenson. Not really much of a college-town relationship but everyone I met in the town was really nice, I had a few townie friends. The administration was ok, didn't really bother me much, kind of suck-ups. The new student center was a big controversy. Too modern, not like Bennington at all. No school pride of any sports sort of sense, no teams. But I believe we are proud of our community, as much as we bitch about it. EVERYTHING is unusual about Benn. I'll always remember nights spend in Dickenson. People most often complain about the food (which isn't all that bad just gets old after four years), the student center, and having too much work (but we'd all be bored and sad if we didn't have our work).
Social action. I want it to exist. I want people to stop rolling their eyes at it.
Bennington sports a student body of less than 700, and an impressive student/faculty ratio, so one has to one wonder: What's the catch? Situated miles from town on acres of idyllic Vermont hills, the campus is self contained and self maintaining (kind of like a well designed fishtank). Life at Bennington is rarely dull, with performances starting within a few weeks of the start of term, projects to work on, official themed House parties nearly every weekend, and events sponsored in various locations around campus. In fact, with everything available to students, it's hard to determine just why students are so focused on one another's lives and dramas. The easiest way to steer clear of this is, of course, not to date anyone and not to sleep with anyone. But let's get real. This is college, and you came for the sex as much as you came for the classes. As my favorite teacher once told me, "You're living in a fishbowl, kid." Welcome to Bennington.
Bennington is a place that selects you. You have to want to live and breath your studies. You have to want to be very involved and self driven to push your limits of how you learn and what you learn. If you want this you will flourish at Bennington. I love all of the different kinds of student work that I have seen during my first year at Bennington. For example, there are always student productions to see... for example, one night I saw this great animation/sound/opera piece. We all sat in the dark in the corner of a black box. Wonderful electronic sounds played on either side of us as we watched a beautifully done animation. Interspersed within the electronic music was a singer. One light would turn on to light her face as she sang from a balcony. It was really beautiful. That is just one example of the many completely student driven performances that happen all the time. There is really a lot of creative energy at Bennington.
Okay, so the coolest thing about Bennignton is going to be the students. The students are what makes it all worthwhile. Because they will do amazing things. I've been astonished time and again by what my colleagues were doing.
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.
Don't let the fact that Bennington is small deter you. That's the best thing about this place, in my mind. Everyone knows each other and the entire environment is really welcoming. It's a really, really wonderful community, and we all share a deeper understanding of each other. It's kind of nice to be somewhere where you can be on a first name basis with almost all the students, and with the faculty as well. It felt weird at first, but now I can't imagine calling any of my teachers "Professor [fill in last name here]". I spend a lot of time in my house, because I have a really great house dynamic and love the people who live here. The only problem with Bennington is that people sometimes get a bit negative. There is a tendency to notice problems on campus, or in the world, but often a lack of initiative in dealing with the problems at hand. So sometimes, people will complain a bit. But it's really easy to take action if you want to get something done, at the same time. If you really care about something, people will usually join up with your cause, which is wonderful. Everyone's very supportive.
Bennington has a great atmosphere, you form great relationships with your professors and meet a ton of amazing people. There is so much freedom here, you can even "design" your own concentration. The school is pretty small which has its advantages and disadvantages. The administration has been pretty good in my time here, but I have heard some horror stories. People here(ESPECIALLY) administration don't have a concept of time or deadlines, and also have a nasty habit of informing you about something even mere hours before it's supposed to happen.
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