Bennington College is a small liberal arts college located in the southwest corner of Vermont. It was started in the 1930s as an all-women's school, and made the transition to co-ed in the 1970s.

The college has undergone many, many changes since its inception, but the underlying idea of the school has remained the same. The philosophy of Bennington College is (in a nutshell) thus: take responsibility for your own education; you appreciate it all the more, and end up being an expert in something that truly excites you. This college is unlike most any other you will ever encounter. Beyond the fact that the school tends to draw very intelligent "freaks" - at least at this point in the school's career - the entire Bennington College community and experience is highly unique in many, many ways. Allow me to list for you a series of facts and quasi-facts (facts according to my perception of reality) to illustrate the atmosphere and general idea embodied by this school.

1. The school's capacity for students has been 650 for the longest time, and only within the next year will it jump up to about 800. You would think this means a very small campus, but in fact the campus is situated on 550 acres in the foothills of the Vermont mountains.

2. All faculty members, adjunct faculty, and visiting faculty are required to be practitioners in the field they are teaching. Meaning, a painting teacher must be actively painting and showing his/her work to continue to teach at Bennington. And retired practitioners don't count. The fact that there is no tenure any longer has forced professors to continously prove that they are still recognized practitioners in their fields. This idea about 'no tenure' is far from a brief or simple subject, and should be discussed elsewhere or in a later write-up.

3. There are no required classes, technically. Your freshman year, you are expected to take at least one class in each of the different "divisions" of study. Beyond that, you re expected to start zeroing in on what you want to get a degree in. All Bachelor's degrees are technically B.A.s in Liberal Arts, but each student is expected to decide upon an area of concentration. This 'concentration' can be in basically ANYTHING, as long as you can prove that you can study this subject or idea in depth and will be able to prove it at the end of your senior year that you have vigorously pursued an area of study. This concept is bolstered by the fact that Bennington's course catalog is pitifully skimpy, but students are encouraged to seek out professors (and other students if possible) that are interested in a class that is not being offered. These are called tutorials, and can be on anything, as long as you can find a professor to teach it. An example of a tutorial I took one semester was in Journal Writing. I met with the author Ted Hoagland once a week for an hour-and-a-half to discuss my 10 pages of stream-of-conciousness writing I'd done in the past week. I ended the semester with about 100 pages of my thoughts bound in a book (I took another tutorial during a previous semester in Artist's Books and bookbinding). It was one of the most cathartic and self-actualizing classes I'd ever had.

4. YOU are responsible for yourself and your education. There is no one at this school who will breathe down your neck making sure you're on top of your studies, and are not partying too much. There is no one who will tell you that you don't have enough credits to graduate (until it's almost too late). And no one will ever question the validity of what you've chosen to study. On the downside, no one will ever mention to you that when you graduate you may have to make a living for yourself and actually support yourself. There is very little "real-life" preparation.

5. Work hard, party hard. Students at Bennington tend to act a bit like manic depressives in that they will spend hours, days, or weeks on end working their asses off to the point of sleeping in their studios and practice spaces. Then they will get drunk and do drugs for hours, days, or weeks on end to unwind from all that work. It's very frightening if you can't adjust to this way of living and learning, and many people leave or are kicked out before graduating because they couldn't work or party hard enough. Too much of one and not enough of the other has definately driven more than a few students insane. Literally.

This is just a brief synopsis of Bennington College as an institution of learning, a community, and a way of life. I will include more at a later date.

Bennington College is part utopian Liberal Arts haven, part bureaucratic morass. It is a private institution located in rural Bennington, Vermont, which is about an hour northeast of Albany, New York.

Bennington possesses no core curriculum, and an optional grading system. All students receive a Pass/Marginal Pass/Fail grade for each class, as well as a one-page narrative transcript summarizing their strengths and weaknesses. It is possible to opt in for additional letter grades.

Plan Process
The concept of "core curriculum" has been replaced with "plans."
  • Freshman year, you're pretty much allowed to study whatever you want. In fact, you are not allowed to focus at all! If you try to take a full term of credits pertinent to your focus (they frown upon calling it a "major"), your faculty advisor will suggest you branch out.
  • Sophomore year, you have to write a "plan proposal," which explains why you are interested in taking the classes you have attended, and what classes you intend to take as your education continues.
  • Junior year is when you should be heavily focusing in your fields of interest. Visual arts students are subjected to the Junior Review, which must be passed to keep visual arts on their transcript. Additionally, in their sixth term, Juniors must write a "plan confirmation" essay, which solidifies the contents of their transcript and plans for their last year of education.
  • In Senior year, students are informally expected to once again branch out and begin finding new applications for the skills they have learned. This year, visual arts students matriculate through the Senior Review, which must be passed for a student to have their work displayed in the Senior Show.
Field Work Term
Every year, from January to February, Bennington College kicks its students off campus and tells them to go find a job. Any job. Any job, anywhere, with anyone. Field Work Term can be a source of shock, horror and suffering for some students, but many manage to persevere and find two-month internships that inspire them and teach them something new. The Field Work Term office is remarkably flexible regarding where and with whom you can do your work. Bennington Students have done just about everything for Field Work Term, from working on Broadway in New York City to teaching English overseas. Most students take their senior year Field Work Term to do an independent study, often one that relates to their Senior Project. Or, you know, you could just go learn to blow glass.

The Price
Bennington College tuition, including room & board, costs approximately $40,000 per year. It was notorious in the sixties for being the most expensive college in the country. The Financial Aid office has been known to dole out many generous grants (upwards of $25,000), but their resources are limited (Bennington College has no endowment), so many students struggle with loans. Low-income students are granted Federal Work Study (preferential employment) status, but the majority of students go jobless until their second or third year (unless they find something off-campus).

Bennington College students work extremely hard. There is no formal standardization for grading, so professors often eschew tests completely in favor of student projects. Almost every student at Bennington has at least one project pending at any given time. VAPA, the Visual And Performing Arts building, is open 24/7, and students are free to make use of the abundant studio space (public and private) at any time (thought the most dense hours of use seem to fall between 9 PM and 4 AM). VAPA is, itself, a form of art - it was designed and fabricated in California and flown to Bennington to be constructed, and is comprised of fifteen-foot doors (to make room for transporting large projects), walls decorated by decades of mischievous artists and the unending cacophony of banging hammers, the slap of hands on wet clay, the din of Pink Floyd trying to drown out Daft Punk struggling to be heard over showtunes and tuneless ambience.

Most Bennington College students will rattle off a laundry list of complaints about the college at the drop of a hat, but if you ask them about transferring, the answer is almost inevitably, "Oh, I couldn't!" Maybe there's something in the water, perhaps Elizabeth Coleman's personal magnetism is just that strong. Maybe Steven Bach is just that awesome. Whatever the reason, almost every single Bennington College student is hopelessly attached to this strange educational institution, like a Vampire's childer is bound by blood to their sire. Don't ask us why, we don't know.

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