First Impressions: Bennington College (VT)
I took an unplanned stop at Bennington College on route to a visit to another school, and learned enough to gather first impressions. I also searched Pinterest for photos, since I stopped by campus on a rainy day.
There are small liberal arts colleges, then there are very small ones. Bennington has about one-half to one-quarter the undergraduate student body—between 750 and 800—than most liberal arts colleges that I have visited. It has a low-res graduate writing program as a well as an internationally regarded graduate program in Dance. But even including these students, the college’s total enrollment does not approach 900.
Bennington College empowers its students through an open curriculum. There are no required courses, other than those that might have a pre-requisite. Each student must also design their own plan of study, with approval from a faculty committee. No two plans will be alike as students choose their courses and complete a senior thesis or project. Students also work during the seven weeks between the fall and spring semesters in paid or unpaid internships or study aboard or away from campus. Bennington is a great school for students who want to combine an artistic talent with an intellectual interest. But they must also develop diplomatic skills to live and share resources among equally creative peers and work with the faculty and programs.
If the term ‘New England village’ appeared in an encyclopedia or travel guide, Bennington, Vermont could be the featured community and Bennington College might be the featured small college campus. The Commons, the signature building for the campus as well as the dining hall, re-opens in February, 2019. This is a beautiful setting, but some might find it too isolated.
I found a lot to like about Bennington for the academics and campus life. I also believe that the college puts a great effort into helping its neediest students, given a very high cost of attendance in excess of $75,000. However, the college loses as much as a fifth of a freshman class each year, and about 30 percent are gone before their junior year. The empowerment and supportive community may be a godsend to some students, but it might be overwhelming for others.
Report Card: Bennington College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: C/B
- Freshman Retention: B
- Costs: B
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B+
- Comforts: A
- Connections: B+ (Boston and New York)/C (Elsewhere)
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