Your impression of Bennington College may need a major update!

D20 is starting to assemble a college visit list that includes several women’s colleges as well as formerly women’s colleges like Vassar, Skidmore, and Sarah Lawrence. Even though I was raised in northwest MA and we still visit Williamstown every summer with my parents, I had mentally crossed Bennington College off the list (never even put it on the list, really) based on my impression of the college from the 70s/80s (tiny, not selective, super hippy/crunchy, great for performing arts, visual arts and creative writing but not much else, and, importantly – most expensive college in the country!) and then of course the whole 90s upheaval (abolishing tenure, letting 27 faculty members go).

Since we’re going to be so close next week with D20 in tow, I did some online research and I just have to say: Wow! It seems that Bennington has pulled off an amazing turnaround, including landing an amazing new president Mariko Silver. Lots of exciting momentum around diversity, financial security, increasing enrollment and selectivity, improving retention, etc. without losing the unique focus on open curriculum, “The Plan” (create your own major/focus/inquiry), and the annual 7-week Field Work Term in Jan/Feb.

My research has all been online so far but I am definitely intrigued and excited to visit next week. Anyone else in the same boat- curious about Bennington but anchored on decades-old institutional dynamics and legends? Or, any current Bennington parents, students, faculty out there who can weigh in on how the school feels and works now? I’d love some “live” feedback!

1 Like

@Itisatruth Did you visit? I crossed off early on bc lack of grades given, but just need to expand search. My D19’s high school is the HS version of Bennington. I’d love information.

1 Like

The admission counselor we met with (who just graduated this spring) said that you can decide for each class whether you get a grade or not. He decided to do the first two years with no grades, but then take took grades for all classes for in his final two years so that he would have a more conventional transcript for grad school applications later. I’ll post a longer write up of our visit when I’m at my computer, but definitely check out their website, particularly the “connect” tab – lots of great information.

1 Like

Visited it this summer. Had visited it about 6-to-8 years ago with my older kid. Felt it went way downhill since then, as of our visit this summer. Maybe we just got a bad tour guide, but we liked it about 6-8 years ago and crossed it off the list immediately after this summer’s visit! To us, this summer it felt like the 70s/80’s description you gave @Itisatruth ; while 6 years ago it felt more like what you describe it seems like to you right now. Different people/different impressions, I guess?

Here’s my visit summary (originally posted on FB):

We added Bennington to our late summer visit list since we were going to be nearby in Williamstown and it ticked some boxes for D20: (Formerly) women’s college, strong arts program, progressive curriculum, small college with personalized academics and residential life. She then watched a bunch of their “Home in a Minute” housing tour videos and was further intrigued.

I realized my own impressions of the school were 30-50 years outdated so I did some background research also. Learned about:

  • The Plan: You basically build your own inquiry-driven curriculum around a set of questions or problems, and repeatedly pitch and defend your Plan to a 3-person faculty committee.
  • Field Work Term: Every Bennington student spends 7 weeks every January/February doing an internship or other experience.
  • Mariko Silver: Awesome new president who arrived 4 years ago at age 34 and is, by all accounts, killing it.

We had a great afternoon on campus. My phone of course died as we arrived so I have no photos of the campus (just shots from the handouts) but it’s a wonderful, eclectic campus of old farm buildings and 70s dorms and some recent buildings all jumbled together on a beautiful hilltop between Bennington and North Bennington. We had an individual information session with a recent graduate and then an amazing 90+ minute tour with Kat, the only current Bennington student from Indiana. Kat showed us her favorite places to study (lighting catwalk in the theater), and was frank about the strengths of the school and some of its frustrations and challenges.

Also: Bennington is no longer the most expensive college in the US. In fact, it’s only #39! #1 spot now belongs to….Harvey Mudd College.

Also: World-class dance, theater, visual arts and creative writing programs.

We left thinking that having to do something like The Plan would actually be extraordinarily helpful, and that Bennington would be a pretty great—and unique—place to spend 4 years.

1 Like

Speaking of outdated impressions of Bennington… I should show this thread to my father-in-law. During our college search, he gave his very ancient impressions of colleges (e.g., “Hamilton has a lot of blond students.”). Father-in-law’s comment on Bennington was the most amusing. He said that the girls there were famous for being “sexually progressive.”

I can ONLY imagine what your impressions of Hampshire College (my alma mater) in Amherst, MA must be. FYI, I applied to Hampshire. Emerson, Sarah Lawrence, Antioch, Bennington & Marlboro (those were my choices in order of preference – I got into every single school). I chose Hampshire over Antioch, Bennington & Marlboro because it was less isolated and because of the 5-college consortium. Interestingly enough, I met transfer students from Antioch, Bennington, and Marlboro who had left those schools for Hampshire, because Hampshire was less isolated. I attended college in the early to late 90’s, so it was a different time for all of these schools compared to now. Bennington does have a beautiful campus, but I would say Hampshire offers the same exact level of academic rigor, combined with the natural beauty of where the campus is, plus (unlike Bennington) there’s the combined resources of the five college consortium. I loved that about Hampshire, but Bennington students seemed to prefer the “Bennington bubble” and that works for them, but it was what ultimately led me to choose Hampshire instead. And I’m from NYC originally myself, so I knew Sarah Lawrence well, yet still chose Hampshire over it (though I did end up doing the BADA London Theater Program through SL while at Hampshire), so all these schools really have a lot in common.

1 Like