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.