Bennington is a private coeducational liberal arts college in rural Southern Vermont, nestled on 440 acres at the foot of the Green Mountains. The residential campus has a mix of traditional and contemporary architecture arranged around a central lawn, or commons, in typical New England style. Named one of the most beautiful campuses in the country by The Princeton Review, Bennington College is also noted for its vibrant intellectual community, engaging classroom experience, and “dorms like palaces.”
The progressive college features an impressive 9 to 1 student / faculty ratio and an average class size of 12, with a total undergraduate enrollment of 619. Students come from 41 states and 13 countries. Whether it is a scientific inquiry, a new technology, a collection of short stories, a performance, or an exhibition, Bennington students are expected to produce original work. Letter grades are available in addition to narrative evaluations upon request on a per course basis. The college is accredited with the New England Association of Schools & Colleges. Its tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year are $46,658.
Bennington seems like a great place for those who want to design their own education while getting a lot of attention and support from the professors. Unlike a traditional degree system in which requirements are pre-determined, Bennington has no majors to choose from. Instead, students develop a personalized program of study called “the Plan” based on their individual interests, in close collaboration with faculty members who advise and challenge them. The sequence of courses they take, the books they read, the research they conduct, and the kinds of fieldwork they pursue relate directly to the questions they are trying to answer and the work they are setting out to do.
One feature that has been part of Bennington’s creative curriculum since its founding is the requirement that every student, every winter, complete an internship or work experience. During the required seven week “Field Work Term,” students work and study off campus. In addition to bringing real-world experience to integrate with their academic pursuits, this gives students a unique opportunity to acquire a set of references and a network of professional contacts while still in college. Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College, explains that students are not only joining a community within the college, but that they “enter into a much broader network of Bennington alums doing groundbreaking work in their fields.”
Additionally, Bennington College is home to the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, which enables students to begin working immediately in the public sphere to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. As active practitioners in their respective fields, faculty members serve as models and mentors, bringing their current research interests and professional work into the classroom. In other words, faculty and students do not come to Bennington “to get something”; they come to Bennington “to do something.”
Bennington’s New “Dimensional Application” Option
Bennington College recognizes that transcripts and recommendations are not necessarily a full reflection of students’ contributions to their communities and capacity for growth. “Life is not a series of boxes that you choose,” said college president Mariko Silver. “At Bennington, students are evaluated both on the quality of thinking they bring to their choices and on the caliber of work they produce. These are rich conditions for an education and we believe they can be powerfully embedded in the college application.”
In addition to the “Common Application” that records a student’s academic achievements, Bennington has introduced a new “Dimensional Application” option for students applying for the 2015 entering class. The dimensional application process will continue to hold similar standards as the common application for prospective students, but will give them more flexibility in demonstrating those standards in their own compelling and creative way.
Through this application, you can upload any work that you feel uniquely reflects you as a person and what you’re passionate about, that makes you stand out from other candidates. There aren’t any “parameters, prompts or limits” to what you attach – just put thought into selecting work that you feel demonstrates who you are and how you could thrive at Bennington. Potential students can use the dimensional application to their advantage to articulate original ideas or insights, to showcase their work and reflect on ways their work is relevant to their studies, and to frame their accomplishments relative to broader contexts.
All applications will be assessed against a set of competencies and values that are central to a Bennington education: the ability to create and revise work, dexterity with words and numbers, inventiveness, intrinsic motivation, and the capacity to apply your understanding to new situations, among several others. In its invitation to students considering the Dimensional Application, the college states: “We invite you to share with us a collection of your work that speaks to these capacities and creates a portrait of what you bring to the Bennington community. We invite you to be deeply thoughtful. We invite you to be bold. We invite you to bring your own dimension to the college application.”
The body of work a student assembles will be reviewed by a faculty committee as well as a panel of alumni who will consider the applicant’s potential to enrich and be enriched by the Bennington community. Candidates being considered for admission using the Dimensional Application will be invited to interview as a final step in the admissions process.
Bennington is highly selective but the college welcomes homeschoolers. In fact, homeschoolers will often find themselves more prepared for a Bennington education than students from a more traditional secondary school background. The nature of the college’s self-directed line of inquiry demands exceptional rigor from students, and homeschoolers have already had the experience of taking personal responsibility for their studies.
For the years of high school for which there is no official transcript, you must document your course of study including each course taken, dates and amount of time spent on each, as well as provide a brief description of the courses (including texts read and work produced), and some form of assessment by an instructor if at all possible. Letters of recommendation should come from adults who have worked with you in a teaching/learning setting, not from family or friends.
Here is a letter from a former homeschooler who now works in Bennington College admissions:
My name is Liam Dailey. I’m a Bennington College admissions counselor, and a recent alum, and this year I’m taking over a new position dedicated to handling homeschool applications.
I am a product of alternative education. I was a homeschooler through 8th grade, I went to a 100 student liberal arts high school, and from there I moved on to Bennington. So I sometimes joke that Bennington is the most “normal” school I’ve ever attended, though normal falls short of describing it.
A Bennington education, like a homeschool education, is one driven by student passion and curiosity: Bennington “…seeks to liberate and nurture the individuality, the creative intelligence, and the ethical and aesthetic sensibility of its students, to the end that their richly varied natural endowments will be directed toward self-fulfillment and toward constructive social purposes. We believe that these educational goals are best served by demanding of our students active participation in the planning of their own programs…”
The kind of educational philosophy outlined in this excerpt from the traditional Bennington commencement address is why I was homeschooled, and it’s why I’ve chosen to work in admissions for Bennington. If you would be interested in learning more, I’d love to set up a time to speak with you and any students or parents in your group who might be interested in talking about Bennington or just more broadly about considering college as a homeschooler.
I look forward to working with you.
Here is a letter from another previously homeschooled student currently attending Bennington:
My education looked like this:
• age 3-5: Montessori
• age 6: brief foray into public school
• age 6-8: Montessori
• age 9-12: homeschool
• age 13: online school (on dial up. not a good idea…)
• age 14: brief attempt at local public school
• age 15: self-school, more or less
• age 16-18: private Quaker boarding school
And it didn’t hurt me at all in the admissions process — it just means you’re going to have so many awesome life adventures to tell us about in your application (on tour, interviews, poetry, research, whatever it is you love to do). Go travel the world! Tell us all about it when you get back.
Sylvia M. ‘16
Students who wish to apply to Bennington College should contact the friendly admissions staff at 800-833-6845 or firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions and materials. For more information about the “Dimensional Application,” visit www.bennington.edu/dimensions. Learn more about Bennington College at http://www.bennington.edu. See the Bennington Student Blog at http://benningtonstudents.tumblr.com.