Vermont College Road Trip: Bennington College

With just over 700 undergraduates and a rural setting in southern Vermont, Bennington College might seem to have the makeup of a sleepy college. But an intense spirit of creativity and doing things differently gives the campus a buzz.

In many ways, Bennington offers an unconventional college experience. There are no majors, and instead students design their own four-year course of study with a faculty adviser and oversight from a faculty committee to help focus their interests on a specific track, called a Plan.

A student could focus on environmental studies, for instance, and organize his or her Plan around the question, “How does understanding human perception of the environment help shift policy?” He or she might take classes in environmental studies, literature, Earth science and politics.

[Read: Consider an Interdisciplinary Online Bachelor’s Degree.]

Students must complete a number of writing assignments as part of their Plan process. And every winter, each must find a way to get practical experience for the seven-week Field Work Term between semesters. Ronan Canty, a senior from Hyde Park, Massachusetts, spent Field Work Terms studying architecture in Rome, examining the design of a psychiatric hospital in Vermont, and helping with clinical care at a hospital in Maine.

“I came to Bennington wanting to study in an interdisciplinary way,” says Canty, who credits the Plan process for allowing him to fully explore his dual interests and take classes in both psychology and architecture. His thesis will focus on how the layout of therapists’ offices impacts patients and the professionals themselves. Canty has his sights set on working in a hospital as a psychologist or therapist after finishing school.

About 90 percent of classes at Bennington enroll fewer than 20 undergrads, and the college’s 10:1 student-faculty ratio means it’s easy to form strong bonds with professors and peers. Many faculty members also remain active practitioners in their fields and serve as mentors to students. The academic environment can be intense, some say, with many students adopting a grad school-like focus on their work, but there are plenty of extracurricular outlets.

Dance, drama, music and the arts are popular areas of study, with the Visual and Performing Arts Center, known as VAPA, becoming a second home to many, says senior Julia Granillo Tostado, a Mexico City native studying animation, dance and art history. Some art students get their own studio space to complete projects, and at times it seems that “everyone is very dedicated and wants to create something” in their free time, Granillo Tostado says.

[Read: How International Students Can Benefit at a Small-Town College.]

Chloe Amos, a 2017 grad who studied dance and environmental studies, designed a museum and a mock exhibit that would highlight overlooked stories of her native Hawaii as part of her work with the Center for the Advancement of Public Action. About 80 percent of the most recent graduating class took at least one CAPA course, which could involve responding to urgent local, national and global problems like researching contaminated water sources in the region or supporting the rights of refugees in crisis.

Bennington offers a variety of housing options, but most students live in one of 18 coed houses, each with about 30 to 40 undergrads. The vibrant campus hosts many concerts, shows and readings on a daily basis. The college doesn’t have its own varsity sports teams, but students can participate in several club sports including Ultimate Frisbee, soccer and basketball.

[Read: Create a To-Do List for Your College Search.]

Shuttles are available to take students the 4 miles to downtown Bennington, which boasts museums, a farmers market, shops, restaurants and other cultural attractions. For those wanting to explore further off campus, the outdoor recreation program offers regular trips for white-water rafting and cross-country skiing. The Blue Trail, a popular route for hiking and biking, winds through campus and connects to other regional trails.

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Vermont College Road Trip: Bennington College originally appeared on usnews.com