Guidelines and Academic Expectations

STUDENT HANDBOOK: Academics and Field Work Term

A Bennington Education: Capacities

Central to Bennington’s founding vision is the belief that a dynamic, relevant education is best achieved when students themselves define its direction. We believe that as a result of such purposeful self-reliance students take with them when they graduate not only what they have learned but also how they have learned it.

This process assumes that meaningful learning works best when rooted in a student’s ever-expanding curiosity, rather than being dictated by institutional paths. We believe that when students, in consultation with faculty, design the content, structure, and sequence of their curricula, internal sources of order replace external templates. In this way, education prepares students to direct their lives toward the self-fulfillment and constructive social purposes to which the College has long been committed. The core educational structures of the College—such as the Plan process, the Field Work Term, and advising—are continuously reviewed and adapted in support of these aims.

During their time at Bennington, students design their own course of study, taking full advantage of the College’s varied resources both inside and outside of the classroom. Students identify one or more areas of interest that spark their intellectual curiosity and provide a foundation for their academic work. The role of the faculty in the dialogue that points towards the fulfillment of the student’s own goals is to help the students refine, broaden, and deepen both their inquiry and the work they do within it. Education at Bennington is necessarily integrative and holistic: inquiries can be pursued, and capacities developed, by way of the curriculum, the Field Work Term, and relevant residential and co-curricular experiences.                                                                                                                                                          

A Bennington education will demonstrate that a student has developed, through iteration and self-reflection, and in increasingly sophisticated ways, several fundamental capacities: to construct a course of inquiry; to perform research; to create and revise work; to engage with others; and to communicate their work to the world. Each of these capacities intertwines with, and builds on, the others.

Throughout their time at Bennington, students will progress in their capacity to:

Inquire: As students formulate questions to advance their studies, they define and refine a clear line of inquiry that elucidates the unknown while questioning the known. Students learn to assess the breadth and depth of their studies, and to approach question(s) with an open mind. They learn to gauge a scope of work that is feasible in terms of their time, resources, and skill level. This process of inquiry allows them to gain confidence in taking appropriate risks when examining and analyzing relevant issues and questions.

Research: Students expand their knowledge through active, self-determined investigation, learning the steps needed to master a topic, and to distinguish deep research from surface familiarity. They test hypotheses by using methodologies appropriate to their questions and fields, from observing, reading, interviewing, and experimentation, to documenting, prototyping, data mining, and surveying. They gain flexibility and responsiveness, crossing disciplinary boundaries and allowing multiple perspectives to guide them. Students situate their research within broader cultural and historical contexts, and reach new conclusions, confirm existing theories, or expand on the research of other scholars.

Create: Students make and revise original work, develop new ways of understanding, and engage in generative and critical problem-solving, often in collaboration with others. Creating work requires both imagination and rigor, as well as the willingness to take risks. Revision is understood to be an inherent aspect of the creative process, to make the work the strongest representation of the inquiry and subsequent research underlying its creation.

Engage: Students participate in a community of learning, both in the classroom and in the world beyond. In their campus life, students share their work in performances, publications, peer feedback, critiques, presentations, or other mechanisms. Through individual and collaborative experiences inside and outside the classroom, students develop values of respect, empathy, and personal and social responsibility. Shared experiences and explorations, by way of field work, student governance, or public action also connect students to both local and global communities. In strengthening these capacities, students see that collaboration and community engagement make work that is more than the sum of its parts.

Communicate: Students learn to express their ideas with clarity and effectiveness, and learn to listen and respond to the voices of others. Communication unites even the most solitary work of thinking, inquiring, investigating, and creating with the outside world, making all work a social act, an act of participation that directs students to a variety of constructive social purposes. Whether a dance or a biological study or a musical composition or an historical analysis, ultimately the student’s work must be shared, communicative, legible, and capable of being received by others.

The Plan

The Plan process, strategically the framework and essentially the soul of a Bennington education, consists of a series of essays and formal meetings that address students’ academic intentions to pursue certain questions and ideas.

In devising and implementing a Plan, students are asked to write and rewrite a series of prospective and reflective essays that form the basis of their ongoing discussions with faculty advisors and Plan committees. These focused narratives not only require them to detail their academic goals and strategies, but also to describe their commitment to and deepening immersion in their studies and the degree of progress toward their aims. Students write about disciplines they will explore to varying degrees of depth, describe projects they will undertake, and consider how they will use their Field Work Terms and cocurricular experiences.

The Plan process seeks to find the point between a student’s sense of educational adventure and the need for a trajectory that is coherent and cumulative. The specifics of that trajectory will, of course, be unique for each student. Students begin by writing a first-year essay in the second term, considering the first term, the Field Work Term (if completed in the winter), and initial academic goals. In the third term, students submit a written Plan proposal and meet with a faculty committee to present the Plan. In the sixth term, students write a Plan progress and advanced work essay and again present the Plan to a faculty committee. The final stage of the Plan process is a culminating senior Plan essay, in which students report and assess their progress toward fulfilling the goals of their Plan.  Faculty advising is a critical component of the Plan process every term.   Timely approval of the Plan is necessary for a student to remain in good standing.

Several days are designated each term to review Plans; no classes are held during these periods. The Academic Calendar notes which days are Plan days.

Faculty Advising 

Faculty advising is one of the hallmarks of a Bennington education. Through academic mentorship, faculty advisors support students and challenge them to cultivate their desire for knowledge, to establish rigorous programs of study, to acquire new skills, and to engage in their lives here with passion and compassion.

The Bennington Curriculum emphasizes choice, responsibility, and independence. Students are assigned a faculty advisor every year at Bennington. The faculty advisor plays an integral role in guiding students’ academic development. In the first year, students see their advisor weekly through the First-Year Forum course that all first-year students must take. After the first year, students move to a new advisor and independently arrange regular meeting times. Starting in the third term students may change advisors during their course of study at the College, following discussion with the current advisor and the new advisor, and the Office of the Provost. The advisor is responsible for discussing academic progress, reviewing each term’s registration, and, most important, guiding the Plan process for individual students.

Field Work Term (FWT)

Every Bennington student, every year, spends 200 hours or more at work in the world pursuing jobs, internships, independent study opportunities, professional trainings, freelance work, or entrepreneurial endeavors related to their studies and career ambitions. Field work experiences afford students the opportunity to translate theory into practice and to stretch beyond the classroom into the dynamic unknown of the working world. Students are encouraged to meet with the Office of Career Development and Field Work Term and with their faculty advisor to think about how their field work will integrate with their academic Plans and coursework, as well as to generate ideas and prepare successful applications for field work term options.

Students may secure an internship or job using Handshake, the College’s career and experiential opportunities database, which offers access to thousands of job and internship postings annually, including hundreds of FWT opportunities cultivated by the FWT Office’s Employer Relations team each year. That said, students are not required to find a position through the College and often secure positions independently. All FWT experiences, regardless of how they are secured, must be registered on Handshake.

Most students complete their annual field work during the assigned winter or summer Field Work Term period, though in some circumstances students may also complete FWT hours during the academic year, such as through an eligible campus job or a remote internship. FWT hours may be split between two registered sites and/or one unregistered supplemental job. Additionally, students in their third or fourth year of study and have completed at least one FWT may apply to do a supervised independent study for FWT in lieu of an internship, fellowship, campus job, professional training, or entrepreneurial project. Please refer to the Field Work Term Handbook for more specific information on policies and requirements.

Academic Requirements

The College maintains certain criteria that prospective graduates are expected to meet. Requirements to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennington College include the following:

  • Students must complete the Plan process successfully.  They must formulate programs of study that reflect breadth and depth in the liberal arts and they must demonstrate advanced work in at least one area of study, as outlined through the Plan process
  • Undergraduate students at Bennington are expected to satisfactorily complete a total of 128 credit hours. With prior approval, students may graduate with a minimum of 124 credit hours in eight terms.* 
  • Students must successfully complete one Field Work Term (FWT) for every two terms of full-time undergraduate study at the College. Students who transfer to the College will need to meet with the Career Development and Field Work Term Office to determine their requirements. For policies regarding Field Work Term and special circumstances that would warrant a waiver for one of the four required FWTs, please refer to the Field Work Term Handbook.
  • In addition, students must be recommended by the faculty to the College Board of Trustees in order to be eligible for graduation, and the trustees must act favorably on the recommendation.

*Undergraduate students are expected to complete 16 credit hours per term over  the course of eight terms. Students may take fewer than 16 credit hours in a given term after careful consideration with their faculty advisor to ensure that they are remaining on track to complete the required 128 credit hours. Students must be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours to maintain full-time enrollment. Some students may elect to take more than the expected course load. Additional classes/credits do not, however, guarantee advanced standing or early graduation. Students may not exceed 20 credit hours per term without special permission from their faculty advisor and the Office of the Provost. Students are not allowed to take more than 24 credits in a given term. Students should be aware that one credit hour at Bennington is approximately equivalent to one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of out-of-class work each week for 15 weeks (or equivalent).