this is long but thorough for anyone seriously considering Bard:
Oh Bard. Before I went to Bard I had
kind of a bad impression of it. My tour
guide sucked when I visited, and my heart was
set on Wesleyan. But I didn't get into Wesleyan,
and ended up at Bard. So I was surprised
in my first week on campus when a faculty member
giving a presentation to new students mentioned offhand that, having
taught at both Bard and Wesleyan, he thought Bard was
a vastly superior education. Now, I can't compare Bard
to schools that I did not attend, but I can
say that Bard exceeded my expectations and gave me an
College President Leon Botstein is
something of a maverick in higher education. He's the
longest-serving college president in the U.S., an advocate for the
abolition of high school, and the conductor of the American
Symphony Orchestra. (Google him for more info; I can't
remember everything.) Having been around so long, Bard is
in large part a reflection of Botstein's sensibility—and that's a
good thing. There is a dual emphasis on classical
liberal education and experimental arts. The humanities are very
strong, and every student has to take a first year
seminar course that usually focuses on the giants of western
thought. In that sense the school is conservative.
But there is also a strong devotion to the radical
avant garde, more than at any other school I can
Bard has the best photography, film,
writing, and studio arts professors of any liberal arts college
out there. If you are in the arts, you
will get unbelievable access to amazing professors, as well as
a good humanities program to balance things out. Beware
that if you want to do photography or film, start
working on your portfolio NOW. First year there is
a mad rush to get into photo and film classes,
and those programs are competitive to stay in. However,
even if you don't get to be a photo major,
you can often do studio art or “integrated arts.”
If you're an art history major, this school is a
paradise. There is a graduate curatorial studies program on
campus that features major artists and has a great library
of contemporary art resources. Great reading series, great film
series, great lecture series, etc.
In all humanities
disciplines, the professors are phenomenal. When you're in high
school applying to college you don't realize how brilliant and
famous these people are, but wow they are (brilliant and
famous). Often, they have taught at some of the
most prestigious universities in the country but prefer Bard's environment—where
you get to know them on a first-name basis and
have intimate classes with them. In general, it's a
fantastic place to study ideas. The school's motto is
“A Place to Think” and I think that's the god-honest
truth. People at Bard don't care about grades as
much as their own intellectual journeys. The seminars force
you to do serious mental work and be articulate about
your thoughts. (Sometimes other students' comments can be a
bit bone-headed—that's the only thing that occasionally irritated me about
For people interested in science, math, or economics,
I am not so aware about what the school has
to offer. Friends of mine in those disciplines have
told me that the professors are very focused on teaching.
It's also worth mentioning that the school has invested
a lot of money into a new science center and
scholarships for math and science students.
Some downsides to the
academics reflect the size of the school; the library isn't
that great, and class options are sometimes limited. But
there is a library loan service that enables you to
get books from other colleges, and you can always set
up a tutorial or independent study if your academic needs
aren't being met.
One last note on the
academics: many other schools that are more competitive than Bard
don't force every student to complete a senior project/senior thesis.
Every Bard student has to complete one to graduate.
It's a real test of your mettle, and mine
nearly killed me to finish, but I'm damn proud of
Advice: develop a close relationship with your advisor.
Speak up in class. Take advantage of tutorials and
You may notice
on your visit or when you get to Bard that
people aren't very outgoing or friendly. This can be
a little weird at first. What you have to
realize is that people are from cities and suburbs where
you don't greet people you pass on the street, and
all of a sudden they're in a much more intimate
atmosphere. Also, realize that if you said hello to
every single person you knew from a class or your
dorm, you'd say hello to literally everyone. And would
that be cool? No, it would not be cool.
Lastly, remember that most people (including probably you!) who act
like they're really cool now were really awkward before college,
and they're still shy and dorky on the inside.
Here's my advice: be laid back about it.
Don't take every perceived snub personally. Be nice but
not overly chipper. Find friends who can laugh about
the weirdness with you. Eventually, you'll be friends with
everyone, and down the line they all *will* say hello
to you when you run into them on the street
in New York city. When I was a freshman,
a wise senior once told me “There are no scenesters,
only older people.” Wise words, indeed.
Bard can be a bit of a culture shock/alienating if
you aren't rich, white, and skinny. You'll be going
to school with kids who went to private high schools
similar to Bard socially, kids whose parents are rock stars,
artists, and academics themselves. However, most of my friends
were not any of those things (rich, skinny, white, the
children of glamorous people), and we made the place our
own. In terms of both academics and social life,
Bard is best suited to people who want to do
their own thing on every level. If you're not
satisfied with the course offerings, arrange a tutorial. If
you hate the dorms, find a house in town.
If the clubs suck, start a new club with your
friends. Make the art you wish existed, dress to
amuse yourself, start your own band, etc.
local area: I feel the need to chime in here
because this is one area where Bard has been ranked
low on this site. Personally, the local area was
one of my favorite parts of my Bard experience.
I *loved* it. Beautiful mountains, farms, the Hudson river,
quaint old towns, lakes to swim in, delicious local food,
a few cozy bars—all a stone's throw from your door.
No it's not a big college town or a
big city, but if you can get into the small
town mindset you might find you love it, despite your
own expectations to the contrary. The best things around
Bard are often hidden. Make it a point to
I should mention that it can be hard
to get around without a car. The free college
shuttle will take you to the two main towns, but
it can be kind of a pain. Still, it's
not that bad. If you have cabin fever on
campus, make friends with someone who has a car, take
a bike ride on the country roads, or go to
the city. NYC is about two hours away by
car, a little longer if you take the bus to
get the commuter train. The city is a great
resource, and many of the people you meet will be
from the NYC region (always have a place to crash!).
It's nice that someplace fast-paced is so close by,
although I always loved going home to the country.
Ok that's enough for one post! Good luck
in your college search. Try not to stress out