Raw food cuisine, sacred Corsican singing traditions, and the annual Surrealist Training Circus are just a few of the "strange and random" passions you'll find among the nearly 2,000 undergraduates at Bard College, says Jeremy Carter-Gordon, a 2011 graduate from Concord, Mass. Students say it's often these passions and the desire to pursue them, rather than a defined career path, that drives the academic atmosphere at Bard.
"People study what they're studying because it's important for them now, not because they want to be a lawyer or a doctor or something in the future," says Steven Tatum, a senior philosophy major from Derby, Vt. That's not to say that those equipped with Bard's liberal arts education don't go on to be doctors or lawyers—more than 90 percent of Bardians who apply to medical school are accepted, for example.
The architecture on campus reflects the eclectic student body. Spread out among the woods of Annandale-on-Hudson, the buildings are a pastiche of styles from classical Greek to postmodern. Blithewood Mansion, the main research and conference facility of Bard's Levy Economics Institute, overlooks the Hudson River. The mansion's landscaped lawn is a favorite student hangout in the spring.
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One of the campus's notable modern additions is the Fisher Center, which features a whimsical silver metal exterior and was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The building includes two state-of-the-art performance halls, as well as classrooms and dance studios. Residence halls are designed on a compact scale, generally housing just a couple of dozen students. Most are coed with shared bathrooms, but there are a couple of women's dorms, available on request.
Jackie Stone, a 2011 graduate and math major from Glen Rock, N.J., says the college's social environment is geared mostly around academics. "It's not a big 'I'm here to party for four years' type of college," she says. "People are very interested in what they're into, and they'll talk about that when they get together."
The total estimated cost for first-year students—$56,962 this year—is more than what they will likely pay as upperclassmen. That's because freshmen arrive on campus nearly three weeks early in August for the well-received Language and Thinking Program, which introduces them to liberal arts texts from Herodotus and Aristotle to Michel Foucault and Sigmund Freud.
Last year Bard also launched a three-week Citizen Science Program for freshmen, held each January and focused on increasing scientific literacy. In 2012, the theme will be the treatment and management of infectious diseases.
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The college is particularly well known for its programs in literature; the social sciences; and studio, musical, and performing arts. Professors and artists-in-residence work directly with students, while concerts, exhibitions, and plays are scheduled throughout the year. Math and science majors say, however, that Bard has recently improved these programs—building a new facility, adding faculty, and providing scholarships.
To select their major, Bard students must pass through the "moderation" process, which includes a written explanation of their choice and a discussion with professors who help them think carefully about their interests. Before graduating, all Bardians must complete a senior project based on their major, under a faculty member's supervision.
Stone says the intimate academic setting enhances the student experience. "You call your professors by their first name, so it's really a comfortable atmosphere," she says. "It's usually really collaborative, and a lot of fun."
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