Starting this year, Bennington College will allow applicants to submit a body of work that demonstrates their achievements and abilities, but what students send will be up to them. Their submissions might include a high-school transcript and recommendations—or not.
In announcing the new “Dimensional Application” on Wednesday, Bennington’s president, Mariko Silver, described the option as a way for students to “individually curate” the criteria the Vermont college will use to evaluate them. “Life is not a series of boxes that you check,” she said during a news conference. “Without specific prompts or limits, students can choose the material that represents the full range of their capacities.”
Prospective applicants will receive the following instructions from the college: “Consider how you wish to demonstrate your academic achievement over time, your writing ability, your contribution to your classrooms and your community, and your capacity to make and revise work. Portfolios, research you designed or experiments you engineered, reflective and analytical writing, transcripts, letters of recommendation—all and more are welcome.” Students may choose to submit their transcripts, but Bennington will consider other materials in addition to—or in place of—high-school grades.
A committee of faculty members and alumni will review each submission. They plan to assess, among other things, the judgment an applicant has displayed in choosing what to include. (The college does not require ACT/SAT scores.)
As application totals have soared on many campuses, many admissions offices have wrestled with the best way to evaluate applicants fairly—and efficiently. That’s not easy to do. “It’s harder for students to distinguish themselves in a larger applicant pool,” said Hung Bui, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Bennington. He described the Dimensional Application as a means of allowing applicants to “think through what they want to convey,” a process that, in turn, could help the college get a clearer picture of their potential.
Earlier this month, Goucher College used similar language in unveiling a new policy allowing students to submit a two-minute video instead of transcripts and recommendations. “Students are more than just numbers,” said a Goucher admissions officer in describing why the college had introduced the option, which alarmed some higher-education officials. One college president scoffed at the Goucher Video App, calling it “both absurd and dangerous.”
Bennington officials said they were not sure if the new application would attract more applicants, although “expanding the pool is always nice,” Ms. Silver said. For this year’s freshman class, Bennington received 1,121 applications (192 freshmen matriculated this fall).
In an email, a spokeswoman for Bennington described the Dimensional Application as “a very demanding option.” The college expects most applicants will continue to use the Common Application.