Bard College Student Handbook

Bard College Myths and Realities

At Bard College, one of the country’s leading liberal arts colleges, we are certain that your experience will be academically, intellectually, and personally fulfilling. Any college or university that has been around for over 150 years—particularly one that has evolved as extensively in that time as Bard has—is bound to have generated a few rumors and misconceptions. Below are some of the more common myths that still exist about Bard, and answers that describe the reality.

Myth 1. Bard is a college primarily for those interested in the arts.

Reality: This common misconception derives from the fact that Bard is one of the few academically rigorous undergraduate colleges that make the arts an equal partner in the curriculum with the sciences, social sciences, and languages and literature. Just over a quarter of our graduates each year concentrate in programs in the arts. For the other three-quarters of the student body, primary interests include areas of the social sciences (the largest of the four academic divisions at Bard), the sciences (the most rapidly growing division), and languages and literature (a division that maintains one of the College’s most distinguished traditions).

Bard has long had an external image as an “artsy” college. That is an image whose time has come and gone. Bard is actually an institution with an enormous diversity of attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. Our students come from 38 states and from more than 30 countries, representing a broad range of life experiences, backgrounds, and opinions. Our faculty encourages them to pursue whatever they’re interested in. Bard produces biochemists, psychologists, physicians, artists, and composers. The good news is that every physicist or economist who graduates from Bard has also had an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the arts.

A note about the sciences: across the academic spectrum, Bard students are particularly engaged in social and political questions that, given the primacy of issues involving the environment and health, have brought the need for scientific literacy to everyone’s attention. We have built new science facilities and enhanced science programs for the education of future scientists and nonscientists alike.

Myth 2. Only wealthy students go to Bard.

Reality: This perception derives from a time (which ended two generations ago) when the ability to pay was the primary criterion for admission to Bard. Over the last half-century, things have changed. Sixty-five percent of the student body receives financial aid. Economic diversity is just as important as ethnic, religious, and gender diversity, and we take all of these into account when we put together an incoming class.

Myth 3. Bard is not academically challenging.

Reality: In the past, Bard has erroneously been labeled an “alternative” school. While it is true that our students have flexibility in directing their education, it is also true that every one of them follows a challenging, carefully constructed course of study. All first-year students attend the Workshop in Language & Thinking when they arrive at Bard, followed by the First-Year Seminar, Citizen Science, and the common curriculum required of first-year students. These, combined with distribution requirements, Moderation, and the Senior Project, make for a rigorous academic experience at Bard.

Bard’s undergraduate degree programs fall within five rubrics: the four divisions and Multi-disciplinary Studies. Well over 90 percent of the student body graduates in programs located within the four divisions. Any student who wishes to craft an individual program of study is welcome to do so by petitioning to be accepted into multidisciplinary studies.

Myth 4. Since Bard is in a rural location, there’s nothing to do.

Reality: Yes, the College is in an extraordinarily beautiful area. But it’s not as isolated as many think. We go to great lengths to bring the world to Bard. New York City—90 miles, or an hour-and-45-minute train ride, to the south—exerts an enormous influence here, and the programs and activities that we present are treated as a local beat of the New York Times. All manner of performing arts, lectures, conferences, music festivals, and film series go on year-round on campus. Villages and towns with shopping and entertainment are within a few minutes of the campus. A good college experience locates the life of the individual within the campus community, and Bard’s calendar is full of activities sponsored by the student body and the faculty. In the end, one can feel more isolated on a large, urban campus than on a smaller one like ours. To some extent, Bard represents the best of both worlds given its proximity to New York City.

Myth 5. Bard is a place where you can do pretty much anything you want.

Reality: Students should make no mistake about this myth. Our reputation regarding the extracurricular life of students is all too sensational and all too false. Bard treats its undergraduates with the presumption of adulthood. But the rules regarding personal conduct and substance abuse are strict and enforced. The use of illegal drugs is not tolerated. Neither is underage drinking. Learning is a joyful but serious enterprise that requires time and hard work. We expect every member of our community to embrace the laws of the State of New York voluntarily and with conviction.

Myth 6. Bard is exclusively liberal and therefore politically correct.

Reality: All members of the Bard community have to be vigilant in making sure that the views of the minority are protected and that their expression is encouraged. We have atheists and evangelicals, we have Wiccans and Buddhists, we have conservative Catholics and a Muslim prayer space that, we are proud to say, is shared with the Jewish Student Organization. We have self-styled political radicals, and each year we probably have a few monarchists. We try to fight stereotypes and prejudices. Bard does a pretty good job of keeping the moralizing of those who think they’re absolutely right from dominating the scene.

Myth 7. Bard is so small it is claustrophobic.

Reality: In truth, where undergraduates feel most alone and isolated is on a large, impersonal campus. When the group photograph is taken of the Bard graduating class on the morning of Commencement, it is amazing how healthy the balance is between a sense of community and the fact that not everyone knows everyone else. There are 1,900 undergraduates and a few more than 100 graduate students on the Bard campus, enough people to make life interesting for far more than four years. The Bard culture is not divided by first-year, sophomore, junior, and senior class identities. People come and go freely, and the number of public events at the College makes the campus anything but claustrophobic. For students, the mix of a sense of community, an awareness that the College is an important public arena, and an opportunity for constructive solitude is what makes Bard so appealing.