campus encounters

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Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock

Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock (visited 8/11/14)

Simon's Rock town

Great Barrington

~Simon's Rock bridgeLike “Big Bard” (aka Bard Annandale), Bard College at Simon’s Rock looks a bit like a camp. It’s in an idyllic setting on the outskirts of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a “destination town” in the Berkshires

After checking in for the counselor event, a student walked me to the dorms. Andre, a sophomore from Seattle majoring in Psych and Cross-Cultural Studies, started here after his sophomore year in high school, a “normal time for students to come,” he said. He, like everyone else, dropped out of high school to attend; they will not get a high school diploma along the way. We asked an admissions rep later if they saw any problems with students not receiving a diploma. He said there were rarely problems but did show up on occasion, particularly in two areas: if students ever wants to take any enrichment programs at a community college, or if they transfer and want to play a DIII sport.

~Simon's Rock dino skull 1

Dino Skull replica in the Science Building

At Simon’s Rock, students find the rigor, support, and independence that they don’t find anywhere else. “No one has to go to college early. People who are here are really delighted to be here!” Students are “kindred spirits.” They aren’t all geniuses, but they are curious and are looking for an academic program. People don’t come here if they don’t want to dig in, to ask questions. “This is an Early College. It’s not College Lite,” said one of the Creative Writing professors. The classes are as rigorous as any other place.

~Simon's Rock dorms

Upperclassmen dorms

The admissions office, like the rest of the college, works to make sure that students are treated as a whole person. Decisions are made on a rolling basis (they will accept a small number to start in January), and they are test optional because most students just don’t have test scores yet. However, at TOEFL is required for students whose first language is not English and who have not been in an English-Instruction school for the two years prior to enrolling. They require a score of 100, but will take students in the 80-99 range if they are willing to take an extra year to complete the AA.

The application requires both an interview and a parental supplement. “If the parent isn’t comfortable with this, it isn’t going to happen.” The reps work hard to develop a good relationship with the family. The school prefers that students interview in person (“Anything can look good on in a shiny brochure; we want them to see the school and students in action.”). About 80% of students come to campus for this, but they recognize that not all the students can, so they do skype interviews as well. They want to make sure that applicants will be able to fit into the community. They will counsel students out if it’s not a fit. Their admit rate is in the 80% range and yield is about 70%. “It’s a very self-selecting population.” About 5% of students leave after first year; some transfer to a 4-year school or finish the AA at a community college. Very rarely do they go back to high school.

~Simon's Rock study lounge

Study area in an academic building.

An academic building

An academic building

About 50% of students transfer after the AA. “Big Bard” gets the highest number of transfers, but students go to lots of different places, including many of the “big name” schools. Simon’s Rock has quite a few articulated agreements, including a 3-2 with Columbia and Dartmouth (“When our students go to Columbia, their GPA goes up,” said one of the reps), a 3-1 with Vermont Law (students get a BA from Bard and a BA in Environmental Policy and Legal Studies from Vermont), Munich School of Business, the University of Manchester (Creative Writing), and more. However, students have all the resources of Bard at their disposal, and juniors and seniors can take the shuttle over to take classes there as they wish. All students end up with both Bard and Simon’s Rock degrees.

Transitioning can be a bit rough, but students have a lot of support. They meet at least once a week with their advisor, they meet with residential staff, etc. Freshmen are allowed to drop classes as late as the November of their first semester. All students are given narratives in addition to grades; students sign releases so that these are sent to parents as well, and the staff is in close contact with the family, especially the first year. “It’s the best of a college with best of a prep school.”

~Simon's Rock acad bldgStudents must have a primary and secondary concentration (or they can double major). Creative Writing, PoliSci, the natural sciences, and Psych are particularly strong. Only 10 classes have more than 25 students – and those barely go over that number (“they may have 27 or 28,” said the rep). Most classes have fewer than 15 students. There are 3 core classes that all students take, and everyone completes a senior thesis. Jody, our tour guide (a senior Math/Comp Sci double major from MD) said that his largest classes had about 15; his upper level classes were all around 3-6 students. He showed us the lecture lab in the science building that holds the biggest classes, and even that was fairly small. “We use it a lot more for things like Super Bowl parties and other fun things when we want a big screen.”

Simon’s Rock is a dry campus since all students are underage. Like most places, though, if people want alcohol or drugs, they can get them. However, the students said that usage is low, and alums have reported that they ran into far less peer pressure about drugs and alcohol than in their high schools.

During the student panel, these were some of the questions asked:

Why did you choose to come here??

  • I was taking really hard classes, not trying very hard, and getting As. I just went to school because I had to but wasn’t passionate about it. SR turned that upside down.
  • I was stuck in the HS track and studying things because that’s what was expected. Here I can choose.
  • I’ve been passionate about music, and if I had stayed, my exposure would have been band class once a week.
  • I was under-performing and there wasn’t any system of support. Coming here is an opportunity to get more out of academics and get support. There’s more expectation for my future. I’m excited about graduate school.
  • I was having a lot of trouble in school socially and academically. Classes weren’t hard, but I had trouble working in the bigger classes. I was originally going to come after my freshman year but wanted to try IP and AP classes first – but they still felt like HS classes and weren’t working.”

What’s been your biggest academic or social challenge?

  • Going into freshman seminar. We read 4 books and were told to write a paper — without a prompt. In HS, they ask a question and you answer it. Here, you don’t and it tore down my world! It took awhile to work through that.
  • I came after 9th grade so I was a little younger. As excited as I was to have the freedom, I wasn’t used to being away from home and not having the overarching supervision of parents.
  • Dealing with people in HS was like a business relationship. I showed up, said hi, and never saw them again. At first, I was always in my room, went to bed at 9, and now I seek out common areas.

I want to thank SR for ___ :

  • Teaching me how to be part of a community. I’m on a first-name basis with faculty, students can participate in student government, be active in how the community is developed. I’m living here and sharing this space. I’ve learned how I can contribute.
  • Exposing me to issues that are larger than myself. I came from a small white town, and we never talked about sexism or racism, or any of these larger things.
  • Allow me to explore my passions and find out who I am. I thought I was going to be an architect, and then a computer science until I took a class for 3 weeks and found out I hated it. I loved my psych class, though, and in my second semester, I enrolled in 3 psych classes and love it!

Describe a meaningful academic experience:

  • I took a theoretical math class and had to do a final paper. I could combine the math and computer science stuff that I loved. I did research for weeks ahead of time. I ended up getting a B+. Before, I would have been upset at getting a low grade for so much effort, but now I’m proud that I produced something that was so intrinsically meaningful for me.
  • The first was my study abroad in China. The other was more recent: One of my professors sought me out after a concert to see what I thought because he wanted to put me into his review. They genuinely care about our opinions.

© 2014

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