How Important is the First Year Essay, Really?

By DaEun Jung '21

Image source: Slate Magazine

Image source: Slate Magazine

The First Year Essay is the the first step in the Plan process. Freshmen, who are required to write this essay, should regard it as highly significant in terms of their Plan process and Bennington education. To quote the Provost and Dean on the significance of the First Year Essay, “[It should] provide you with an opportunity to both reflect upon your experience at Bennington so far and to imagine how your Plan might unfold in the coming years,” and “[It] is an initial investigation of what drives your studies as well as an exploration of possibilities.” Reading this as a freshman myself, along with all the other freshmen who got this email about the First Year Essay, it appeared that it would become the foundation of the Plan process.


However, after asking several upperclassmen, it seems that the importance of the First Year Essay is a little over-emphasized. This doesn’t mean that the essay is “useless,” but according to Bennington students, it seems to have very little impact in the Plan process.

A sophomore said she wrote her First Year Essay on what classes she took her first term and what classes she wanted to take in the future. She also mentioned that she barely remembered what she wrote on her First Year Essay and, thus, did not use it to write her Plan Essay.

A junior in her 6th term told me that she wrote about her frustrations towards the discussion-oriented classes. She mentioned that the experiences that she wrote about in her First-Year Essay significantly differed from her experiences now, especially with where she was going with in terms of areas of interest and her perspective towards discussions in classes. She said that the only part that was helpful in writing the First-Year Essay was to get the idea of the writing style that the Plan Essay required.

On another note, a senior shared that  she wrote about her interests in writing and the fascinating explanations that science could provide. And she believed that in terms of the importance of the First-Year Essay, it didn’t go beyond a simple reflection.

Many students didn’t remember what they wrote in their essays.A senior stated that when she revisited her First-Year Essay after about four years, she thought it was very much embarrassing and considered it to be a great source of entertainment. She said it made her realize how far she has come in terms of her experience in her Bennington education.

The importance of the First-Year Essay could be labelled as a set of reflections about novel experiences that give you the opportunity to organize your thoughts. It may or may not have an impact on writing the Plan Essay and ultimately it could even be forgotten. To me,  it’s a start on reflecting on how you can fit into the Bennington education, and a chance to think about how you could possibly make it better. Reflecting on the past may not have as much influence in what you’re going to do or become in the future. But it’s still a start. Because if there’s no start, there’s no end either.