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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Lightening the Load for Incoming Febs

You may notice 100 new faces walking around Campus this week: the new Febs. We know what you’re thinking and, yes, this is another editorial on how to improve the Feb program. The Campus welcomes the Class of 2019.5 and would like to wish them luck in fielding the inevitable small-talk staple, “What did you do on your Febmester?”

Middlebury promotes the Febmester as a time for educational enrichment, advertising students studying at the Sorbonne, trekking through the Himalayas or interning near home. The time is open and totally theirs: there are no requirements, no credits to fulfill, no Feb bonding programs to go on. While we applaud the freedom that the program allows, we think that some are left overwhelmed by options or without funding to do what they want to do. Programs abroad are expensive and internships require connections. We do not buy into the stereotype of a “good Feb experience,” one all too frequently characterized by an exotic trip abroad instead of a local job near home. All Febs should spend their semesters as they wish, without pressure to live up to a particular ideal. Valuable experiences are not marked by extravagance. We do, however, want all Febs to spend their semesters intentionally, aware of the options available to them and with increased resources available to accomplish whatever they wish to do.

There are easy and inexpensive ways for the College to improve the Febmester experience. Many Febs on our Editorial Board recall being sent an uninformative pamphlet and then being set free for the longest unstructured period of their cognitive lives. The expanse of empty months before them was daunting – even paralyzing – as they attempted to decide what to do. The Campus proposes a mentorship program connecting incoming Febs to older Febs. The College could distribute a list that profiles Febs from older grades, including where they are from, their majors and how they spent their time before Middlebury. Incoming Febs could then contact older Febs to chat about their similar interests or to ask questions about an internship. These mentor-mentee relationships would help those who don’t know what to do with their time off, as well as facilitate friendships that will continue when they get to campus.

This is particularly important when considering that not all Febs wanted the semester off. On the Middlebury application, there are three options: Preferred regular admit, preferred feb admit, or either. All three choices leave open the possibility of being deferred a semester. As a result, 6 percent of students admitted for February during regular decision were not originally open to taking time off. More structure — or at least clearer and more comprehensive options — may ease the apprehension of students who did not anticipate February admission.

The College could also go a step further, though at a greater expense, and provide resources for student travel. For example, there could be funds set aside to support Febs on pricey abroad programs that provide students an educational and structured travel experience across the globe. Many students have the resources to go on these trips, while others who may desire to do the same lack opportunity. Middlebury could even go as far to host its own Middlebury-sponsored abroad programs, possibly run through select schools abroad, at a reduced price. We can learn from peer institutions like Colby and Hamilton, who have similar “Jan” programs that offer their students the chance to spend their first semester studying abroad while earning college credit. Colby and Hamilton’s programs are designed to keep Jans on track to graduate in the Spring, which is a different cultural institution than Middlebury’s Feb program. However, the idea of being able to spend the semester with fellow Febs provides a structured option to those without a clear idea of what they want to do, as well as eases the transition to campus.

Travel is certainly not the only productive way to spend a Febmester. The Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) could utilize its infrastructure to reserve internships with alums for students on their Febmesters, or at least provide students with opportunities to interview. In addition, the CCI could allocate some of its internship grant money to support unpaid fall internships.

For those who prefer to stay home and get a paying job or volunteer at a local non-profit, we applaud you. We believe that there should be more opportunities for students to opt into if they desire to do so, though students should also have the freedom to do what they wish with their time off. Our hope is that all Febs have the adequate information and resources to spend their semesters with intention. There is no right or wrong answer to “how did you spend your Febmester?”

Like September admission, matriculating as a February admit comes with its advantages and disadvantages. While some first-year Febs enjoy living in upperclassmen dorms their first term, others feel they miss out on the quintessential freshman hall experience. Febs who want to study abroad often feel pressed for time to fulfill language requirements. Others thrive in their close-knit community of 100 peers. Clearly, the February admission program is unique and beloved by many who have done it. While ups and downs are inevitable, the Campus believes that offering pen-pal mentoring, as well as considering subsidized Febmester programs or formalized internships, will help incoming Febs make the most of their gap semester. All Febs should be equipped with the resources to have the Febmester they desire — whatever it may be — and Middlebury can do more to help these plans come to fruition.