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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Students feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury; mental health top reason for skipping class

The Middlebury academic experience is marked by a vast range of classes, a set of distribution requirements that push students to explore courses outside of their academic comfort zones, a strong honor code and small class sizes that allow students to develop relationships with their professors and peers. 

But these college brochure bullet points don’t capture the full picture. This year, our Zeitgeist data answered more inconspicuous questions about those experiences, from why students skip class to what distribution requirements are hardest to fulfill, to how many students break the honor code and in what ways. 

Overall, students overwhelmingly feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury, by their professors, their classes, their peers within their major and their friends. In fact, only 4% combined — 40 students — indicated that they either somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the statement “I feel intellectually stimulated at Middlebury.” Sixty-five percent of students indicated that they strongly agree with the statement, while another 30% said that they somewhat agree. 

The vast majority of students indicated that they are most intellectually stimulated in the classroom, pointing to professors (39%), class material (35%) and classmates (8%). For some, the most prominent source of intellectual stimulation is outside the classroom: 10% of students indicated friends, followed by talks and student organizations, both at 3%.

Students report consistent levels of intellectual stimulation across all majors. The concentrations with the fewest majors saying they felt intellectually stimulated were arts majors, with 57% of the 40 total arts majors choosing that option. Language majors — 32 total students — reported the highest rate of intellectual stimulation, at 72%. Arts and language majors were also less represented in the survey than most other majors.

Those 4% of students who strongly disagree about feeling intellectually stimulated are evenly distributed across major groups.

Do students find that their peers within their major are intellectually stimulating? Almost two-thirds — 64% or 792 students — said yes. 18% said neither yes nor no, and 14% marked themselves as undeclared. Only 5%, or 63 students, indicated that they did not. 

Those who indicated that they are strongly stimulated by the other students in their major are most likely to be humanities, literature or natural sciences majors, and least likely to be arts, language or social sciences majors. 

And as for Middlebury’s Honor Code, which, “[r]equires of every student complete intellectual honesty” and which all students sign at the start of their time at the college, 46% of students wrote that they had broken the honor code, while the other 54% said that they had not. Last year, 35% wrote that they had broken the honor code, 57% said they hadn’t and another 8% chose ‘prefer not to answer’, an option which was not available on this year’s Zeitgeist. 

More than half of all honor code violations were with the use of unauthorized aid, such as translators, calculators, SparkNotes and friends’ edits. Cheating on a test comprised 29% of honor code violations while plagiarism, reusing papers and assignments and falsifying data made up the remaining 17% percent.

Distribution requirements oblige students to take courses in seven of eight academic areas, in addition to four courses pertaining to certain civilizations areas out of six total regions. Students must also complete one comparative civilization course, and two College Writing courses. When asked which of these requirements is hardest to fill, the largest number of students, 24%, said that they did not have any trouble fulfilling any distribution requirements. 

Students struggled most with the civilization requirement, with 20% indicating that this was the hardest to fulfill. Of the eight core requirements, students report having the most trouble fulfilling the physical and life sciences (SCI) requirement, at 12%. This is followed by deductive reasoning (DED) at 9% and then a foreign language (LNG) at 7%. 

The social analysis (SOC) requirement is the easiest to fulfill, with less than 1% of respondents choosing this option.

There are many factors that may make some requirements easier or harder to fulfill than others. One of these is the sheer number of classes available within a given tag: SOC, for example, was a requirement met by 150 classes offered this fall, compared to only 61 for Literature (LIT) or 26 for Philosophical and Religious Studies (PHL). Additionally, some tags are more interdisciplinary than others: SCI, for example, was tagged only to classes offered in the Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Studies (although only one class), Geography, Geology, Linguistics (also only one course), Neuroscience, Physics and Psychology departments, while the SOC requirement is offered in 30 departments, including in First-Year Seminars.

Additionally, the Foreign Language (LNG) requirement sometimes requires completion of two or three semesters of a language, such as in the case of intro-level language courses, compared to the single-semester required for almost all other categories. 


Middlebury appears to have a solid attendance record: only 7% of students reported skipping class at least once a week, with 37% skipping “a couple times a semester” and 23% skipping just once per semester. Another 33% reported that they never skip class.

Students cited mental health as the most common reason for skipping class, with mental health being the cause of 23% of missed classes, followed by feeling overwhelmed by assignments, 21% of the time.

Physical health accounts for another 18% of missed classes, while 13% is the result of oversleeping. 11% of the time, students say that they skip because their class time does not feel productive.

Respondents said they miss just 3% of classes because peers are also skipping, while only 2% of skipping happens because students feel intimidated or uncomfortable because of the class or the people in it. Of the 60 respondents who noted skipping class for other reasons, 19 mentioned travel and five cited skiing. Other responses mentioned job interviews, having friends or family visiting or studying for exams in other classes. 

More than half of students reported spending between four and six hours on academic work outside of class per day, with 28% spending less time and 19% spending more. A total of 6% reported spending 10 or more hours a day on schoolwork outside of class.

Riley Board

Riley Board '22 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus. She  previously served as a Managing Editor, News Editor, Arts &  Academics Editor and writer.

She is majoring in Linguistics as an Independent Scholar and is an English minor on the Creative Writing Track.

Board has worked as a writer at Smithsonian Folklife Magazine and as a  reporter for The Burlington Free Press. Currently, she is a 2021-2022  Kellogg Fellow working on her linguistics thesis. In her free time, you  can find her roller skating in E-Lot or watching the same sitcoms over  and over again.