Feb and flow: the evolving dynamics of Feb culture at Middlebury

By Charlie Keohane

The Feb class has been a welcome winter addition to campus for the past 50 years, bringing fresh faces and new energy as students head into the spring semester. In recent semesters, however, an increasing number of students are taking time away from school, moving into and out of Feb class years.

Prospective students can indicate on their application if they are interested in being part of the Feb class, allowing them to spend a semester elsewhere before attending the college as a first year. Every February, about 100 students, a mix of students who did or did not indicate that they wanted to enter mid-year, are selected as Febs and arrive on campus after taking a semester off (dubbed a “Febmester”).

However, with athletic competition halted, classes online, study abroad complications and general Covid-19 fatigue, students have been taking semesters off in the middle of their college experience to reflect, recharge or work. Increasingly, students are “Febbing” themselves and blurring the lines between Febs and regs. 

Tired of online classes, Ella Roelofs ’23.5 took the spring 2021 semester off and spent time working on a farm, at a restaurant and doing an internship. But even though she now has a “.5” at the end of her class year, Roelofs still does not think of herself as a Feb. 

“I don’t really consider myself a Feb because I was not part of the initial Feb class, and I think coming in as a Feb defines the Feb class more,” Roelofs said, adding that she refers to herself as a fake junior Feb given that she started as a reg student. 

Helen Vaughan ’24.5 agreed that coming to the college during the winter and her semester as a first year Feb was crucial in building connections with other Febs. 

“There is a pretty strong sense of community you build that first semester,” she said. 

Though Vaughan did not check the Feb box on her application, she was offered admittance as a Feb. Upon reflection, Vaughan is glad she took time off and worked on a farm in her hometown.

Like Roelofs, Per Alexander’s ’24.5 decision was influenced by Covid-19. Alexander initially did not indicate a preference for Feb or regular acceptance but was happy to ultimately be admitted as a Feb and welcomed the time off. 

Other Febs were specifically drawn to Middlebury for the Feb program, which is one of the largest and oldest mid-year enrollment programs in the country.

Mary Nagy-Benson ’24.5 applied specifically for Feb admission and was really excited to be part of a small cohort of students on campus.

“I really wanted to be a Feb, especially since I’m from this town [of Middlebury], and I wanted to go somewhere else and have some time off from school,” Nagy-Benson said. 

She spent her Febmester on a canoe trip in Minnesota and working in the Middlebury area.

There are often stereotypical traits associated with Febs, but with more students taking time off, that image is changing. 

“I feel like the Feb stereotype is that you’re very outdoorsy and crunchy, but I feel like in reality — meeting people who are Febs — it’s like a really wide variety,” Vaughan said. “There are people who are Febs who come from all walks of life.”

With time passing and more students joining and leaving the Feb class, Febs and regs have become more integrated.

“There’s much less of a cookie-cutter Feb right now,” Finn Warner ’24.5 said. Warner said that in the future, he believes that more students will welcome the time off, and the Feb path might gain more traction. 

Alexander added that in his second semester with a new dorm and classes, he has met many more reg students.

“When you come in the middle of the year, everyone is so deeply ingrained in their routines,” Alexander said. “I just think that generally as we go on, the idea of a Feb is going to get less and less [concrete] because more people are going to Feb themselves or reg themselves or study abroad.”

Despite lots of movement in and out of the class, being a Feb is still a cornerstone of the Middlebury experience for some and remains  a unique opportunity for students to take a nontraditional college path.