Hampden College is entirely fictional. Donna Tartt has denied a connection between it and Bennington College in Vermont, her own alma mater. As though to reinforce this separation, Bennington is mentioned in the novel as a separate place. Nevertheless, obvious comparisons can be made between Bennington and Hampden, as they are both small liberal arts colleges in Vermont. Donna Tartt's time at Bennington was a happy period in her life, during which she was part of a small clique of friends taught by an eccentric Classics tutor called Claude Fredericks, who was extremely selective about his students. The similarity between this part of her biography and the plot of The Secret History is difficult to ignore.
Bennington College was founded in 1932 as a women's college, becoming co-educational in 1969. It is a very small institution, with a combined undergraduate and graduate student population of around 800; the average class size is 13. The 470-acre campus is mostly wooded, and is situated in North Bennington, close to the state border with New York. As well as Donna Tartt, Bennington's alumni include Bret Easton Ellis, Jill Eisenstadt, Kiran Desai and Andrea Dworkin. Bennington appears in fictionalised form as Camden College in Bret Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction and in Jill Eistenstadt's From Rockaway.