So would I do it again? I might, but would need a few years to recover. It's that intense. One of my workshop friends there coined a term for it, 'overloaf.' (We actually helped her create a long list of 'neoloafisms' that is quite hilarious (or maybe it's funny just to us...), and got them published in The Crumb on the last day. A triumph!)
Bread Loaf is THE big deal conference in the country. It's best to go as a work study participant (waiter), tuition scholar, or fellow, if you're looking for something important to put on your CV. If you want more flexibility in your experience, go as a 'contributor' (nice way of saying you'll be considered of lesser stock than the three aforementioned groups :) ), and enjoy yourself. Because enjoy myself I did.
Regardless of how you attend, getting into Bread Loaf is a sign that you're doing something right. Even if you don't get the work study, tuition, or fellow gig, go anyway. It's like a year of grad school packed into 10 days. The lectures and craft classes and workshops are worth every penny, as are the opportunities to meet one on one with agents and editors (both agents I met with wanted my manuscripts; that, alone, was worth the price of admission!). You meet SO many people at meals, in the computer lab, at readings, sitting around in those Adirondack chairs, or getting tea and coffee in the barn - everyone I met was glad to be there, sharing information and tips, and friendly.
Only you can decide what kind of experience you want to have. There is still some hierarchical structure/thinking there - the fellows eat with the fellows, the scholars eat with the scholars, the faculty eat with the faculty, the waiters eat with each other, etc. Each group has its own incestuous set of interactions. People I know who were waiters worked anywhere from 5-8 hours a day and didn't have much time to attend any of the classes, etc., let alone eat. There were parties every night until 3-4 am, then the shifts began again at 6:30 am. They were being watched by the staff because those that do the best job are invited back the following year as social staff (another group that plans events but spend alot of time in the office, so they also miss some important activities).
As for the other options, if you go as a fellow (you have to have a book), you are assigned to one of the faculty in the form you both write, and you co-facilitate the workshops and give a reading. Scholars get tuition paid for and also give a reading.
This isn't intended to criticize the wait staff (I met most of them and they were lovely), or anyone else, it's to illustrate how attending as one type of participant can color your experience. I was very happy to go as a contributor, because I had the most freedom, I feel. I met so many different people, attended nearly all the readings, went to the lectures and the craft classes, had great agent meetings, had time to drive off campus for visits to local towns, and take hikes in the woods. I also had time to work on some poems. I went and soaked up wonderful information that will help me as a writer, which is what the purpose of going to these conferences should be.
I mentioned in an earlier post that Bread Loaf has been called 'Bed Loaf' in the past, but in the years that Michael Collier (U of M prof) has been Director, that nonsense is gone. I've heard stories about the years before Michael that were kind of gross - buckets of condoms in the laundry room for everyone's use (they were empty by the end of the conference...), no classes or lectures or agent meetings, just workshops and the rest of the time - drinking. Fellows and faculty that groped participants under the table in class and at readings. Yuk. It's nothing like that now, I'm happy to say! There was some, in my opinion, frat house/high school stuff going on, but if you didn't want to see it, you didn't.
Bread Loaf is worth going to at least once. The quality of the faculty, the guests, the agents, the editors, the writing, and even the food, is first rate. Make sure you're in good health before you go, take your vitamins, pack warm clothes (we had a week of really cold weather and rain), get your own room (a single at the Bread Loaf Inn or some other Inn nearby - the Waybury or Chipman are the nearest) unless you really love having a roommate, and be flexible. You're going to want to do everything. I very nearly did and I'm still standing (albeit sleep deprived and with a raging cold). What I learned will stay with me a very long time.