Sink or swim: Dartmouth's demanding curriculum: Graduating from high school was easy -- Dartmouth's graduation requirements challenge every student

by Karen Rose | 7/27/96 5:00am

Now that you have finally been accepted as a member of the Class of 2000, you are faced with the daunting task of filling Dartmouth's rigorous graduation criteria, from distributive requirements to physical education.

The very first requirement students have to worry about begins even before registration starts. Before embarking on their freshman outing trips, students must pass a 50 yard swim test.

This test is given to prevent any accidents while on Dartmouth Outing Club trips and in the Connecticut River. If students fail, they must take swimming as one of their three required physical education classes.

The P.E. requirement entails completing three terms of classes, which include skiing, tennis, tae kwon doe, aerobics, rock-climbing, sailing, squash and numerous other sports and activities.

Athletes can be exempted from these requirements and the classes must be completed by the end of sophomore summer; if not students are fined $50 each term per course until the requirements are fulfilled.

Academically, the requirements students are expected to fulfill are a bit more complex, and may seem intimidating at first. But with a little bit of advanced planning, the required classes can be completed well before graduation.

In order to graduate, students must fulfill 12 distributive requirements, including one laboratory science requirement.

The quantitative and deductive science requirement involves taking a math-type course such as introduction to calculus, statistics or econometrics.

The philosophy, history or religion requirement can be satisfied by a wide variety of courses in each of these departments, including such courses as introductory American history, 'Religion and Morality' and 'The Philosophy of Reason'.

Two social analysis courses are also required and can be satisfied by courses in such disciplines as economics, geography, sociology and anthropology.

The technology or applied science requirement is filled by computer science, earth science and engineering courses, while the "science" requirement is satisfied by chemistry, biology and physics courses.

Comparative literature and certain government classes fill the international or comparative study requirement. Classes taught by multiple professors from different departments fill the interdisciplinary requirement.

Finally, there is an arts requirement which can be satisfied by art history and studio art courses, and a literature requirement that is satisfied by most course offerings in the English department.

In addition to distributive requirements, students must satisfy a world cultures requirement which entails a course be taken in each of the following area: European, non-Western, and North American. Courses in any department ranging from history and anthropology to music and religion will complete these cultural criteria.

Most students must decide on a major by the spring of their sophomore year and file a major card listing the courses they plan to take.

Major requirements can entail anywhere between eight and 12 classes, but modified majors and double majors will require more, so plan early.

Most students will change their intended major many times before they graduate, so it is best not to set your sights on just one major. Deans often advise that students take a wide variety of courses their freshman year in order to get a broad sampling of possible majors and satisfy distributive requirements at the same time.

Also, unless exempted by standardized testing, students must complete a language requirement by the end of their sophomore summer. This entails taking through one intermediate class in a foreign language. For example, taking Spanish I and II, which are introductory level classes, and Spanish III, which is an intermediate class.

The introductory classes focus on grammar and vocabulary and include a morning drill at 7:45 a.m. or an evening drill at 5 p.m. five days a week in addition to classes.

First year students are also required to take English 5: Literature and Composition, and then a seminar class. These classes are usually well-liked because they are limited to 16 students to help foster discussion. Freshman seminars often explore interesting topics not covered in regular classes, such as Cold War espionage and witchcraft.

The course requirements for freshman seminars typically involve writing four papers of about six pages length and may demand heavy reading.

Although you may be wondering if it is possible to satisfy all these requirements in four short years, few students run into major difficulties.

Students who must be most cautious, however, are those who must take a certain series of courses for an intended career path, such as pre-medicine or engineering.

For example, curriculum patterns can be tricky for those trying to satisfy pre-med requirements while majoring in a nonscientific department.

Although there are many requirements to assure that students get a well-balanced education, students still have a great deal of freedom in selecting their courses.

For advice on what to take and how to best satisfy the requirements, students have many options: deans, undergraduate advisors, student mentors, academic advisors, professors, and even older friends can offer valuable advice.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!