'D-plan' creates unique options

by Kathleen McDermott | 8/1/01 5:00am

At the end of her freshman year, as many of her classmates headed off to internships and camp counselor positions, Jennifer Cho '03 remained on campus, living with three fellow '03s and taking a full load of classes.

"I had a lot of fun, and got to know a lot of the sophomores," who were on campus for their Sophomore Summer, Cho explained.

Cho was able to take classes her freshman summer because of Dartmouth's "D-plan," the College's unique academic calendar which elicits both groans and praises across campus.

Under the Dartmouth Plan, often referred to as the D-plan, the academic calendar runs year-round, with four ten-week quarters -- fall, winter, spring and summer -- during which students enroll in two, three or four classes. In order to graduate within four years, students must enroll for 12 terms, averaging out to approximately three of the four terms within a given year.

Freshmen are furthermore required to remain in residence and taking classes their first three terms -- their freshman fall, winter and spring -- and seniors are likewise required to enroll their senior fall, winter and spring.

The flexibility, then, comes into play sophomore and junior years. As all students are required to enroll for their Sophomore Summer -- the summer after their second year -- they are free to take off another term their sophomore or junior year.

Because of the flexible nature of the quarter system -- with each term only consisting of three courses -- approximately 60 percent of all students manage to study abroad sometime during their Dartmouth career through one of the College's many Language Study Abroad (LSA) programs, Foreign Study Programs (FSPs) or exchange programs with various national and international universities.

Such programs count as "in-residence" terms, and students receive a term's worth of credit for their studies.

The College offers over 40 LSAs and FSPs, providing students with opportunities such as studying environmental sciences in Africa, theatre in London, or geography in Prague, as well as immersing themselves in languages such as Chinese, German and French. Exchange programs -- such as with Oxford in Great Britain and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark -- are also available to students through various academic departments.

Cho, for example, participated in the Italian Department's Language Study Abroad program in Italy during her sophomore fall.

She characterized the experience as "one of the best things I've ever done at Dartmouth," describing the wonderful experience of being engulfed in a different culture, living with an Italian family and learning more Italian than she said she ever could have in a classroom.

An LSA "gives you a good glimpse of living in another culture," and Dartmouth's flexible D-plan is perfect for scheduling such foreign travels, Cho explained.

Taking further advantage of the D-plan, Cho took her sophomore winter off and worked in a New York City law firm. "In the winter, no one's [other college students] off, so there are more opportunities for jobs," Cho said.

"It was good to be in the 'real world' for a while too," Cho added, also joking that she did not mind missing the cold Hanover winter.

Yet for Cho and others, the D-plan causes difficulties and evokes a wide array of negative responses as well.

With each student selecting his or her own D-plan, and between varying off-terms and foreign studies, you sometimes don't see your friends for a year Cho said, adding that it can be "hard to build friendships" under Dartmouth's academic calendar. Many students also comment that the disjointed nature of D-plans can also wreak havoc on attempts at long-term romantic relationships.

Cho was also unique in having been away from campus for two terms -- her sophomore fall and winter -- in a row, a choice she does not recommend for others. She characterized it as "hard coming back sophomore spring," when many of her fellow classmates had joined Greek organizations and a new freshman class had already joined the campus.

"Junior year, a lot of people are off, but sophomore year, you need to stay on and solidify friendships," Cho explained.

Junior year, in fact, is a very popular time for students to take off, and a substantial portion of a given junior class is off-campus during their junior winter.

However, Cho and others likewise still enjoy many aspects of the D-plan, such as Sophomore Summer, which the Class of 2003 is currently participating in. "It's kind of a time of class bonding ... I've been meeting people I've never met before," Cho added.