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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Distributive requirements encourage exploration

Dartmouth's distributive course curriculum which requires students to complete at least one course in eight different broad educational categories encourages student exploration and exposure to hidden interests, according to students and deans. While these requirements are similar in scope to those of peer Ivy League institutions the requirements at times hinder students who must complete numerous prerequisites for their major while creating an environment where courses perceived to be easiest become the most popular, they said.

Distributive requirements often force students to take courses beyond their original areas of interest, reinforcing the College's liberal arts curriculum, according to Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Natalie Hoyt.

"The liberal arts environment is about a broad understanding of different topics," she said. "It's not just about your major. It's about being able to have a broad sense of different ways of thinking about different things."

Three world culture class requirements and language proficiency, determined by the equivalent of three terms of a language at the College, accompany the distributive requirements.

"It has a great positive in that it allows us to go beyond the interests we already have," Richard Asala '13, a Deans Office Student Consultant seeking to complete a bachelor of engineering degree in four years, said.

The obligatory nature of distributive courses may cause students to approach course selection with apathy rather than an intention to match genuine interests with distributives.

"Students, particularly first-year students, will come in and wrongly try to take distribs just to check them off the list," Hoyt said. "We spend a lot of our time in this office trying to help students understand that that's not the best way to go about it."

For some students, the diverse course offerings that fulfill distributive categories make the requirements less taxing.

"The distribs naturally filled themselves because I took classes I was interested in," DOSC Dimpy Desai '13 said.

Desai, a double major in economics and government, entered Dartmouth as a neuroscience major and noted that the College makes it easy to change majors and disciplines.

Both Asala and Desai said that Dartmouth's balance of required courses, along with flexibility within departments, influenced their selection to enroll.

"The distrib requirement acts as a base for everyone," Asala said. "It acts as a base for everyone and it shows that if you're a student deciding to come here, you should be ready to be uncomfortable, because that's like the real world."

Nikkita McPherson '13 said she would prefer a narrower distributive requirement, compelling students to take courses within specific departments such as geography rather than general course areas that are currently required, such as social analysis (SOC).

Columbia University's core curriculum requires all students to take foundational courses in Western literature, which incorporates texts such as "The Iliad," and contemporary civilization, which focuses on Western philosophy.

"I really enjoy the Core, and I think for most people at Columbia, they decided to come for the Core," Columbia sophomore Pria Narsiman said. "It builds community in that we're taking the same final on the same day, reading the same books."

While students are mandated to take the same courses, professors' level of expertise and grading expectations vary widely, creating a superficial academic experience, according to senior Isabel Penaranda.

"It's generally a frustrating experience, and that's not taking into account the students who feel offended by the choice of works," Penaranda said. "I think there is something to getting a foundational education it just has to be so carefully crafted. It would be nice to have an option of not having to sit in on a kind of re-indoctrination of what a liberal ideology is."

Many Ivy League institutions including Cornell University, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University have distributive requirements similar to those in place at the College.

"There were two sides of the spectrum," Yale freshman J.R. Reed said. "I did not want to go to a school where there would be a core curriculum because I wanted to map out my courses. That being said, I still realize how important it was to have this liberal arts education and accumulate all these different skill sets because I know it is going to be important in whatever I will do."

Brown University utilizes an open curriculum wherein students design and declare specialized concentrations by the second semester of their sophomore year. According to the university's website, the concentration requirement enforces in-depth study of a certain discipline, mapped with the guidance of faculty members.

"I think the open curriculum is about having institutional support for risk-taking," Brown senior Olivia Jene Fagon said. Fagon chose to concentrate in art history and media studies despite entering Brown with an interest in linguistics and political science.