Rendleman: Dealing with a Mixed Bag

by Vivien Rendleman | 11/12/13 3:50pm

I began Googling college admission websites during my junior year of high school. Like many over achieving students, I visited every Ivy League page. Each school had its own selling point, whether it was a residential college system or New York City, but from my bedroom, the D-Plan made this New Hampshire college seem more exciting than any of its peers. I imagined that after having a perfect freshman year, I would spend my sophomore year in Europe and my junior year in California. Then, I’d be back for senior year and graduate on time! The D-Plan made the opportunities at Dartmouth seem limitless.

Now, at the end of my sophomore fall, I have realized that the D-Plan is a much more complex element of the Dartmouth experience than I thought during the application process. There are benefits that I did not recognize as a high school student, and there are also drawbacks that the admissions website chooses not to emphasize. But as I have been coming to grips with the fact that I won’t see many of my friends for six months, I have decided that, despite its challenges, the D-Plan cannot be called definitively good or bad. Rather, because it presents some of the most challenging decisions and experiences we face during our time as students, it’s an integral part of the learning experience at Dartmouth.

It forces students out of their comfort zone each term, whether they are abroad or on campus. The ebb and flow of classmates gives each term its own vibe — one term you could be surrounded by your closest friends, and another you could feel all alone. As a result, it’s difficult to establish a sense of stability.

The inconstant nature of the D-Plan is frightening. You learn quickly that no one’s D-Plan matches that of his or her friends, and that even if you remain in the Hanover bubble, those you love may not. As a high school student applying to college, these were effects that I had never factored into my perfect vision of college. But all of us who ended up here must learn how to make the D-Plan, as imperfect as it may seem, work.

To do this, it is essential to appreciate each term for its singular feeling but also to appreciate the way they all tie together in the end. Each term is distinct from the next one in countless ways, but what you do each term should contribute meaning to your overall Dartmouth experience.

If your friends are off this winter, don’t spend your time in bed watching Netflix. Go meet new people and try new things. If you are abroad this winter and feel homesick for Hanover, realize that you will be back. Go explore Europe or Asia or wherever you are, because the worst thing you could do is to waste your term abroad by spending it stalking your friends’ Facebook pages. You will be on campus together again, I promise. Embrace your current term and you won’t regret it later.

More importantly, don’t let the D-Plan make you fear commitment. The hookup culture, the difficulty of planning that second major or minor and the inconsistency of many extracurricular activities can all be rooted in the lack of commitment the D-Plan encourages. It’s easy to look at the fragmented time you will spend in Hanover after freshman spring and before senior fall as disconnected, but make the effort to work at certain goals and relationships that can last throughout your time here. It’s a cop-out to miss out on things while you are on campus just because you might miss them while you’re off.

You may not be able to change the fact that some terms seem more attractive than others, but you can make sure that each term is as enjoyable as the next. Take your internships wisely, seize the chance to study abroad and don’t mope around when your friends aren’t in Hanover. By changing the way you look at the D-Plan as a whole, you can elevate your entire Dartmouth experience.