Students craft D-Plans

by Erin Lee | 8/11/16 10:32pm

The D-plan is one of the hallmarks of academics of Dartmouth, touted by the admissions office as “flexible study plan” that allows students to customize their academic calendar. Students have varied experiences with the schedule, and no two D-plans look alike, first-year undergraduate dean Natalie Hoyt said.

The D-plan is a quarter system with four 10-week quarters per year — fall, winter, spring and summer. Students take classes during 12 out of 15 terms during their time as an undergraduate, including sophomore summer. During sophomore and junior years, students can choose when they want to take classes on campus, study abroad and take leave terms.

Hoyt said planning out classes and term schedules, also known as “D-planning,” is a “very individual process” that depends on a range of factors, including studying abroad, class sequencing and research and internship opportunities.

Students’ first term on campus can be “eye-opening,” she said, as adjusting to the fast pace of the 10-week term can sometimes be difficult. Some subjects can be challenging to learn at a rapid pace, but students can quickly adjust their learning strategies, she said. Hoyt advises students to be proactive in their learning by setting goals for the term early on and asking for help right away.

Hoyt added that after their first year, students are often concerned about finding the “right” internship for their first leave term over the summer.

“We focus on helping students think creatively,” she said. “We advise students to make that first summer about relaxation and reflection, whether that involves a part or full time job, shadowing or volunteering or an internship.”

Hoyt added that starting early to develop connections is key to finding unique internship opportunities, as it takes time to foster personal, genuine relationships.

Center for Professional Development assistant director Chandlee Bryan said that being proactive about reaching out to potential employers is essential to finding opportunities during times, such as winter or spring, when opportunities might not be as available.

“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone,” she said.

She noted that the D-Plan offers students flexibility in when they want to be on and off campus, but it requires more “legwork” to explore options and explain the scheduling to employers.

John Tansey, executive director of the Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education, said the D-Plan makes it easier for students who want to study abroad. Dartmouth has traditionally had among the highest study abroad participation rates among colleges, which he attributes in part to the D-Plan’s 12 terms. Fifty-seven percent of the Class of 2014 studied abroad, which is generally consistent with previous years.

Nearly half of students who study abroad go in their second year, which means they apply in February of their first year, he said. He added that it advantageous for students to start thinking about the study abroad application early to find professors to write recommendations, plan their D-Plan and complete prerequisites.

Tansey said going abroad pushes students to the edge of their comfort zone, immersing them in a different environment.

Sumita Strander ’18 said she came to Dartmouth partly for its study abroad programs and made it a goal during her first year. She traveled to Santander, Spain during her freshman summer to study Spanish and loved getting to know her host mom.

“She was really warm and welcoming and took me around, introduced me to family and friends,” she said. “It was like still being in school, but it was relaxed and not as intense as a normal term.”

Strander said the first half of her D-Plan was dictated by planning her study abroad into her schedule. She spent the following fall conducting biomedical research in the Thayer School of Engineering on volatile compounds in breast milk.

She noted that the D-Plan allows students to arrange their schedule around certain classes they need to take and change it if different opportunities arise. She added, however, that the D-Plan can make it difficult to see friends because people are on and off campus at different times.

Rachel Dokko ’18 said she decided to stay on campus to do research during a leave term to be able to see her friends while they were at Dartmouth. Because she is pre-med, her D-Plan is much less flexible due to the many required classes, so she could not study abroad as early as she would have liked, she said. Despite the complications of scheduling, she will be studying to Madrid, Spain in the fall.

Dokko also traveled during spring break this past April as part of a Tucker Center trip to Washington D.C. focusing on the intersection of faith, race and social justice. She helped organize the various outings to religious centers, the White House and Senate chambers and Howard University, among other locations.

“I take faith seriously as a way to view the world, and I wanted to explore how faith can play a role in justice issues,” she said. “It was great to be with such a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.”

Bryan said students are increasingly looking for opportunities during breaks between terms, particularly the month-long break in December. She said the CPD has been organizing short immersion programs to give students hands-on experience. As part of the “Off the Green” program, for example, last spring break students interested in film and entertainment traveled to Los Angeles to meet alumni in the industry.

Hoyt added that breaks and leave terms offer a chance to stop, reflect and recalibrate if necessary.

She noted that creating a D-Plan is an ongoing process that constantly evolves and changes as students grow during their time at Dartmouth.

“It’s like a ball of yarn — when you keep pulling it, there are more and more layers to consider,” she said. “It really makes you pause and plan your time.”

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