Down in the D-Plan Dumps
One writer reflects on the realities of the D-Plan.
Introduced in the 1970s when Dartmouth switched to a quarter system, the D-Plan has become a staple of Dartmouth, an idea almost as inseparable to our culture as bad mouthing FOCO. The plan requires you to take at least one off-term during either a fall, winter or spring term and take classes during one summer term, which most students choose to do after their sophomore year.
If you search for the D-Plan on Dartmouth's website, you’ll find phrases like “unparalleled opportunities for internships and research,” “customize your academic calendar” and other buzzwords that treat the system as a revolutionary, inspired concept. It’s so unique to this school that — in typical Dartmouth fashion — its name derives from “Dartmouth” itself. And it is attractive.
The D-Plan was crucial in my decision to attend Dartmouth. My visit to campus occurred during sophomore summer, opening my eyes to a world in which afternoon river sessions and studying on Collis porch were the norm. I fell in love. When I asked alumni and current students about the quarter system — after a short hesitation and acknowledgement of the speed of each term — their voices would rise in excitement.
“Only take three classes a term! More time to be focused on those classes! Sophomore summer! An off-term where you can apply for less competitive internships and travel to visit your friends at other colleges!”
And now, over halfway through sophomore summer, the D-Plan seems to be working mighty well. Our time on campus during arguably the most beautiful of the New Hampshire seasons has offered our class a chance to bond in a much healthier way than the universal despair of our freshman year. Walking into Foco or Collis and running into a swarm of people I know has given me the chance to reconnect with people who otherwise would have been stuck with me in a perpetual loop of “We need to grab a meal soon!” Now, the obligatory ‘Let’s grab a meal soon!’ has turned into an actual meal. Sophomore summer has proved to be the shining jewel in the crown that is the D-Plan.
As for the other parts of the D-Plan, there is some truth to their perks. Perhaps the internship I secured for the fall would have been more competitive during another season. Maybe I would have resented the inflexibility and stagnancy of a normal two-semester year. But like most admissions offices tend to do, Dartmouth failed to mention some of the more negative aspects of the D-Plan. At this point in my Dartmouth career, as sophomore summer has surpassed its midway point, I have become aware of how much the D-Plan — simply put — kind of sucks.
Since planning out internships and off-terms and terms abroad, I’ve realized how much time I’m going to spend away from people I love on this campus. My off-term in the fall and my term abroad in the winter means I will only spend a singular last term with the ’23s, many of whom I’ve come to consider to be some of my closest friends. When I mention this to them, there’s a pause. We acknowledge the inevitability of it. And then, without fail, we proceed to say, “Man, the D-plan sucks.”
There’s also the scheduling nightmare of trying to see friends from home. The unique timing of our breaks means most of our time away from school occurs when our friends are still taking classes or working jobs, besides the few other colleges that are also on a quarter system. Not only that, but trying to have your friends visit campus while you’re sprinting through a term can set you behind on classes for a week or even more, an eternity in the context of a ten-week term.
Then — forgetting about friendships for a minute — try having a relationship with someone who is on a different D-Plan than you. I know more friends here at Dartmouth that have had to pursue long-distance relationships than any of my high school friends – and let’s face it, long-distance is tough. Who wants to FaceTime for an hour every day when you’re in Germany or China or Argentina? How is one romantic when you’re thousands of miles from your other half?
Having yet to go on my off-term or spend a term abroad, I am unsure of what it is like to return to campus. I’ve heard friends describe it as “weird,” almost as if they are dropped back into a place that has changed without them and now feel out of the loop. There’s a sense when you’re abroad that you are missing out on the things that make Dartmouth so special. Over Green Key, a friend texted this in a group chat: “Someone please tell me that Green Key wasn’t that fun. Experiencing serious FOMO right now.”
FOMO is not unique to Dartmouth — other colleges have study abroad programs, and their students likely experience the same things. But the fact that we are required to take an off-term during the typical school year means this is an inevitability for everyone – not just those who choose to go abroad. Of course, you can choose to stay on campus during your off-term and take classes or work remotely, but with the career-oriented aspect of Dartmouth, there’s pressure to find that perfect, dream internship in a place like New York or San Francisco that will set you up for life. An off-term, away from Dartmouth, becomes a requirement — not a choice — and that can lead to a serious sense of isolation. It’s the same isolation that we all felt when we were told we had to stay in our dorm rooms for two weeks during my freshman fall. It’s an isolation that can break you down.
But with every hardship, there is a lesson. And boy, am I a big fan of squeezing lessons out of painful experiences. Usually, for me, it’s experiences that have already occurred. And usually, when I find the lesson in them, it’s easier to understand them because the experience has passed. But in this case, because I have yet to experience the hardships of the D-Plan for myself, it’s a little harder to find a lesson. Maybe the D-Plan underlies the importance of appreciating the time you have with your friends now. Maybe it’s about the importance of stepping outside the bubble Dartmouth creates and experiencing the world from a different perspective.
But maybe the D-Plan just sucks. The lesson, then, is how to deal with things that suck.