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The Dartmouth
February 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dixon: A Textbook Bait and Switch

Dartmouth’s quarter system and D-Plan limit students’ opportunities.

When I toured Dartmouth, I remember being fascinated by the D-Plan — what an interesting and innovative idea, I thought. However, as I write during my off-term, I am struck by the many, many downsides to Dartmouth’s venerated D-Plan. Impressively, it manages to make both social and academic life more stressful and difficult — two birds with one stone — while also representing the outcome of a remarkably sexist decision made in the 1970s.

Let’s set the scene with a little Dartmouth trivia. While it is impressively difficult to discover how the quarter system and D-Plan began — kudos, Dartmouth — the change began in the 1950s. A Harvard Crimson article from 1957 notes that Dartmouth moved to a trimester system to focus more on independent learning. Soon after, in 1962, the College switched to a quarter system. 

Next came the D-Plan. As I’m sure many did, I thought the D-Plan was a conscious decision by the College to help students find practical experience. How lovely. However, Dartmouth only switched to the D-Plan and sophomore summer to escape a budding housing crisis when Dartmouth began to admit women in 1971. Some may claim that this was simply a way to adapt to the matriculation of women, but the thousands of colleges, including public schools far and wide, that didn’t enact anything akin to our D-Plan beg to differ. Thus, despite its efforts to say otherwise, Dartmouth’s history shows that the College administration did not enact this plan to help students. The administrators at the time simply couldn’t imagine letting in a woman over a man, so they desperately searched for a way to admit as many men as before along with some women. The D-Plan was the answer.

Enough history — let’s talk practicalities. Looking at Dartmouth’s admissions website, you’d think that the D-Plan is Dartmouth students’ gateway to a wonderful corporate world, full of shiny office buildings, messenger bags and long work weeks. The admissions office works overtime promoting the D-Plan as an asset unique to Dartmouth, which they do very well, churning out polished one-liners on their website and admissions blog. Here’s my personal favorite: “The D-Plan offers unparalleled opportunities for internships and research.” Lovely, right? 

Wrong. The D-Plan actually makes it harder to obtain internships. Most internships are offered in the summer, when all students are supposedly free and available. However, while students from thousands of other colleges swarm the labor market each summer, Dartmouth confines a quarter of its students to the bustling metropolis that is Hanover. If the college truly cared about students’ ability to gain useful experience through internships and research, they wouldn’t have “sophomore summer.” For those who will cry “lest the old traditions fail!,” remember that this “old tradition” began in 1971, over 200 years after Dartmouth’s founding.

Additionally, internship opportunities outside of the summer are designed to fit with the thousands of semester schools across the world, not Dartmouth’s inane calendar. Shocking! I ran into this roadblock in my failed hunt for a spring-term internship; when I got interviews, their schedule never matched mine, as so-called “spring” internships start in the middle of Dartmouth’s winter term. Even if you do, by some stroke of miracle or blatant nepotism, get a spring internship, it is probably unpaid. For many, that isn’t a feasible option. In my experience, those who do find leave term internships, no offense intended, usually end up at lower-level companies or smaller businesses. 

But, don’t worry! You still have some flexibility in choosing when you’re off. As the admissions office puts it, “The term ‘D-Plan’ refers to the flexibility Dartmouth gives its students in choosing when they take classes and when they’re on break.” Wrong again — any Dartmouth student worth their salt could debunk this claim. The D-Plan does not offer flexibility — many classes required for majors are only offered in certain terms and it is now much harder to take sophomore or junior winter off — a change that slipped through under the radar in 2021.

The hidden — and more nefarious — effect of the D-Plan is that it pushes students to constantly focus on what is next rather than what is happening right in front of them. Because we are “off” at unusual times, Dartmouth students are forced to dedicate more time than at other colleges to track down the rare companies that will host them. Even when taking classes, we are searching for internships or obsessing over a peer’s proud LinkedIn post. This stress, and the mad, headlong dash to network, e-mail, and apply, makes it harder to focus on what is important now

College is more than an extended internship hunt or networking opportunity — it is a place to find yourself and make life-long friendships. But for all the talk of tight-knit alumni groups and career networks, Dartmouth’s D-Plan makes it difficult to connect with upperclassmen and those outside of your typical circles. By design, a lot of sophomores and juniors are gone during seniors’ last terms, and a lot of upperclassmen are gone during the freshmen’s first fall at Dartmouth. Even maintaining existing relationships is difficult when your friends and potential significant others are scattered across the world. 

So, where do we go from here? It is unlikely that the College will switch academic calendars anywhere in the near future. If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll put together a commission that takes two years to spit out a hundred-page report that tells us what we already know — the D-Plan isn’t worth it. In the meantime, the College should offer more resources for D-Plan coordination and information on companies who internships that fit our calendar; as it stands, the D-Plan is misrepresented and under-resourced. Additionally, it should expand its mental health and programming options to help students on “off-terms” stay engaged and cope with the difficulties of maintaining relationships while scattered far and wide.

The “D-Plan” has become Dartmouth’s main “bait,” attracting bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students from around the world. To incoming students, I say: just wait for the switch.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.