Class of 2023: Senior Survey
The Dartmouth’s eighth annual survey of the graduated class found seniors feel more positively about certain College policies, though not by much.
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
For the eighth consecutive year, The Dartmouth conducted a survey recording the opinions and experiences of Dartmouth’s graduating class. Since arriving at Dartmouth in 2019, the Class of 2023 has experienced four years defined by substantial change, experiencing two presidencies and national elections, disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of multiple classmates. The following four sections canvas the Class of 2023’s views on campus issues, student life, national and local politics and post-graduation plans.
The Class of 2023 holds generally negative views of the College, though slightly less negative than preceding class years. 72% of the class has an unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable view of administration, compared to 74% last year and 83% for the Class of 2021. Nonetheless, this disapproval of administration is still elevated from pre-COVID numbers, which were 54% and 57% for the Class of 2020 and 2019, respectively.
As College President Phil Hanlon prepares to step down and COVID-19 regulations dissipate, views regarding his presidency have drastically improved — while views regarding Provost David Kotz and Dean of the College Scott Brown have remained stagnant. Hanlon’s net favorability rating increased by 18 percentage points from last year, up from 19% to 37%. Although 41% of the class holds unfavorable views of the College President, this number is also down from 60% last year. Meanwhile, Kotz and Brown are rated more favorably compared to Hanlon, which is consistent with prior class years. Kotz holds a 41% favorability rating, down from 46% last year, and Brown holds 55% net approval, up from 50% last year. Yet, while 9% of the Class of 2022 viewed Brown unfavorably, this year’s class has stronger opinions, with 17% rating Brown unfavorably.
The senior class is divided on some college administrative policies, while largely consistent on others. Views on Campus Safety & Security are evenly split, with 35% of the class viewing it unfavorably versus 36% viewing it favorably. The Class of 2023 views the Greek system favorably, which is consistent with prior class years, at 55% favorable and 32% unfavorable. However, among unaffiliated seniors, only 18% hold favorable views of the Greek system while 68% hold unfavorable views. The housing community system remains unfavorable, at an unfavorability rate of 60%. College faculty continue to be a beloved group in the eyes of seniors — 96% of the Class of 2023 reported favorable ratings, a slight increase from last year’s 95% approval rating.
Dartmouth Dining Services — with a year marked by the opening of late-night dining at the Class of 1953 Commons and rising dining prices — is viewed unfavorably by seniors, with a 63% disapproval rating. Still, views of Dartmouth Dining have improved, compared to 72% of the Class of 2022 holding unfavorable views. This positive shift may be in part due to Dartmouth Student Government, which worked directly with Dartmouth Dining to facilitate a late-night dining option for students. Student Government favorability among seniors — formerly known as Student Assembly — has seen a dramatic increase of 39 percentage points in favorability, from 36% of last year’s graduating class viewing it favorably to a whopping 75% of this year’s class.
As one of the few classes to have experienced both a pre- and post- pandemic Dartmouth, the Class of 2023 holds extremely negative views regarding the response to COVID-19 on campus. Even as nearly all regulations have been lifted, this year’s ratings saw a sharp decrease in favorable views of the College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of seniors — 80% — reported being either somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the College’s response to the pandemic, while 20% reported satisfaction. 46% of the Class of 2022 registered somewhat or extreme dissatisfaction with the pandemic response, and 59% of the Class of 2021 reported being dissatisfied — meaning that the lowest approval ratings of the response to the pandemic come from the current graduating seniors.
The Class of 2023 remains satisfied overall with the College’s attention and resources dedicated to sexual violence prevention: 68% report either being extremely or somewhat satisfied, while the rest are dissatisfied. This satisfaction has increased compared to prior class years, with a notable 35% satisfaction rate of the Class of 2022 and with the Class of 2021 reporting a satisfaction rate of 50%. Among graduating self-identifying woman, their satisfaction still outweighs past years, with 62% being extremely or somewhat satisfied with the College’s attention to sexual violence prevention.The re-opening of the Student Wellness Center on the first floor of Baker-Berry Library may be partially responsible for this increase, with 37% of seniors reporting occasional or often use of the space.
In looking at student wellness, the Class of 2023 is almost evenly split regarding the College’s allocation of resources for mental health — 52% reported being either extremely or somewhat dissatisfied and 48% reported satisfaction. These views are an extreme contrast to prior years — the Class of 2022 reported 91% dissatisfaction and the Class of 2021 reported 70% dissatisfaction. The Class of 2023 still mourns the recent losses of their classmates Sam Gawel ’23 and Vasudha Thakur ’23, however, the increased satisfaction with mental health resources may stem from DSG’s initiatives in providing expanded access to teletherapy and mindfulness apps.
Views on the overall Dartmouth educational experience have also remained positive. A notable 92% of seniors identify as being extremely or somewhat satisfied with their Dartmouth education, a slight decrease from the 94% of the Class of 2022. Despite this high level of satisfaction, the 48% of the Class of 2023 who considered themselves likely to donate to the College in the future is an 8% decrease from the Class of 2022’s 56%.
Academics continue to be a focal point of the College for Dartmouth seniors. 93% found academics and/or research to be either a very important or important aspect of their experience at Dartmouth. Social life was a close second, with 90% answering that it was important or very important, followed by extracurricular activities at 75%, Greek life at 60%, Dartmouth traditions at 56%, paid employment at 48% and outdoor activities at 43%. Somewhat less important for members of the Class of 2023 were study abroad programs at 32%, club and/or intramural sports at 16% and affinity/religious groups at 16%. Least important were varsity sports at 11%, political groups at 9% and house communities at 4%.
The graduating class overwhelmingly indicated their care for academics, with 98% indicating that academic interest was somewhat or very important in selecting their major. 69% found post-graduation careers to be a very or somewhat important factor in major selection, which is a notable decrease from 94% for the Class of 2022. Some members of the Class of 2023 also reported considering parental and familial pressure, as well as ease, in choosing their majors, at 16% and 11% respectively.
The members of the Class of 2023 stayed busy on their off-terms throughout their time at Dartmouth, which is consistent with past class years. Most held a paid or unpaid internship — 71% and 38% respectively — while 35% were employed in a non-intern/research position, and 30% engaged in volunteer/non-profit work. Lesser numbers engaged in paid employment, Dartmouth-sponsored programs or travel: 29%, 26% and 25%, respectively. Travel during an off-term is at a notable decrease from the Class of 2022 at 38%, which is likely a side effect of the pandemic.
Dartmouth is a college steeped in tradition. When asked which of the five key Dartmouth traditions — First-Year Trips, Homecoming, Winter Carnival, Green Key and sophomore summer — were the most important for students, sophomore summer was the most important at 79%. Although sophomore summer has been commonly important to seniors since The Dartmouth began conducting the senior survey in 2015, this year’s high percentage is in stark contrast to last year’s 31% for the Class of 2022 — likely due to that class’s primarily virtual sophomore summer. Green Key and First-Year Trips followed at 58% and 52%, respectively. Homecoming trailed at 49%, with Winter Carnival placing last as just 29% of graduating seniors found it to be important or very important.
One Dartmouth tradition that routinely receives attention is the Dartmouth Seven, a set of seven locations where students are challenged to engage in sexual activity. 31% of students reported completing at least one of the Dartmouth Seven, down from previous years — 42% and 35% for the Classes of 2022 and 2021, respectively. Among those who reported completing any of the Seven, the most popular sites were the Baker-Berry Stacks at 73% and BEMA at 61%. The center of the Green and Hanlon’s lawn followed at 29% and 27%, respectively. 22% reported completing the Top of the Hop and 20% reported the steps of Dartmouth Hall. Only 7% claimed that they completed at least one of the seven at the 50-yard line of Memorial Field.
Similar to past years, Greek-affiliated students reported completing any of the Seven at a higher rate than unaffiliated students, in which 66% of the students that reported completing the Seven were affiliated. There was an even split between fraternity and sorority members that completed the Seven, with one Gender-inclusive Greek house member and the rest unaffiliated.
The Class of 2023 also resembles previous classes in terms of relationships. 28% of seniors reported that they did not date anyone at Dartmouth. The plurality, 39%, reported dating one person; 19% reported dating two people and 12% reported dating three or more people. 38% of this year’s seniors reported becoming sexually active for the first time at Dartmouth, consistent with the 36% of last year’s seniors. 38% report having engaged in sexual activity before Dartmouth, down from 50% last year; the remaining 27% report never having engaged in sexual activity at all, up from 13%.
The Class of 2023 also resembles previous classes in terms of alcohol and drug usage. 23% of seniors reported drinking for the first time at Dartmouth, 62% reported drinking before Dartmouth and the remaining 15% reported having never drank alcohol at all. With regards to drug use, 33% of seniors reported using some drug or substance for the first time at Dartmouth, 29% reported having used drugs before Dartmouth, while 39% reported never having used any other drugs or substances.
Among those who did drugs while at Dartmouth, marjuana was the drug of choice, with 75% having used it at some point during their time in college. Other drugs had much lower usage rates among those who reported using drugs: 37% reported having used tobacco or mushrooms, LSD or other hallucinogens, 26% reported having used nicotine or whippets, 15% reported having used cocaine or ketamine and 13% reported having used non-prescription medication.
In terms of culinary preferences, members of the Class of 2023 preferred Collis Cafe, with 43% ranking it as their favorite Dartmouth Dining Service location. The Class of 1953 Commons and Courtyard Cafe were also popular, with 24% and 22% of seniors ranking these as their first choice, respectively. Less popular was Novack Cafe, which was ranked by 6% of the graduating class as their favorite dining location. Both The Fern and Cafe@Baker were least popular, each ranked as the favorite dining location of 2% of the class.
This survey also inquired about whether or not members of the Class of 2023 contracted COVID-19 while residing on campus or locally in the Upper Valley. 42% reported that they did not contract COVID-19 in the Upper Valley, while 34% reported that they contracted COVID-19 only once. Among students that contracted COVID-19 at least once, 63% of students were affiliated with a fraternity, sorority or gender-inclusive Greek house — a drop from the 73% of affiliated students last year and more on par with the 60% of students who are affiliated with Greek life at Dartmouth.
The Class of 2023 began at Dartmouth during a very politically charged time, and this polarization has continued. Their freshman year began with the impeachment of former President Donald Trump as well as the tail end of the Trump administration, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The following year was marked by the election of President Joe Biden, and the effort of former President Donald Trump to overturn the election results leading his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In their third year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine also marked a pivotal shift from the preceding years. Domestically, this class year has also witnessed the overturn of Roe v. Wade and many demonstrations of gun violence.
Faced with a series of trying years, seniors are not optimistic about the future: over 60% thought that things in the United States are “off on the wrong track,” while 17% thought things were “headed in the right direction.” Although there is still a stark majority that believe the country is not in a favorable place, there is a notable increase in optimism from last year’s Class of 2022, in which only 6% indicated the country was heading in the “right direction.” Seniors keep up with the news at Dartmouth, with 82% of the senior class reporting being extremely or somewhat likely to be aware of domestic and world news while at college.
Similar to previous classes, the majority of seniors identify as liberal: 39% describe themselves as very liberal and 34% describe themselves as somewhat liberal. About 14% of the Class of 2023 holds moderative views, whereas 8% identify as somewhat conservative and 3% identify as very conservative. The senior’s political views did not appear to change much over their time at Dartmouth. When asked about their political views pre-Dartmouth, most of the class similarly identified as having liberal views, with 68% reporting either somewhat or very liberal views, 15% holding moderate views and 15% holding conservative views. 68% of the senior class reported that all or most of their closest friends share their political beliefs, while 28% said some, 4% said few and no one stated that none shared similar or the same political beliefs.
Considering the majority liberal views of the class, it is unsurprising that seniors generally viewed liberal-leaning institutions more positively than conservative ones. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were the only figures or groups who received a net positive favorability rating, with 61% of seniors reporting favorable views of Biden and 53% of Harris. Seniors seem split on the Democratic Party, as 48% reported positive views while 35% reported unfavorable views. In contrast, favorability of the Republican Party is significantly lower: only 9% viewed it favorably while 83% registered negative views. Former President Donald Trump received the lowest net favorability by this year’s seniors, with 7% reporting favorable views and 89% reporting negative views.
Dartmouth students continue to view the other two branches of the federal government unfavorably. In wake of the midterm elections and upcoming 2024 election campaign, 11% view Congress favorably and 57% view it unfavorably. In wake of the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, controversy regarding Justice Clarence Thomas and the overturn of Roe v. Wade, 11% of seniors view the Supreme Court favorably, while 63% disapprove.
On a more local scale, the New Hampshire state government is generally unpopular among seniors — although notably less in wake of the 2022 midterm elections — with 16% of the Class of 2023 reporting favorable views while 33% hold unfavorable views. Similarly, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, polled at 16% favorable and 44% unfavorable. The Town of Hanover received 17% positive views and 53% negative views from this graduating class.
Wall Street also remains disliked by seniors, with 14% reporting favorable views and 54% reporting unfavorable views. Among the 27% of seniors working in consulting or finance, 33% hold positive views of Wall Street — notably higher than the majority of seniors but lower than the 56% of last year’s seniors working in the same field who reported positive views.
Upon graduation, the majority of the Class of 2023 will join the workforce, with 64% reporting that they plan to work immediately after Dartmouth. The second largest group will seek higher education: Those planning to attend graduate, medical or law school comprise 16%, 7% and 3% of the class, respectively. 7% of seniors remained undecided about their post-graduate plans at the time of the survey, with 2% planning to travel upon graduation. Compared to the Class of 2022, there is a notable 13% decrease in those looking to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
Consulting, technology, engineering and finance remain the most popular industries for seniors headed directly to the workforce. The most common field this year is consulting at 23%, closely followed by technology/engineering with 22% and finance at 15%. Other popular fields among this year’s seniors include academia/research at 12% and government/politics at 6%. Compared to the Class of 2022, there was a slight decrease by three percent in technology/engineering jobs post-graduation, with a simultaneous increase in academia/research by four percentage points.
Nonetheless, these distributions grow more even across various fields in terms of long-term career goals. Perhaps most notably, only 3% of seniors want to work in the year’s most common field — consulting — 10 years from now. Still, 8% intend to pursue a career in finance. The most popular fields for seniors in the long term are academia/research and health both at 15% and technology/engineering at 12%. Only 7% want to pursue either public service/non-profit work or government/politics in the long term, which is a major decline from last year’s 28% for both fields. Instead, other popular fields for seniors in the long term are health at 15% and education, self-employment or publishing/media each at 7%, respectively, of the graduating class.
In terms of anticipated annual starting salaries, 37% of this year’s seniors entering the workforce expect to make more than $100,000 annually, and another 26% anticipate making between $75,000-$100,000. 23% expect to make between $50,000 and $75,000 and 14% anticipate making below $50,000. This distribution appears significantly higher than the average salary for college graduates, which is about $55,000, according to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers salary survey.
The Class of 2023’s salaries seems to be driven by the industries that they choose to work in. 67% of those going into finance reported annual starting salaries of over $100,000. Similarly, 61% going into consulting and 53% of those going into technology/engineering reported annual starting salaries of over $100,000. No seniors in either field reported starting salaries below $50,000. In contrast, no seniors surveyed going into government/politics or education reported starting salaries above $75,000.
Geographically, most of this year’s seniors will remain in the U.S., while about 6% will move abroad — a figure similar to last year’s numbers. Among those moving abroad, the majority will head to Europe (4%), with less than 2% of students moving to Australia/Oceania or South America. Within the U.S., New York and Massachusetts remain the top two states in which seniors will land at 34% and 18%, respectively. Other popular jurisdictions include California at 11%, Illinois at 7% and both Virginia and Maryland at 5%. (Note: Washington, D.C. was not included as a state in this year’s iteration of the survey.) While only 5% plan to remain in New Hampshire, a higher 11% plan to remain in the Upper Valley in the short-term.
74% of the Class of 2023 anticipates graduating with no debt. Among those graduating with debt, 18% anticipate graduating with less than $10,000, and 24% with between $10,000 and $19,999. Despite the Call to Lead campaign — which eliminated loans in the future for all financial aid qualifying undergraduate students — 40% of the seniors graduating with debt still anticipate between $20,000 and $39,999. 17% anticipate graduating with more than $40,000 in debt.
Families’ financial backgrounds make a big difference in this regard — a likely result of the financial aid policies — where 56% of middle familial income students (family incomes between $50,000 and $200,000) are not graduating in debt. Meanwhile, 77% of students whose families make less than $50,000 will graduate with no debt and 85% of students with family incomes of over $200,000 will graduate with no debt. 35% indicated that they will receive some financial assistance from their parents following graduation, while the remaining 65% will not. Again, students from higher income backgrounds are more likely to receive assistance: 8% of students with family incomes below $50,000 expect to receive assistance, while 48% of students with family incomes above $200,000 expect to receive assistance.
From Wednesday, May 17 to Wednesday, May 24, The Dartmouth fielded an online survey of Dartmouth senior students on their opinions and experiences at the school. The survey was sent out to 1,193 seniors through their school email addresses. 122 responses were recorded, resulting in a 10.2% response rate. Using administrative data from the College’s Office of Institutional Research, responses were weighted by gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, Greek affiliation and international student status. Weighting was done through iterative post-stratification (raking). Survey results have a margin of error +/- 8.0 percentage points.