Unpacking the Four-Course Term
One writer investigates why students take four-course terms and tips for success in a four-course term.
For a typical Dartmouth student, three rigorous courses over the span of 10 weeks, in addition to balancing extracurricular and social activities, can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, some Dartmouth students opt to add one more class to their schedule, resulting in the dreaded four-course term.
As Dartmouth students must accumulate 35 credits to graduate, a typical 12-term plan allows for eleven three-course terms and one two-course term. However, to account for taking multiple two-course terms or to help fulfill requirements, students may end up needing or wanting to take a four-course term.
David Rogers ’25 decided he wanted to take a four-course term after taking only two courses during his sophomore summer. Enjoying the experience and hoping to have another two-course term in the future, Rogers thought that this term would be the best time to help balance out his credits.
“[During my two-course term], I had so much free time. It was just so fun, and I wanted to do that again senior spring,” Rogers explained. “I took four classes [this term] because of that, but also because I felt like this would be the perfect time to do it [since] a lot of my close friends are either studying abroad or off.”
Some students, such as David Lim ’24, take a four-course term out of necessity. Lim, who will take his four-course term this winter, noted that if it was not necessary for him to take a four-course term to graduate, he likely would have tried to avoid the additional coursework and stress.
“Ideally, I wouldn’t [take a four-course term]. But, [I took] two classes during the summer, and then I had to withdraw from one of [my classes last fall],” said Lim. “To graduate, I have to take a four class term before the spring. I thought I would probably have to do it next term, because I wouldn’t want to take four classes during my senior spring.”
This trend of upperclassmen taking a four-course term is common. According to the director of the Undergraduate Deans Office Mary Nyhan, taking a four-course term is not necessarily “unusual” and “it certainly becomes more common for students the further they are in their Dartmouth career or trajectory.”
Rogers said that a four-course term is “probably not the best idea for a freshman because it takes a bit to get used to the pacing of classes.”
When choosing which term to tackle a four class schedule, there are many factors to take into account, including the weather, club activities and community events. Rogers noted that the winter term is likely the best time to take a four-course term, simply because it is typically seen as a term in which students are working more often due to the cold.
“I feel like the winter is probably the perfect time just because that’s when you do a lot of your work anyways, because you’re not exactly outside on the Green,” Rogers said.
Lim agreed with this sentiment, adding that there are typically less events during winter term, allowing students to take on more classwork.
“I think winter is probably the most ideal time to take four class terms because everyone’s … mindset is that you hunker down,” Lim said. “You’re not going out as much, there aren’t as many events and things on campus in general.”
A four-course term is often more stressful than a typical three-course term. Avery Fogg ’24 — who is currently taking a four-course term — emphasized the difficulty of her current course load.
“It’s a lot of work. I knew that I was going to have more work, but I didn’t quite realize the impact that just the additional class time would have on my schedule,” she said.
Planning is particularly important to succeed with an additional class, which comes with more time spent in the classroom alongside an influx in work. Rogers further emphasized the importance of staying on top of work and being organized.
“Now, I have my days scheduled out to where it’s like, during this block of hours, I’ll do homework for this class. Or, I’ll be doing this thing here,” he said.
Fogg agreed that establishing periods of time throughout the day to study and complete assignments is necessary.
“Having large amounts of unstructured time, despite the fact that you are taking a lot of classes, is probably important, to just devote to sitting down and working,” said Fogg.
Choosing a proper balance of difficult courses and “layups” — classes with lighter workloads or higher median grades — is also important to ensure students aren’t overwhelmed or disinterested. Nyhan emphasized that it is important to consider the types of assignments given in a course.
“Does the student want to be taking four [heavily exam-based] courses? Probably not. Does the student want to take four [reading and writing intensive] courses? Probably not,” she said. “So [it’s important to be] really thinking about how to find that balance.”
However, students also consider their style of learning when choosing courses. Lim noted that the courses he chose for the upcoming term are ones he feels he can succeed in.
“For me, it was prioritizing classes that are more discussion based,” Lim explained. “I feel like it’s kind of on your own time, and I can schedule that and plan that better.”
Furthermore, many students choose to change their work habits, due to the increased amount of course work. Nyhan noted that some students may opt to change their study habits, or at least reflect on the effectiveness of their study skills.
“If you’re taking a four-course term, I think [it’s important to have] a good sense of what your study strategies are … [and] perhaps where you need some additional [help],” she said. Nyhan emphasized the importance of utilizing campus resources, such as academic coaching, the Academic Skills Center and the Center for Research, Writing and Information Technology .
Fogg noted that for her own success, it was important to stay organized and take advantage of available resources.
“At the end of the day, it all has to get done, so it all gets done. Sometimes you have to prioritize certain things over others, or ask for help,” said Fogg.
A four course term is a daunting challenge, however, if a student is confident in their own study habits and skills, or must complete a four-course term to graduate, then it certainly can be done — and even enjoyed.
“I’m honestly loving it,” said Rogers.