Declaring a Major (!) at Dartmouth
I'm entering my sophomore spring, which means it's time to declare my major! Many of my friends at other schools applied and entered college with a specific focus, but because of Dartmouth's liberal arts focus, we do not declare majors until the end of sophomore year. This allows for five full terms of exploration without the pressure of fulfilling any strict requirements. I found the period of exploration built into the curriculum super useful because I had not been exposed to many of Dartmouth's departments in high school. I came in thinking I would pursue biology, because that was what I studied in high school, but being surrounded by so many interesting courses and opportunities led me to shift to the social sciences – specifically government and economics.
The major declaration process at Dartmouth is pretty simple and has low stakes. Students at the middle of their sophomore year are simply required to fill out and submit an online major planning worksheet, meet with a faculty advisor, and have the plan approved by the respective department.
Choosing a major at Dartmouth is also a non-binding decision, meaning your major can change at any point, as long as there is still enough time to fulfill requirements. The main benefit of declaring a major in the middle of sophomore year is priority in the course registration process. In general, class availability is not much of an issue because of Dartmouth's relatively small size. However, some upper-level classes are taught in very small, seminar style sections, so having priority is important in those scenarios.
As I filled out my course schedule, there were two categories of classes I had to account for: major classes and distributive requirements. Major classes depend on the department requirements and are typically around 10 classes, which is less than a third of the classes Dartmouth students take. Distributive requirements must be met by all Dartmouth students and range from sciences to arts to literature courses. These requirements also make up about one third of classes in a typical course load. If you're keeping up with the math here, that leaves approximately one third of classes which are totally up to students' discretion. Some people choose to use that extra class space to double major or fulfill requirements for post-graduation opportunities, but almost everyone gets a few classes to take purely out of curiosity. In my sophomore fall, for example, I took "Religion and Social Struggle" which I was drawn to despite it not falling into any of my requirements for graduation. I loved the class and learned a ton, so I'm super grateful for the liberal arts environment at Dartmouth which allowed me to step outside of my academic comfort zone.
When I was choosing Dartmouth, I didn't concentrate on the liberal arts focus and certainly didn't consider the major declaration process. However, now that I'm here, I am so thankful that chances for academic curiosity and exploration are built into the College.