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What do you wish you knew about Dartmouth before attending?

A: Profile picture of Garrett Crouch

I wish I knew more about the quarter system and how much of a double-edged sword it can be.

Dartmouth operates on a quarter system, which basically means students take a smaller number of courses (typically three) at a time for a short period of time—10 weeks. As a high school senior loaded with seven AP courses, for me, the quarter system had great curb appeal; however, as a current student, I now realize the quarter system definitely has some major nuances, some of which I regret not learning about or preparing for.

The most important thing about the quarter system that I wish I would've known prior to attending Dartmouth is the pace of learning within each 10-week course. I don't feel as if I was naive in high school, but I definitely think I underestimated the speed of learning that comes with taking three separate 10-week courses simultaneously. One particular wake-up call I had was during my first fall quarter when I took a math course that essentially covered all of AP AB Calculus in 10 weeks (I came into the course knowing absolutely nothing about Calculus). Overall, I adjusted to the speed of learning fairly quickly and ended up doing fine in the course, but I wish I had been a little more prepared mentally.

Though the pacing of the quarter system can be intense sometimes, especially towards the end of each term, I don't want to advertise the system as a mistake and or a reason to avoid a certain school that operates on one; the quarter system has a lot of advantages as opposed to a conventional semester-style system. For one, even though the speed of learning can sometimes be a challenge at first, at the end of the day it's actually quite nice to only take three courses at a time. From my experience, it's a lot easier to dive deep into a certain topic or subject, and sometimes it even feels like you end up learning/grasping more than you would in a regularly-paced course. 

On top of this, the entire purpose of the quarter system is to give students better career opportunities/internships as the system has a large amount of year-round scheduling freedom. I'm only a first-year student, so I wouldn't go as far as to say I've experienced said benefits, but from my upperclassmen peers' perspectives, I'd say the system works great in that way.

One last nuance I wish I knew more about, prior to attending Dartmouth, is the "on-campus friends" dilemma of the quarter system. The quarter system offers a lot of freedom, and naturally, most students have their own timelines/schedules in mind coming into college. So, what usually ends up happening is students are constantly fluctuating between off-campus and on-campus opportunities and spend less time together than they normally would at a more conventional, semester-based institution. For instance, one of my close friends is taking an off-term next year during the fall, so from the end of this current spring term (early June 2023) I won't get to see him until the start of the following winter term (early January 2024).

It's definitely a large downside to the system, but there isn't all that much you can do to counteract those kinds of things, only to come in more prepared.

Overall, I definitely enjoy the quarter system more now than I did at first, and I'm glad I'm not on a semester system, but as with everything, different systems have different advantages and disadvantages (and I wish I knew more about them before attending Dartmouth)!

Your friend,


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