Addressing Dartmouth Assumptions
We all come into college with assumptions and preconceived notions. Whether these tidbits of information stem from research that we've done during college applications, campus visits, or word-of-mouth, the fact of the matter is: we have some image of Dartmouth before we even set foot on-campus as a student. I know that I definitely was guilty of this! But all these ideas beg the question—how many of them are accurate? In this blog post, I will go over five common Dartmouth assumptions and hopefully provide some insight into what I've personally found in my first year of school for both incoming '24s and prospective applicants.
1. Greek life reigns supreme
Nearly 70% of Dartmouth's student body belongs to some sort of Greek association, so this is definitely a fair assumption to make. Because of the long-standing tradition of Greek life on campus, rushing in your sophomore year is extremely common and can serve as a stable social circle amidst Dartmouth's D-Plan. I have certainly found that most upperclassmen I meet are affiliated and spend a lot of time with their houses either going to parties, hosting meetings, or doing fundraisers for philanthropy. In many cases, people's primary social circle is this space.
However, it is also completely possible to have fun at Dartmouth and not be affiliated. In fact, because so many people at Dartmouth belong to a house, it can be relatively easy for unaffiliated people to go to parties and events with their friends, sneaking in as plus-ones. Generally, I find Dartmouth's Greek scene to be more transparent, humane, and inclusive than ones that you might find at large state schools. Although we are by no means the golden standard of Greek life, if you wouldn't consider rushing a house at your home state school, chances are you might consider doing so here! In any case, you won't have to decide until your sophomore year so you can spend your entire first year talking to upperclassmen and developing a sense of the Greek system for yourself.
2. You won't have anything to do
Yes, Dartmouth is in the rural Upper Valley. The closest big cities, Boston and New York, are three to five hours away. Dartmouth students as a whole don't go out to bars, clubs, or even to different colleges for parties unless there is a very special occasion. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't anything to do! Students here have found ways to create a social space for everyone so you will always have something to keep you entertained, from movies at the Hop, acapella and dance shows at fraternities, parties, open club meetings or celebrations, and other fun events. The Dartmouth experience won't replicate the city lifestyle, but students who choose to come here don't really have that as a goal and instead create a collegiate atmosphere that one would never be able to find post-Dartmouth. Mentors and alumni that I've talked to often say that the community of friends that they found at Dartmouth, and the memories they shared together, were their favorite parts of undergrad.
3. The student body isn't very intellectual outside of class
I think the reputation of "Keggy the Keg" and our Greek life has sort of made this reputation that our students aren't very intellectual or otherwise don't enjoy talking about academic matters outside of class. However, I haven't found this to be the case! Plenty of people are passionate about what they study and carry on classroom conversations long after the lecture is over. You will often overhear heated discussions at dining halls, in libraries, or even just walking around campus. The differentiation that one might make between other schools is that Dartmouth students are able to balance their social life and their academic pursuits instead of one being overpowered by the other.
One of my very first experiences (during the first week of orientation) at Dartmouth was a full-blown debate about culture and cultural supremacy. Though we didn't all agree on the same things, I think it says a lot that 1) the group I was in was able to engage in a thoughtful and respectful conversation minutes after meeting each other, 2) we were genuinely interested in hearing other people's opinions, and 3) we spent an hour sitting and talking on the Green without looming professors, participation grades, or a sense of superiority and having to prove oneself. I am still friends with everyone I met that day and have had many interesting conversations with other people as well since then.
4. It is hard to make friends if you don't fit the stereotypical, "old money" Dartmouth student
As a Questbridge student, I totally empathize with this statement because it was one of my primary concerns coming in. And to be fair, this assumption is more true than the others on this list—sometimes, I have found it hard to really connect with those who come from different, more affluent backgrounds simply because I could not even fathom the type of wealth that many students on campus have. However, this isn't unique to Dartmouth and is a prevalent problem in most elite colleges across the United States. Additionally, the barrier to deeper relationships was on my side, I think, because of this hesitation and bewilderment on my part. I don't think others that I've met have ever judged me negatively for my background, or at least they don't let it actively affect how they treat me. It will take time to move past this personal mindset (especially for low-income or URM students), but I promise you that many of your peers will help you along the way, wait for you if you maybe aren't ready yet, and welcome you with open arms and thoughtful minds. And if you haven't found that community yet, feel free to find me!
5. You have to "sell your soul" and go into econ or government
Dartmouth's most popular and heavily-subscribed two majors are economics and government. We have amazing professors there, a ton of resources, and a really great reputation. Because of this, many incoming students may feel like the only way to succeed is to go into these two fields, but this is honestly not the case! Many of our other departments have amazing faculty and opportunities, and all departments have the ability to give you the foundation for a successful career professionally or in academia. The things that will determine one's success—grit, skill, even EQ and the ability to form personal connections—are not exclusive to econ and government. In fact, since other departments are smaller in comparison, you may actually find it easier to stand out in more obscure subjects! All in all, Dartmouth College has almost everything you need in any field you want to achieve success and monetary stability; anything else you need I believe you can find and create yourself since you are a Dartmouth student!
What did you think of these assumptions and my reactions? Are there some that surprised you? Others that you don't totally buy into yet? Whatever the case, I hope that you come to Dartmouth with an open mind. Assumptions and stereotypes often stem from some sort of underlying truth, but there is always more than meets the eye. So take everything with a grain of salt, pack your suitcases, and come to college ready to try everything and meet everyone! That's the most fun way to do things.