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Hello, '24s! As we head into your first year at Dartmouth, you may be overcome with a sense of panic: what classes do I even take? Fear not, for this blog post will get you started in the right direction.

In an average term, a Dartmouth student can take three classes. Every student can take four-class terms three times without a penalty. After that, you have to petition the Registrar and pay extra tuition. But only after your first term can you opt to take four classes. Choosing between three or four courses is not something you need to worry about yet. Even during your first year in general, I would advise against it simply because three is already a heavy-enough workload for most people. The only conditions in which I personally would advocate for four-course terms are :

  • Prerequisites for courses, majors, or study abroad
  • Online terms
  • A course that is not offered very often

As always, speak with your undergraduate advisor when deciding!

With your three courses, you can actually do a lot.

Most first-year students have a general inkling of what they enjoy. If you know you like STEM, for example, look into an introductory course in that area to get the ball rolling. If you want to try out economics or government, look for ECON 1 or any of the government department's intro offerings. Many students take classes in these areas, so you definitely won't be alone in trying something new. If you have some prerequisites that you know you will need further down the line—like MATH 3 or 8, a statistics class, etc.—also find a way to work that into your schedule as soon as possible.

In addition, you may be slotted to start your writing sequence. Dartmouth offers Writing 2, HUM 1, or Writing 5 in the fall.

Writing 2 and Writing 5 are two sides of the same coin: writing-heavy courses that are offered in different departments. Writing 2 is part of a larger sequence for Writing 2-3, offering support for students who want to spend more time developing their English skills. If you get placed into this sequence during the summer, you will start with Writing 2 in the fall. If you get placed into Writing 5, you may either start your writing sequence in the fall or in the winter.

You can also replace Writing 5 with HUM 1. HUM 1 is a reading-heavy class, where students discuss around 10 works per quarter with professors from all across the humanities—I myself did this course as my first writing requirement and had a wonderful professor from the German department! If you enjoy reading and discussing classic works, I definitely recommend this class. On top of the writing placement, you will have to do a separate application to get into the course.

Lastly, I suggest that you try a class in a department that you've never had a lot of exposure with. This is a fantastic time to try new things, and the learning curve in most introductory classes will be easy enough for you to follow. Don't let yourself get boxed into an idea of what you think your Dartmouth experience should look like and let yourself explore. Many people take a exploratory class once and serendipitously find themselves in love with a new course of study that they've never considered. It can be easy to think that you're wasting your time when you take this path, but you are at a liberal arts college! Now is definitely the time to step off of the beaten path. One way that you can think about broadening your horizons is to get a list of all the courses that Dartmouth offers (you can find it at the Registrar website). Then, separate the courses by department or major, and highlight or take note of any classes you find interesting. You may discover something new about yourself, and see a bunch of classes that fit the International Relations minor, for example. 

So, one very generalized first-quarter can look like this:

  1. Intro class in department you already know you may like
  2. Writing 2, Writing 5, HUM 1 OR some sort of prerequisite like MATH 3
  3. Intro or survey class in department you have very little experience in

If you are pre-med or looking to go into a very prerequisite-heavy major like Engineering or Physics, you won't have as much flexibility and may have to replace #3 with another course. As always, talk with your advisor about your plans and what majors (no matter how many!) you are currently interested in. 

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