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Two-Course Terms and Summer Research: Taking Advantage of the D-Plan as an International Student
Here at Dartmouth, one of the most important and unique academic benefits of attendance is the D-Plan. This is the system that not only divides our academic year into quarters, but gives students complete control over which terms they decide to take classes! Aside from your first and final years (in which you must take Fall, Winter, and Spring classes), students at Dartmouth may choose any combination of the four yearly academic terms as their 'on-terms'. This choice even extends across years – you might take a two-term year, and then a four-term year subsequently. So long as you complete at least 35 courses and your distributive requirements (more on that in another blog) by the spring of your senior year, you'll be all good to graduate!
The beauty of this system is that it allows for an incomparable amount of flexibility and personal planning, making organising your academics around internships, research, or even trips, so much easier! It also means our study abroad programs can operate year-round, without imposing on time you might normally not be taking classes! At Dartmouth, in a sense, school can revolve around your life plans, and not the other way around!
The most celebrated part of the D-Plan, however, is Sophomore Summer. At Dartmouth, every student is expected to be 'on' for the summer of their second year. The idea behind this is that every student is able to experience all of the opportunities for enjoyment Hanover has to offer, and the Sophomore Summer term exists as an amazing opportunity to do so along with everyone else in your graduating class. It lies as an example of what Dartmouth is about: not just academic excellence within the classroom, but developing individuals into members of the community and granting experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. In this period many people choose to take only two classes (more on that in a sec), many members of Greek Life choose to live in their Greek house, and students often take more time to participate in outdoor activities or classes that might not be centered around their majors.
Now, I mentioned a two-course term just there, did I not? No, that's right, you didn't mishear me! Two courses!! Since we have extra short ten-week terms, and three 'on terms' generally per year, the norm here is to take 3 courses at a time. The graduation requirement, however, is only 35 courses. Now, if we do a little maths, we can see that 3 courses per term over 12 terms is… 36!? Yes! This means one of your terms can be a two-course term! Most people choose to do this in their Sophomore Summer, but this is actually what I am doing now – even as an international student on a US visa!
My reasoning for this is part of the reason I'm writing this blog. I mentioned here how awesome the D-Plan is – and it is awesome – but for us international students it is a little different in terms of navigation. We can still take advantage of it, but due to some idiosyncrasies in US visa law surrounding quarter-system schools, in order to 'earn' an 'off-term', you must have completed at least 3 'on-terms' consecutively. TLDR: it takes some fiddling to take Sophomore Summer as an on-term. It is possible! I promise! But for me personally, I am going to take it as an 'off-term.'
This is because there is another option for us international students when it comes to Sophomore Summer: doing research or working! Dartmouth's requirement of being 'on' for the summer doesn't exist for internationals, so we are able to work around it and find other means of being in Hanover. The most common by far is to do research. Dartmouth has amazing undergraduate research opportunities (which I urge you to look into), and guess what: you get paid! From doing research you can get a stipend to cover living expenses, and that way you can have all of the fun of Sophomore Summer, without any of the stress of taking classes! (Plus, it looks great on your resume).
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