College review by Lisa Bleich
Last week I dropped off my oldest daughter at college to begin her freshman year and before the tears of separation even dried up, I was off to Dartmouth with my second daughter, a junior in high school, to begin our round of college visits.
We arrived the afternoon before our info session and tour and walked around Hanover, a quintessential New England college town. The campus and the community are inextricably linked at Dartmouth separated by a wide-open green quad that houses many of the Dartmouth traditions like the “Fall Bonfire,” a 55 foot bonfire that brings together the whole community and the “Winter Carnival” to encourage students to brave the elements and have fun during the coldest season.
The town feels like an extension of Dartmouth offering a wide selection of restaurants, shops, local hangouts, the Dartmouth bookstore, and a movie theater. We ate at a Chinese restaurant in a small “mall” of shops and sat next to a group of new Tuck business school students gathering for the first time.
Dartmouth is a gorgeous, flat campus replete with red brick and a traditional Ivy League feel. It is easy to walk from one end of the campus to another in about 10-15 minutes. The undergraduate buildings cluster together around the main campus and Tuck graduate school of business, the Thayer school of Engineering, and the Medical school are located on the outskirts, but still close by.
Even though we were between sessions, there were still students on campus either finishing up their sophomore summer session or arriving early for freshman orientation. The students we saw were fit, preppy, outdoorsy, passionate, smart, and attractive. They work hard, but also know how to have fun. Given Dartmouth’s size of 4,200 students and its rural location, there is a very strong sense of community and students genuinely love the school and it shows.
At the end of our tour we got to see a group of students arriving home from one of the many freshman outdoor/camping bonding experiences. (About 90% of freshmen participate in these trips.) Upper class students wearing crazy outfits and colored hair enthusiastically greeted the bus of tired, but excited freshmen.
As the students peeled off the bus, you could see the genuine happiness and sense of belonging as they hugged each other and performed a raucous dance to music blaring in the quad. My daughter watched with great interest and I could tell that she could see herself fitting into this close-knit group. It felt a lot like summer camp.
Now of course, Dartmouth is no summer camp! Admission requirements are steep. Last year Dartmouth received 23,000 applications and they accepted 9% of them. Numbers matter, but don’t drive the process because 80% of the applicants have the numbers for admission. They take a holistic approach to reviewing applications and context is very important.
They read the application at least 2-3 times by a minimum of 2 people. Admissions is trying to see which of those students will have an impact at Dartmouth. They look for students with strong intellectual curiosity that want to collaborate closely with faculty and peers; students who are always thinking and engaged, but also willing to help their peers.
To that end, they like when a teacher’s letter of recommendation can address how engaged you are in class. They also ask for a peer letter of recommendation from someone within 5 years of you. This is also to gauge how well you will fit into the Dartmouth community. They require 2 subject tests plus ACT w/writing or the SAT 1. They do not superscore ACT.
The Admissions Director identified three things unique to Dartmouth.
Access: Dartmouth follows a distinct scholar student model. Professors teach all classes. The largest class will have about 100 students but the average class size is 24. Dartmouth is well endowed and has numerous resources. 40% of students do funded research before they graduate. Our tour guide, an environmental studies major from San Francisco, attested to that. He easily secured a research position with one of his professors.
Flexibility: Students take 1/3 of their courses in their major, 1/3 to fulfill general ed requirements and 1/3 electives. Dartmouth has the “D Plan”, a unique offering that allows students to craft their schedules. The college is open year round with 4 terms per year following the seasons. All students must be on campus fall, winter, and spring term of freshman and senior year and the summer between sophomore and junior year. Then they can determine which terms they want to be on campus, be abroad or in Washington.
If you are working on research with a professor and things are heating up and you want to focus just on research and not take other classes, then that can be a research term. Dartmouth sophomores have a lot of opportunity for leadership because everything carries on in the summer. Students take 3 classes per term. 60% of students study abroad at least once and 30% study away 2 times, typically on a Dartmouth program with a Dartmouth professor.
Community: Hanover is a small New England college town with only 11,000 people, however the resources are huge. The Hopkins Center for Performing Arts brings in 100 shows; there are 60,000 pieces in the art collection at Hood Art Museum. The sports and Outing club is also huge.
Dartmouth owns its own ski mountain. Because there is not much outside of Hanover, students stay on campus, which creates an active, supportive, nurturing community. Students are intense, driven and energized by work. It is definitely a work hard/play hard student body. 60% of eligible students (students can’t rush until sophomore year) participate in Greek life. Even thought our tour guide assured us that Greek life was inclusive, it does dominate the social life.
Dartmouth meets full financial need and approximately 50% of students receive some financial aid. Students whose families earn <$100K have free tuition and no loans. Families with incomes >$100K have some loans and work-study. Dartmouth only provides needs based aid.
Dartmouth is an amazing school for students who like a work hard/play hard environment, enjoy flexibility in the way they learn, want access to world-class professors and resources, and enjoy a small, active community with a large Greek life and numerous outdoor traditions.
My daughter’s impression: I really liked the sense of community and the D-Plan. I could see myself fitting in here. The people seem really smart, but also seem to have a lot of fun.
Hanover, NH 03755 USA