Dartmouth College

Uni in the USA review

Ever read The Cat in the Hat? The creator of green eggs and ham hailed from Dartmouth, smallest of the eight Ivy League schools. Tucked away in a remote corner of New Hampshire, Dartmouth is not for those who seek the bright lights of the big cities. Yet for those seeking a university experience that allows them to travel, ski on their own slopes, and assemble a wardrobe based around the colour green, while simultaneously exposing themselves to some of the best teaching around, Dartmouth is a top choice. After all, if it was good enough for Dr Seuss, what’s stopping you?

Campus

Dartmouth was founded in 1769 by the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, and was designed to educate Indian tribe children and the sons of the British. His mission was to spread Christian morals and beliefs from one to the other in an attempt to civilize the area. Hence the school motto remains ‘Vox Clamantis in Deserto’ – a voice crying out in the wilderness. While New Hampshire is no longer the wilderness it once was, it is still not the most cosmopolitan place.

However what it lacks in urbanity, it makes up for in breathtaking beauty. Situated between the Vermont and New Hampshire mountains, Dartmouth students have the option of hiking on their own trails, skiing on their own slopes and skating on their own pond. Certainly not something that England can offer.

The Dartmouth campus is situated around the Green, initially an area used for herding cattle and now populated by sprawling students in the summer and snowballing students in the winter. The Green is also the site for some of the more pagan of the school’s festivities – bonfires for fall Homecoming, ice sculptures (yes, it is that cold) for the Winter Carnival, and all manner of celebrations for the spring Green Key. Dotted around the Green are the main residential buildings and classrooms of the campus. Many of them are in classic New England fashion (think red brick, white spires) – most notably the beautiful Baker Library. There are, however, some more modern additions, including the ‘Hop’ or Hopkins Center for the Arts – the performance centre on campus.

Accommodation

About 90% of students choose to live on campus in the attractive buildings situated near the Green. Some of these are themed houses (international, substance-free, etc.), but most combine all majors and ethnicities for a diverse living experience. The dorms house a mixture of year groups, excluding freshmen, who have their own dorms. (Bonding with your ‘freshman floor’ is a great part of the Dartmouth experience.) And most students eat together in the nationally renowned dining halls – forget the usual cafeteria experience, this food is really good.

University Man/Woman

Dartmouth has been labelled the ‘country club’ of the Ivy Leagues and despite the original vision of a Native American/English school – catering to all nationalities and cultures – diversity was a serious problem at Dartmouth. But the student population now seems to come from a great range of states, countries, and socio-economic backgrounds, and the university would appear to have shrugged off its legacy of white privilege – about 1/3 of undergrads are of an ethnic minority and 8% are international.

Although Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivy League schools, the student body is large enough to encompass all friendship groups and Dartmouth prides itself on a sense of community. As long as you are open with everyone, everyone will be open with you. In many senses the Dartmouth atmosphere bears much resemblance to that of a British uni. If you are feeling homesick, tea is quietly served in the library every day at four (faculty and students welcome). Even more importantly for those used to non–Draconian drinking laws, there are the Greek houses – where most of the drinking goes on in private – and Fuel, a gig venue that offers free beer on tap for students 21 and over.

In fact, Dartmouth as a whole is an extremely friendly place. Although there are graduate schools, grad students are outnumbered by the undergrads at a ratio of two to one. The number of young people and the isolated position of the school ensure a close-knit campus community that bonds over the cold and the colour green.

The life of the average Dartmouth student is very much defined by the unique D-Plan or semester schedule. Any Brit who comes to the US is bound to be perplexed by the term system that universities have. While most colleges divide the year in two, cutting out Easter holiday and focusing instead on the summer, Dartmouth offers an entirely different solution. They split each year up into seasons (yes, there are actually seasons in New Hampshire). The student then has a choice as to where to spend the four ten-week terms. It is obligatory to be on campus for the first three of both freshman and senior year and for the summer term of your sophomore year. But you can then also choose to study off-campus – either abroad or in some form of internship – for as many as three other terms. Confused? The Dartmouth website explains all this brilliantly – even allowing you to plot your own academic schedule for the next four years.

This D-Plan system means that Dartmouth students are constantly on the move. While this can be disruptive, it also means that you are continually being exposed to new people and new ideas. Even the potentially off-putting notion of a summer spent at school is actually much loved by the student body who devote most of it to sunbathing and lazing around with friends. Dartmouth students pride themselves on their sense of community. From the first days on campus when everyone is hooked up to the much famed Blitz email network, to the regular alumni events and large turnout at sports events, the Dartmouth student body moves as a pack and is proud to do so.

Despite its isolated position and relatively small endowment, Dartmouth has pretty much every resource you can think of. And students don’t hesitate to use them. There are a plethora of clubs and societies on campus and everyone gets involved with something. Whether you are writing for The Dartmouth (one of many papers that claims to be the oldest college publication), or doing research at the hospital of the prestigious Dartmouth Med School, your days will be busy. And if you have a free moment, you can always go watch the fruits of someone else’s labour – performances of every variety abound.

Hitting The Books

Dartmouth is known for having one of the most dedicated faculties in the country and students cannot sing their praises loudly enough. Perhaps it is because the community is fairly small, or perhaps it is because New Hampshire just attracts a better brand of professor. Whatever the reasons, undergrads never feel neglected. They are the primary focus on campus and they feel the benefits. The class sizes are very small (student:faculty ratio is 8:1), professors are required to teach undergrads, and the relationships formed in an academic setting often extend well beyond the classroom. As a result students seldom feel alienated or lost regarding their academic well-being and, if they do, advisors who actually care are always on hand. It is hardly surprising that Dartmouth continually ranks top for teaching in a variety of nation-wide league tables.


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