An Unexpectedly Rigorous Summer

For many, Sophomore Summer 2015 (15X) has been no less stressful and no more fun than prior terms — largely because of unchanged academics. Is 15X really any different than past summers?

For many, Sophomore Summer 2015 (15X) has been no less stressful and no more fun than prior terms — largely because of unchanged academics. Is 15X really any different than past summers?

Sophomore Summer, the time in a Dartmouth student’s career when they relax, hike, swim, tan, and skip class. When mentally preparing myself for this summer at Dartmouth, I asked a few of my ‘16 friends about what to expect of the almost mythical term, to which I was met with overwhelming nostalgia of days filled with trips to the river, Ice Cream Fore U, and nights of epic dance parties, with little to no mention of academics whatsoever. I wasn’t alone in these expectations; nearly all of my friends heard similar responses. We were all ready to make this term the most fun, and the least academic since first arriving in Hanover in 13F by purposely minimizing course loads, applying the NRO where possible, and planning to get distribs out of the way with lay-ups.

While many go into Sophomore Summer with the idea that they’ll take easy courses, get straight A’s, go to every and any fraternity or sorority event planned, and enjoy a Hanover free of snow, sleet, and the unbearable cold. Unfortunately, Sophomore Summer hasn’t necessarily been as such. For many, 15X has been no less stressful and no more fun than prior terms – largely because of unchanged academics. Is 15X really any different than past summers? Has Moving Dartmouth Forward and the surge in “Academic Rigor” turned what was once known as “Camp Dartmouth” into a glorified summer school?

Last summer, 50 of the 117 courses offered course medians of an A- or higher (43%). During 13X, of the 107 courses offered, 47 ended the term with medians of A- or higher (44%). Essentially, if you played your cards right in the last two Sophomore summers, your chances of getting an A- in all 3 of your classes seemed pretty high. Similarly, 203 out of the 489 courses offered during 14F (42%), 214 of the 496 courses offered during 15W (43%), and 216 of the 495 (44%) offered courses during 15S – the first term of MDF policy implementation – resulted in a median of A- or higher. According to these numbers, the distribution of “good grades” do not significantly change from non-summer terms to summer terms.

What the numbers fail to measure, however, is the amount of effort needed to achieve such grades. As compared to regular terms, the older students I’ve interacted with seemed to express the sentiment that over Sophomore Summer, professors are markedly more laid back with coursework and assignments. This anecdotal evidence, as well as the numerical evidence, suggests that historically, when forced to choose between the option to have more fun and receive the same grades or do better and participate in less typical Sophomore Summer activities, an overwhelming majority have chosen the former.

But then where does MDF and increasing “rigor” come into play? Do the new academic policies to “increase the rigor of our curriculum,” make having stereotypical summer fun and “doing well” mutually exclusive? According to many students, the answer is yes. One student who wished to remain anonymous expressed the belief that he had missed out, “I do feel that the increase in academic rigor has made having fun this summer more difficult. Prior to this summer I hadn’t noticed the change in Dartmouth’s academic atmosphere, but comparing my summer experience with that of 15’s and 16’s experiences before me, I feel that I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities that make sophomore summer special. Our class simply seems more stressed and preoccupied with work.” Another anonymous student, an athlete, echoed this sentiment, saying, “As an athlete I was excited to have a term with less obligation than usual, however one of my classes has almost two work intensive assessments a week in addition to a regular lab, whereas previous classes had advertised it as a layup. As this was the only term I could take a lab because of my training schedule during the year, I definitely feel restricted, and that I have missed out on a lot of academic and extracurricular freedom that people popularize as part of the quintessential Sophomore Summer Experience.”

Interestingly, while this heavy workload and lack of free time is attributed by students to MDF and Academic Rigor, History Professor Ronald Edsforth, is wary to attribute such disenchantment to the policies directly. “I don’t know if that’s true,” says Professor Edsforth who has taught at Dartmouth since 1993 and during the past four summers, “I’ve taught at six other institutions and seen differing levels of performance. Dartmouth students are really good students, so I have high expectations, and they don’t change based on the term.” Similarly, Sociology and LALACs Professor Christina Gomez, who has taught at Dartmouth since 1997, and summers since 2002, has found little difference in the quality or amount of work this summer from those prior, “I haven’t found any differences from past years. In general I find that students in my class attend regularly and that their work for the class is prompt and well done.”

Such anecdotal and numerical evidence doesn’t match up. Since this past spring when such policies were enacted there has been little numerical evidence to support a top down implementation of more and more difficult schoolwork, yet students, including myself, feel the pressure. Why? Are older students guilty of hyping up an academic term to legendary proportions, nostalgic of their time over the summer in the face of a new academic term in the fall? Did the class of 2017 come in with too high of expectations, looking forward to Camp Dartmouth and met with merely an incredibly fun and intellectually stimulating academic term? Unfortunately, we won’t be able to know until the end of 15X, when grades come out and when course evaluations are completed, as to whether this phenomenon is psychological or actual.