Summer Classes at Dartmouth

Sophomore summer is crucial part of every Dartmouth student’s experience. It has become a fundamental part of Dartmouth’s culture, and people all across the country seem to know what it is. After hearing so many stories and advice from upperclassmen, every sophomore is determined to do sophomore summer right. Most students want to take the minimal number of classes necessary for their D-Plan to enable as much permissiveness and outdoor activity as possible. But in terms of which classes to take, and how many we can take, the stakes are higher than ever when signing up for the narrow range of available summer classes. Many of us have heard horror stories of the student that made the mistake of enrolling in too many challenging courses, and was forced to isolate himself in the library while his peers got to explore the outdoors. We are forced to balance the competing advice that we have heard from older students, whether to take two classes sophomore summer, or whether it would be smarter to wait until senior spring, giving us room to withdraw from a course junior or senior year.

Image Courtesy of Dartmouth

Image Courtesy of Dartmouth

Just before summer rolls around, a substantial percentage of the Dartmouth faculty leaves campus, and so do their classes. A smaller percentage of professors, along with many visiting professors, stay every summer to teach courses mainly offered for the sophomore class, with a few freshman and juniors on campus with them. But recently, there has been a high demand for certain courses that has not been met by the available class options. Specifically, the availability for classes in economics, engineering, and other STEM-related departments has not reflected the rising trend of majors in those subject areas. Additionally, since it is mainly just sophomores on campus during the summer, rather than a distributed range of freshmen through seniors, many students find themselves at similar checkpoints in their major tracks compared to their peers. Because of that, a big percentage of students within a given major try to get into the same one or two classes, which puts the classes over capacity and forces many of these students to find a new class. And for many students whose course plans have been mapped out for the rest of their time at Dartmouth, this can severely strain students and force them into an uncomfortable place — whether to just take two classes now and have to take four another term, or just sign up for a random third course that is available in the summer.

An example of a course that has had particularly high demand is the Econ 20 course in econometrics. This course is fundamental for not only the major in economics, but also for the economics minor and any econ modified majors, along with QSS majors and minors. The number of econ majors and econ major modifications has been sharply rising this past decade, and the class availability has not adequately reflected that change. Also, since Math 3 and a 10 level course in econ, gov, or math are required as prerequisites, the demand for this course is naturally high during sophomore year. Since Econ 21, 26, and 36 are the only other available econ classes in the summer, a large percentage of econ majors plan to take Econ 20 during sophomore summer. One student, who was turned away from Econ 20 for this summer, described how this situation has made his course planning more difficult: “It definitely has [negatively affected my D-Plan]. The workload I’m already expecting to take in the fall makes it unlikely I can take the class, which I need to complete my major, and I’m not sure when my next chance will be.” Going into junior year of college, students in sophomore summer often have very little flexibility in their classes for the upcoming academic terms. Some students are off or abroad in both the fall and the winter of their junior year, which forces them to postpone any missed classes to junior spring or sometime in senior year. This trend has become apparent not only in economics classes, but also in various mid-level engineering classes, such as Engs 21, 31, and 33, which are all at or above full capacity. As this student stated, “classes should rarely be full, because that is a sign that not enough sections of the class were offered — this is probably a symptom of a growing Dartmouth and a large number of majors in economics and STEM.” Additionally, the course availability on banner does not seem to reflect the fact that many sophomores are at similar points in their major process. Dartmouth needs to adapt to this concentration of demand for a small subset of classes by creating enough seats in those classes for the number of students that want to take them each year. Whether that means adding a section for classes that have the highest demand, or hiring a new professor, Dartmouth needs to do more to offer the necessary space for students of all majors.