Hanover, NH: On a humid day in late August, I visited Dartmouth College. It is a competitive school with a strong undergraduate emphasis and excellent academics. The fiercely loyal students and unique location combine to give the college a spirit all its own.
Dartmouth’s 200-acre campus is beautiful and fits in perfectly with its surroundings. Most of the buildings are in the old, rural New England style with a number of more modern structures. There are plenty of spacious lawns and big trees. The campus is centered around a wide green and the central Baker Library. With quite a few pine trees and mountains in the distance, I thought that Dartmouth’s campus had a more “woodsy” feel to it than others I have seen. If the immediate campus in Hanover is not enough for you, the college owns a huge wilderness land grant in northeastern New Hampshire that you can visit anytime to do research or just to relax and regain your sense of perspective.
As a member of the Ivy League, academics at Dartmouth are high-powered and demanding. English, history, government, and religion are said to be the strongest departments. The environmental studies program also receives accolades. Apparently economics is popular, but relatively weak. Almost all the classes are taught by true professors and the students seem to be interested and motivated. An active school in computing, Dartmouth requires all of its students to have a computer, and students are very enthusiastic about the campus-wide computer network.
One interesting aspect of the college is the Dartmouth Plan (commonly referred to as the D-Plan), which divides the year into four quarters, including a summer term. Students must attend three terms a year. Dartmouth strongly encourages students to take advantage of the flexibility of the D-Plan and study off campus for a term or two, with one possible disadvantage is that students must spend the summer after their sophomore year on campus.
Student housing looks pretty good. Here, students of all classes are interspersed in various dorms. The most desirable dorms are the older ones near the center of campus. The “River Cluster” of more modern dorms is located away from the main part of campus and is supposed to be one of the less-desirable places to live, but they looked perfectly all right to me. The college has a number of dining halls with different eating options, and the general opinion is that the food is good. The student body is very active and athletic (about a third of the students play at the varsity level), and students take advantage of the excellent athletic facilities. The Hopkins Center (performing arts) and the Hood Museum are also notable facilities. The library is at the heart of any college, and the extensive Baker Library has open stacks and a study room with famous frescoes to inspire the students.
Social life revolves around the Greek system and sporting events. More than half the students join fraternities or sororities and alcohol flows freely despite the administration’s efforts to get rid of the kegs. Two Dartmouth graduates wrote the screenplay for “Animal House,” supposedly based on their college experiences.
Dartmouth shows great spirit for their often-successful Big Green athletic teams. Partly because of the campus-wide interest in athletics and partly because there is not much else to do, students frequent the sports events. Intramural sports are also very popular. The student center sponsors some events, but there are not many alternatives for those who do not fit into the frats-and-sports scene.
For urban sophisticates, Hanover might as well be off in darkest Peru, but for those who enjoy a rural and outdoorsy environment, the Dartmouth area has an enormous amount to offer. Hanover is a small town on the upper Connecticut River that lends itself to being described as “quaint.” There are the basic stores, a few restaurants, and even a movie theater, but not much else. Dartmouth pretty much is Hanover. The “Upper Valley” region, however, is beautiful by all accounts. The college is on the fringes of the White Mountains and the woods of Vermont, and students flock to the hills to hike and ski and hang out. The extraordinarily-active Dartmouth outing club, which among other ventures organizes the ever-popular Freshman Trips, perhaps typifies the character of Dartmouth more than anything else. The college’s location is also undoubtedly one of the reasons it always has representatives on the U.S. Winter Olympic Team (The setting is nice, but do bring a warm parka.)
Dartmouth undoubtedly provides one of the finest educations in the country. Perhaps more so than at other colleges, it helps to be a certain “type” of student to get the very most out of Dartmouth. It does seem to attract more homogeneous, conservative, athletic/outdoorsy, students than other schools of similar caliber. But those who do go to Dartmouth seem to love it and are faithful to their alma mater for life. n
Reviewed in 1992