Saturday, March 30, 2013

“Darting to the Middle”: College Tour Stops in Vermont and New Hampshire

Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire share many characteristics besides their rural New England locations.  Both schools have a strong emphasis on undergraduate teaching (Middlebury is a liberal arts college so by definition has no graduate programs, and Dartmouth’s graduate school population is quite small like Brown’s).  Both have broad distribution requirements so that even though they do not offer Brown or Amherst’s open curriculum, they still allow students a lot of choice in developing their own programs as well as the flexibility to double major or, in Dartmouth’s case, “modify” a major to combine requirements of two or more programs. 
Middlebury dorm lounge
Middlebury developed the first environmental studies department and is well on its way to being a carbon neutral campus with a new biomass energy plant—it really “walks the talk” of sustainability.  Dartmouth also stresses environmentalism in several of its majors and interdisciplinary programs.  Both schools own their own ski mountains and attract students who love the outdoors (winter sports in particular ).
Middlebury dorm exterior
Most noticeably, and what has attracted Lily the most, is the two college’s strong curricula in international studies, language studies and study abroad programs.  Between 40% and 60% of juniors in each institution study abroad and they benefit from excellent language departments that offer a wide variety of foreign languages including Arabic and Portuguese—the young woman we met at Dartmouth was taking both. 

The most obvious difference between the two is size: Dartmouth is actually a university despite its “college” name and its total undergraduate enrollment is about 4,200.  (It remains the smallest of the seven Ivy League universities.)  Middlebury has about 2,400 students enrolled or 600 per class.  I’ll list below other differences that I think are important to consider if one had to choose between the two schools:
*Middlebury has a distinctive residential system in which freshmen and sophomores live in the same “commons” or housing area staffed by residential faculty who often become mentors to the students they get to know over two years.

Dartmouth campus
*Dartmouth has set up what it calls the “D” plan in which freshmen and seniors spend three terms on campus and sophomores all spend their summer at Dartmouth, giving them a special term all to themselves.

*About 90 students per first year class at Middlebury enter in February rather than August.  They bring a new perspective on campus when they arrive and tend to bond in special ways as “Feb Start” students.

*Dartmouth is on the quarter system, which allows students to take more classes in a four year undergraduate curriculum.

*Middlebury has a 4-1-4 calendar, two semesters bridged by a short term in January.  During this term students have the opportunity to take non-traditional classes like jewelry making or log rolling or go on internships or short study abroad programs.

*Dartmouth students benefit from the professional schools of Medicine, Business and Engineering just off campus.  Students can take classes at the business and engineering school and participate in the medical school’s programs at the local teaching hospital. 

*At Middlebury, there is an open door policy at dining halls.  No card swipe is necessary and one can eat as often or as much as one chooses.  Middlebury is known for great food using ingredients from local Vermont farms.

*Fraternities and sororities are still a big part of the social life at Dartmouth.  Approximately 60-70% of students pledge—but they can’t do so until sophomore year.

Despite these differences or perhaps because of some of them, we came away with very positive impressions of both Middlebury and Dartmouth. They are well worth exploring if you are not limiting yourself to urban or suburban college environments.

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