Oh the Places You’ll (Try To) Go!
By Kelsey Anspach, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013
If Dartmouth was a person dressing to show off its best feature, that feature would be its academic flexibility. One of the first things you hear about on an admissions tour is the D-plan, and it only goes on from there. Create your own major! Write a senior honors thesis! And more! The possibilities seem endless, and Dartmouth seems awesome.
Which it is — if you put in the effort. Just because the College offers you endless academic possibilities doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get them.
When Chase Klein ’14’s proposal for his special major, Digital Media: Theory & Practice, gained approval from the administration after he had submitted it a second time it was “a miracle.”
Klein said he struggled with support and guidance throughout the custom major process.
“The administration does not want to see a student do this,” he said. “You have to change their mind.”
The 2012 edition of the Organizations, Regulations and Courses — more commonly known to students as the ORC — explains that “the approval of a special major is a quite demanding process involving many steps.”
What exactly this process is and what these steps consist of, however, can be quite ambiguous.
“The amount of times people told me to look for information on the special major in the ORC is pathetic,” Klein said. “I’m thankful my advisor was so helpful, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten it done.”
The confusion that ensues when students try to pursue unique academic goals can be disappointing in light of great promises.
“[The College] should encourage exploration and curiosity, but they’re encouraging the opposite and just saying it to bring you in,” Klein said.
Though the process for designing your own academic course of study can be difficult, achieving it can also be an opportunity to prove yourself.
“In job interviews, it’s the first thing they ask me about because it’s so unique,” Klein said.
Michelle Khare ’14 also designed her own major in Digital Media, and found the difficult process rewarding.
“The denial gave me an opportunity to harness and focus my goals even more,” Khare said. “To be able to do something I was passionate about and proud of was really cool.”
Other custom academic initiatives, such as independent studies, have a more clear-cut path to success. But that still doesn’t mean they’re easy.
“It was a pretty smooth process,” Pedro Hurtado Ortiz ’14, who is approved to being an independent study in the comparative literature department this spring, said in an email. “If there were less bumps in the road it would have been like a vacation or a holiday.”
But there is good news for students who might be scared of pursuing their interests through independent projects: faculty members are here for you.
The faculty mentor is the most supportive and helpful component of an independent study, according to Kyle Lenz ’13, who described his as an exploration of “iconography and propaganda in Spanish and Latin America.”
A more common way students pursue individual passion is through completing a senior honors thesis. For her honors thesis in Film & Media Studies, Samantha Knowles ’12 created a short documentary called “Why Do You Have Black Dolls?” during her final year at the College.
“The best decision I made was to do this project at Dartmouth rather than after I graduated,” Knowles said. “Dartmouth really does encourage these kinds of projects. They’re just so excited and willing to help, and they’re incredibly supportive.”
Since then, Knowles’ film has been featured in four festivals and received write-ups in the Huffington Post, the Hairpin and IMDb, among other publications.
Dartmouth really does help dreams come true. But not without individual drive.
“Because it’s an Ivy League school, people expect things to be handed to them—and when they’re not, people are upset,” Khare said.
Still, perhaps that’s exactly what these opportunities are built for.
“I think the people who follow through with that and who will take it upon themselves to create their own major are the kind of people who would and do take the responsibility upon themselves to make it work,” Deans Office Student Consultant Ayda Ramadan ’13 said.
As much as we like to joke that Dartmouth isn’t real life (it’s not), that doesn’t mean our college experience can’t prepare us for real life.
“Dartmouth does try to prepare us for the real world,” Ramadan said. “Once you graduate, everything is about what you make of it. If you want something, you have to go after it. It won’t be handed to you.”
Don’t let the work that goes into these projects scare you off though. When your film is winning awards and being featured in popular publications, you’ll see why it pays off.
“I want other people to feel like they can do this,” Knowles said. “You really have to take your own initiative and ask yourself, ‘How will Dartmouth work for me?’ The resources are there, you just have to make it happen. It’s difficult, but it can be done.”