ALJASSAR: The second-year summer

The University should adopt a curricular plan similar to that of Dartmouth College

By now, you’ve probably secured your plans for this summer. Many of you are interning, working, conducting research or traveling.

At Dartmouth, students spend the summers following their sophomore years attending classes on campus in Hanover, New Hampshire. Typically, each student takes an “off term” and pursues an internship or research opportunity during his junior year. Known as the “D-Plan,” an abbreviation for “Dartmouth Plan,” this enrollment pattern is intended to give students greater flexibility in exploring career interests compared to more traditional semester calendars. It’s a popular aspect of the college, extolled by Dartmouth undergraduates and admissions officers alike.

I propose that the University adopt a similar academic framework — a “second-year summer” in which students remain in Charlottesville for the summer after their second year and take a semester off in their second or third years. Of course, the University would accommodate students with alternative plans such as those who plan to graduate early by allowing them to follow the traditional academic schedule. The leave term would allow students access to internships during the fall, winter and spring, alleviating the competition surrounding internships offered in the summer. Those seeking opportunities on Wall Street, Capitol Hill and other desired destinations would find the interview process less stressful at times when the majority of college students are in school.

Research-oriented students would reap the benefits of access to facilities such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), opportunities that are less competitive in the non-summer months. Others may enjoy personal experiences unique to the fall, winter and spring months. A friend at Dartmouth remarked to me that a few of his peers take terms off to go skiing and snowboarding, opportunities impossible under the traditional schedule. Dartmouth offers several grants to support such endeavors. If the University introduces the second year summer, then it should do the same in order to support its low-income students during their leave semesters.

Furthermore, the second-year summer would bring each class closer together. A Grounds occupied by rising third years in the summer months would foster stronger relationships among the members of each class, which possibly explains Dartmouth’s strong alumni network and fundraising. These students would be better prepared to assume leadership roles as upperclassmen on Grounds.

Introducing the second-year summer would also enable the University to expand its class sizes. In 2008, George Washington University professor Charles Karelis and former GWU President Stephen Trachtenberg wrote a Boston Globe piece titled “Double U: How to make colleges twice as productive” discussing the merits of the D-Plan. Karelis and Trachtenberg assert that most institutions can “grow their undergraduate enrollment by 14 percent with little additional cost for bricks and mortar” if they adopt a structure like Dartmouth’s. By requiring rising third-years to take a full summer course load and take a semester off, the University would be able to admit larger classes. Additionally, the admissions office could use the second-year summer as a strong selling point for prospective students.

Obstacles that stand in the way of the second-year summer include issues of advising: each faculty advisor would need to be trained to help students plan their semesters off, a challenge greater at a large schools such as the University than at small schools such as Dartmouth. Advising at the University carries a reputation of being impersonal, and so adoption of the second-year summer would necessitate improvements to advising such as lower advisor to student ratios.

Transitioning from a traditional academic calendar to a second-year summer structure modeled after Dartmouth’s D-Plan would open doors for University students seeking an enhanced undergraduate experience. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their summer months in lovely Charlottesville?

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

Published April 18, 2014 in Opinion

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