If it seems like campus is hopping even more than usual this time of year, that’s because it is. Nearly all of the undergraduate Class of 2026 is arriving Wednesday for new student programs, which kick off that evening with the opening session of orientation and the first meeting of the class, in Leede Arena.
Orientation will continue through Sept. 11, with first-year trips interspersed. Several hundred first-year and other students are already here as well, for pre-orientation programs or as preseason athletes.
That’s different than in previous years, when “trippees” arrived in waves for the storied excursions, then returned home until orientation started.
“One of the things that’s super exciting about this year is that first-year trips happen within new student orientation,” says Kathleen Cunneen, director of new student programs with the Office of Student Life. “So the entire experience, from the beginning to the end, is consistent, holistic, and connected. We’re really looking forward to supporting the student transition in this way.”
In bringing most of the class to campus at the same time, this year’s schedule aims to provide more varied ways for students to connect with their classmates, to help foster a sense of belonging, says Kellen Appleton ’20, a program coordinator in the Outdoor Programs Office and an adviser for the first-year trips program.
After students arrive, they will have a chance to settle in a little bit and meet their roommates, share a meal, and attend their first residence hall meeting, Appleton says. In short, “a lot of cool opportunities to build different layers of connection.”
First-year students who are not participating in the trips will arrive on Sept. 4 to begin new student orientation, which includes small group experiences with orientation leaders. Other undergraduates can move in the weekend of Sept. 10.
During the first meeting of the class on Aug. 31, new students—including first-year students and incoming transfer students—will experience what’s become a traditional welcoming ceremony, “Your Class, Your Words.” The spoken-word performance piece is based on admissions essays and performed by upper-level students.
And throughout the next 11 days, new student programs will continue, wrapping up with rituals that mark the start of students’ Dartmouth experience—the matriculation and twilight ceremonies.
A Focus on Wellbeing
More than 90% of new students signed up for this year’s trips, says Eric Ramsey, associate dean for student life. Each trip will include seven or eight students and two student leaders.
The trips—about 140 in all—will depart from campus over the next several days. They range from perennial favorites, such as hikes in the White Mountains, to newer offerings, including camping on Lake Tarleton in Warren, N.H. Campus-based options, such as a museum exploration trip, are also on the schedule.
With its focus on diversity and inclusion, the student-led trips program changes every year to honor the new class and what they bring to campus, Ramsey says.
That includes ensuring that incoming students have opportunities to meet other people in an environment that feels comfortable to them, he says. “We want people to try new things, but we want the students to set those expectations themselves.”
Based on feedback from prior years, this year’s student programs feature more opportunities for students to have small group experiences and process information together, Cunneen says. And the schedule gives students time “to reflect and take care of themselves and focus on wellbeing.”
That includes time for reflection early on in each trip, Appleton says. “Trippees might ask themselves, ‘What am I nervous about? What am I excited about? What am I trying to get out of this? What do I have to offer in this space?’”
A Warm Welcome
As the programs continue to evolve to best meet students’ needs, familiar, and beloved elements endure.
As in past years, several hundred upper-level students have pitched in to help with trips and orientation for the incoming class, and they’ll be available as resources for new students.
Sarah Jewett ’23, a linguistics major and member of East Wheelock House, has held several roles as a trips volunteer. This year, she’s among two Hanover crew captains, who are charged with welcoming trippees to campus and overseeing everything from gear to food to transportation.
Jewett says the opportunity for personal growth, and the chance to help incoming students feel welcome, keep her coming back.
“I really enjoy and believe in the mission,” says Jewett, who credits student leaders on her first Dartmouth trip—a hike on the Appalachian Trail—with helping her overcome her first-year student jitters.
And then there’s the new-school-year buzz.
“It’s great to talk about the wonderful parts of our community and watch people experience Dartmouth, maybe for the first time,” Ramsey says. “The first-year students bring such an amazing energy to campus. Their positivity is infectious.”