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What is the 12 College Exchange Program?

There are many programs across the country that allow students at one college to take advantage of the resources available at others. These types of programs and consortiums allow students to gain access to new classes, renowned faculty, research opportunities, and other resources that they may have never experienced otherwise. 


While most of these programs exist between colleges that are close in proximity, this isn’t always the case. The 12 College Exchange Program includes schools spread across the Northeast, so this program operates differently than those that follow the consortium model. To learn more about the 12 College Exchange, don’t miss this post. 


What is the 12 College Exchange Program?


The 12 College Exchange is a partnership between 12 top colleges, all located in the Northeast. The participating schools are all smaller liberal arts colleges with fairly competitive admissions, ranging from Dartmouth’s 8.7% acceptance rate to Mount Holyoke’s 51%. Students who participate in the exchange are able to attend school at another participating college for a length of time ranging from a semester to a complete year. 


The 12 College Exchange Program functions essentially as a domestic study abroad program. The exact requirements and application program are specific to a student’s home college, but deadlines are usually during the winter for fall placement at another school. Keep in mind that sometimes there are limits on the number of students host colleges will accept.


Still, the process is much simpler than transferring or studying elsewhere would normally be. The administrative procedure is streamlined with a formal application through your host college’s study abroad office (though this sometimes varies, so check to confirm), and once you are accepted for participation by your home college, you will usually automatically gain acceptance from the school you’re hoping to attend. 


Which Colleges Participate in the 12 College Exchange Program?


Amherst College

Bowdoin College

Connecticut College (including the O’Neill National Theater Institute)

Dartmouth College

Mount Holyoke College

Smith College

Trinity College

Vassar College

Wellesley College

Wesleyan College

Wheaton College

Williams College-Mystic Maritime Studies Program 


Are There Restrictions on Which Programs I Can Attend?


There are several restrictions to be aware of, but the most important thing to know is that the availability at each institution might change from year to year, so it’s best to do your homework and discuss your plans in advance. Usually the study abroad office handles this program, so start by setting up a meeting with your home college’s study abroad office.


In general, you should know that Dartmouth operates on a quarter system, unlike most other colleges which use semesters. This means that students who want to attend Dartmouth for a semester must enroll for two quarters, and those wanting to attend for a full year must enroll for three quarters. 


In addition, most programs accept students once their home college has approved their application to participate, but two programs require students to apply directly. These are the Connecticut College–National Theater Institute and the Williams College–Mystic Seaport Program. To be accepted for these semester-long programs, students must apply through both their home college and directly through the programs themselves. Acceptances must be received from both ends before the student can enroll. 


Why Participate in the 12 College Exchange?


The most obvious reason to participate in the 12 College Exchange is that it offers a simple way to experience life on another campus. You’ll make new friends, take advantage of the culture and resources available on other campuses, and hopefully come away with new perspective into your college career. 


Students who participate often do so to reap the rewards of specific programs or resources not otherwise available on their home campus. The unique Mystic Seaport Program and National Theater Institute offer world class facilities for students pursuing these specific fields. In other programs, you could take specific classes not otherwise available at your home college, or work with a renowned professor you’ve admired for a long time.


How Do the Logistics Work?


Often students considering these programs wonder about two primary logistics: credits and financial aid. Luckily, both of these have been streamlined by the program. 


Credits will generally transfer back to your home college at the same equivalency as they would had you taken a similar course load there. They will appear on your transcript as classes taken at the other school, but their weight will be translated to your home school’s system for weighing classes and course credits. In some cases, the actual grades you receive during the exchange won’t be listed on your transcript, but this varies by college. Amherst College, for example, only lists the exchange credits granted and the title of the courses. Your exchange grades won’t be on your Amherst transcript, and they won’t factor into your GPA. 


Financial aid can be a little trickier to navigate. You will usually pay the host college for the cost of attending the program, but at some colleges your financial aid transfers with you through this program. For example, students from Wellesley can apply their financial aid to host colleges, with the exception of work-study funding. Students from Mount Holyoke can apply their federal financial aid towards the program, but not their institutional aid from Mount Holyoke. It’s always best to check directly with your financial aid office to see how this is handled at your home college. 


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.