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3 Strong Dartmouth Essay Examples

What’s Covered:


Dartmouth College has been a sought-after higher education institution since its founding in 1769. This Ivy League college boasts a tight-knit, engaging, undergraduate-focused community that is tucked away in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dartmouth’s student body of around 4,400 is able to explore its interests in 40 departments, and through 65 distinct undergraduate degrees. 


Writing strong essays is one of the most effective ways to stand out among the competition, especially since Dartmouth greatly values creativity in their applicants. The best way to write well is to read well, so in this post we will share three strong Dartmouth essays and analyze what they did well and where they could improve. Afterwards, hopefully you’ll have a clearer sense of what approach you should take with your own essay!


Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 


Read our Dartmouth essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.


Essay Example #1 – The Power of Stories


Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)


As a child, darkness meant nightmares, so I would pester my grandmother to tell me stories while the sun was trapped amongst silver hues. My religious grandmother would proceed to tell me about the Supreme Being in Hindu mythology, made of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Together, these Gods defined the cyclical nature of mortal existence through creation and destruction – life and death.


Although I found this idea interesting, each year in my life brought on a better understanding of these Gods’ purposes – I only had a certain number of years before I faced my life’s “destruction.”


My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters. I was a member of a motorcycle club, a terminally-ill teenager, and much more than what I could be in my physical life. Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own.


So, hello! I’m Navya – named after a star shining the night I was born. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with the idea that we each experience life only once before our own lives are destroyed, but books have helped me find a way to live thousands of lives. I am an aspiring author and want to write historical fiction books that cheat the Gods, who said that everything must be destroyed, because my characters will never fade. And all this happened because of my grandmother and her love of Hindu mythology. Mythology sparked a quest for me to find how I could get the most out of my life but my mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending. I have more lives to experience and more lives to write. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay beautifully combines this student’s life story with their passion for physical stories. Connecting these two types of stories gives extra depth and nuance to the essay, showing this student’s ability to think creatively. The idea that her life story revolves around fictional stories shines through in sentences like: “My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters.”


Our stories aren’t just comprised of the past though, and this essay does a great job of transitioning from the past to the future. Telling the reader “Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own” lets us appreciate how deeply engrained literature  is in this student’s personal story. The admissions officers reading this essay walk away knowing exactly what this student hopes to do one day and where the inspiration for that career came from. 


The idea of stories are woven throughout this essay, making it exceptionally well-connected. Although the beginning is meant to introduce a sense of fear at mortality this student encountered, it is done so through a story her grandmother told about her culture. Then the student explains the sanctuary and inspiration she found through famous stories, and finally it concludes with her describing the stories she will tell. Combined, all these pieces of mythology and literature form this student’s personal story.


What Could Be Improved


The only real weakness in this essay is the conclusion. While it is well-written and nicely summarizes everything the author has explained, it doesn’t contribute anything new to the essay. The only new pieces of information the reader gains is that the student wants to “write historical fiction books” and that her “mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending.”


To avoid redundancy, the conclusion could have been made stronger if it was simply focused on the future. Discussing this student’s aspirations to be a historical fiction writer—maybe including possible stories or time periods she dreams about—would have made the finale more focused and also have given the same amount of attention to the future of her story as she did the past and present. Then, the essay would chronologically follow this student’s life story from when she was young, to her current passion, to her future goals, allowing the reader to seamlessly see the progression, rather than having it restated for us. 


Essay Example #2 – The Power of Genealogy


Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)


My earliest memory is spinning in circles with folk dancers in a flurry of gold, red, and green embroidered on black dresses. We weren’t in a dance hall, but in a gymnasium, twirling on three-point arcs and free throw lines. The Bohemian Hall has tons of contradictions like that. In their beer garden, they serve chicken schnitzel and buffalo chicken wings, macaroni and cheese and tlachenka (head cheese). Happy drunken twenty-somethings pass by little kids and nobody thinks anything of it.


Like the Bohemian Hall, the apartment complex I grew up in had its own contradictions. Our Czech landlord, Jardo, was the stereotypical Slavic badass from the movies. Chatting up a crowd drinking their umpteenth Pilsners, he insulted a tenant that dared complain about asbestos in his apartment. After all, asbestos only spreads if you cut the old pipes. Hung on the walls of Jardo’s basement were works of all shapes and sizes, from the lush, rolling hills of Moravian landscapes to the curves of the female body in… suggestive posters. 


Jardo smelled of cigarettes and beer, which my mom told me to avoid at all costs. I wondered why she befriended him. But then I realized that he reminded her of home. We couldn’t go to the Bohemian Hall everyday, but we could always go to Jardo’s basement and talk Czechoslovak celebrity gossip. 


I am constantly brought back to my Slovak heritage, but it is influenced by American lifestyle. I eat goulash at Thanksgiving dinner, speak a mix of English and Slovak (Slovglish?) with my great aunt, and say Na zdravie! instead of Cheers! when I drink champagne on New Year’s Day. My Slovak-American heritage was, and always will be, perfectly contradictory. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay is excellent at telling a vivid story using flowing writing and an organized structure. It has a clear focus that explains how the past has forged the writer’s identity, starting with their earliest memory. The first paragraph establishes the themes of contradiction and the dichotomy between Slovak and American culture. The essay then expounds upon these themes with a human example of what “home” means for the writer’s mother, and ends with a riveting conclusion that clearly states the main message ─ the fascinating cultural contradiction of the writer’s heritage has created their mo’olelo


The creative language employed in this essay is also noteworthy. The writer consistently paints a picture with words, for example they use the metaphor of a “Slavic badass” rather than going into detail about Jardo’s personality. They further explain his character by describing his actions, i.e. drinking and insulting, as a third person observer. The hyperbole of “umpteenth” adds humor to the essay, which always helps your essays if done subtly! 


The essay responds to the full essence of the prompt from the angles of genealogy and tradition. She explains her traditions by showing her story rather than telling, which is crucial. The writer also doesn’t frame their essay in a cliché manner, such as by starting the essay with the phrase “the tradition which has had the largest impact on who I am is…” Starting in media res is a great strategy, as is adding unique human details to the story. Jardo would have been less interesting and amorphous had we not been told about his smell and attitude towards asbestos. The essay is the ideal balance between directly and indirectly answering the prompt.


What Could Be Improved


While the essay has many strong points, it has some room for improvement. At 283 words, the writer has extra room they could take advantage of. The most valuable way they could use this space would be to expand their list of contradictions in the conclusion. Much of the essay focuses on the story of Jardo, and while this story is valuable, it could easily be condensed and retain its meaning. Meanwhile, comparisons between traits such as “Slovak frankness and American niceties” would add commentary that the writer couldn’t express with the Jardo story. 


The essay would also benefit from more comparisons that go beyond food and festivities, and ideally a sentence which shows how the writer’s Slovak heritage influenced them at the big picture level. It would be a nice transition to mention how the contradiction of their “Slovak identity” has led them to seek out other contradictions in life—maybe studying two unrelated topics—because they have found the beauty in combining things.


Essay Example #3 – Making an Impact


Prompt: Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta recommended a life of purpose. “We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things,” she said. “That is what we are put on the earth for.” In what ways do you hope to make—or are you making—an impact? (200-250 words)


They were everywhere— on the streets begging, in the market stealing, at the prison fighting. Even more disturbing however, was the fact that they were just children. 


In my neighborhood, people give birth to kids in numbers they can barely cater for. These kids in their quest for survival engage in criminal activities, resulting in an alarmingly high rate of juvenile delinquency. 


Having witnessed several cases of jungle justices carried out on these underprivileged kids, I pondered day and night on what to do to save their futures, until I came up with an idea– education. I opened a free school where I taught the kids basics in mathematics, English, and moral ethics. In no time, they began engaging in menial jobs to fend for themselves and eventually dumped their mentality of “steal to eat.” I was also able to successfully liaise with some philanthropists who helped the kids further their education after they graduated from my free foundation. A few other kids who got no sponsors surprisingly took up menial jobs to sponsor themselves. 


Many people were quite puzzled at the fact that I put in so much passion into the kids’ education despite not receiving monetary incentives. However, there was something more than money that inspired me. It was satisfaction– satisfaction from seeing smiles on formerly smileless faces, satisfaction from the feeling that I am brightening dark paths, and satisfaction from knowing that I am impacting my community in a measure no amount of naira can settle.


What the Essay Did Well


This writer does an excellent job of fulfilling perhaps the most important objective of this kind of  “Community Service” essay: not only describing the issue they worked to resolve, but also explaining which solution they identified and how this experience as a whole shaped particular aspects of their personality, background, values, etc. They provide us with enough background context for us to understand what’s going on, and then dive right into the details of how they grew.


For example, rather than going on and on about the horrors the kids in their neighborhood faced every day, the student quickly pivots to talking about what they did in order to improve these kids’ lives. That shows that this student is altruistic and can take initiative, two qualities Dartmouth admissions officers prize in applicants. Additionally, by describing how they saw education as the best path towards bettering these kids’ futures, they teach us something about their values—to them, education is clearly key to success, and that knowledge will help admissions officers envision how they would take advantage of Dartmouth’s resources to contribute to the school’s community.


Finally, on a structural level, this student has organized their essay in a way that makes their ideas both impactful and easy to follow. Setting the scene with short, factual lines underscores that while these kids’ circumstances were tragic, they were also simply a part of life in this neighborhood, until this student came along.


Then, the length of the third paragraph helps readers get fully immersed in the story of how this student made a difference for these kids, one step at a time. Finally, they use the last paragraph to effectively sum up the lasting impact this experience had on them and their values, giving Dartmouth admissions officers a clear sense of why this story is relevant to understanding what kind of college student they will be.


What Could Be Improved


Although this prompt does have a somewhat restrictive word count of 250, the student would’ve been well-served if they had gone into more detail about the specific actions they took to better these kids’ lives. Right now, they provide a nice overview of what they did, but there are almost no details about how they made those things happen. In this kind of essay, you want to paint as clear a picture as possible of the impact you made, as the more concrete details admissions officers have, the better they’ll understand which skills and life perspectives you’d bring to Dartmouth.


Since this student is currently right at 249 words, they’ll need to reallocate some space, which means thinking critically about which parts of the essay aren’t absolutely essential in order for readers to understand their story. For many students, wrestling with word counts is the most frustrating part of college essays, but unfortunately it’s an unavoidable reality that you won’t be able to include every single detail, even ones that feel quite important to you.


For example, the lines “I was also able to successfully liaise with some philanthropists who helped the kids further their education after they graduated from my free foundation. A few other kids who got no sponsors surprisingly took up menial jobs to sponsor themselves” are only tangentially related to the core of this story, which is the student’s initiative to educate kids in their neighborhood. Remember, the purpose of the college essay is always to teach admissions officers about yourself, and while the student does touch briefly on their successful liaison skills, overall these lines are more about the philanthropists than the student themself.


Cutting these lines would save the student 40 words, which they could then use to talk more about what exactly they did to set up their free school—that’s an amazing thing to do as a high schooler, and yet the student is selling themselves short by telling pretty much nothing about how they did it! Something like the following, if added after the sentence which ends with “ethics,” would do much more to highlight which abilities/personal talents the student utilized to make this achievement possible:


“Initially, the school idea had seemed far-fetched—I couldn’t afford to buy a building or hire teachers. But then I noticed our family friend’s bakery had an empty back room, and when I asked if I could use it as a study space, he agreed immediately, and even offered to buy some simple chairs and desks. I then recruited some friends to help teach our neighborhood’s kids, and in no time…”


While this suggested replacement is a little longer than the section that was cut, other tweaks here and there in grammar or phrasing could get the student back under the word count. Needing to cut a handful of words may feel a little tedious, but that time will be well spent, as the added details in the lines above give us a much more concrete sense of how the student took initiative to make their dream a reality. 


Finally, these lines also make the sense of satisfaction the student describes in the final paragraph much more impactful. Previously, that paragraph felt like a broad-strokes summary of the student’s emotions during this experience, but now, we can anchor those emotions to specific actions they took, and thus we have a clear sense of exactly how the student earned that satisfied feeling.


Where to Get Your Dartmouth Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Dartmouth essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.