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How to Write the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2017-2018

Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school, is found tucked away in rural Hanover, New Hampshire. Established in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, Dartmouth is the ninth oldest institute of higher education in the United States.


Engaging with nature is a critical part of the Dartmouth experience: In addition to featuring elm trees littered throughout the campus, the college owns its own ski slope, and the vast majority of entering freshmen participate in a four-day outing trip before they start the school year.


With only 4,300 undergraduate students, Dartmouth College is the smallest Ivy League school, and fosters a tight knit, liberal arts college type of environment dedicated to undergraduate education. Over 60% of students participate in Greek life, which is partially due to the rural, isolated nature of the campus.


Dartmouth College is ranked 11th in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report rankings, and boasts an acceptance rate of 10.4% for its Class of 2021, with 20,034 applicants. Famous alumni include media personalities such as Mindy Kaling, authors such as Dr. Seuss and Robert Frost, and current Senators such as Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and John Hoeven (ND).


Dartmouth College accepts either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. In addition to the universal essay prompt, Dartmouth requires two separate supplemental essays. The prompts may seem daunting at first, but we here at CollegeVine are here to help you tackle these essays to the best of your ability!


Want to learn what Dartmouth College will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Dartmouth College needs to know.


Dartmouth College Application Essay Prompts

Essay Prompt #1


Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, uttered this memorable line: “It is, Sir… a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2022, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?

Essentially, this first essay question boils down to a “Why Dartmouth?” essay, with a specific focus on college programming, community, and campus environment. Using each word wisely is critical here, as 100 words can easily fly by, and you only have 100 words to prove to admissions counselors you are deeply invested in the school and its values.


To be successful in such a short “Why X School?” essay question, specificity and conciseness is key. Well-thought-out research is critical, as you want admissions counselors to know that there are specific aspects of Dartmouth that you could adeptly fit into and contribute to, standing out from thousands of other applicants who may have a more generic “Dartmouth is a very good school” type of essay.

Some Examples:

  • In regards to the school’s programming, you could talk about Dartmouth’s D-Plan. The D-Plan is Dartmouth’s unique calendar system, where students can choose which terms to stay on campus, and which terms to study abroad or take an internship (with some exceptions). Having the ability to take an internship outside of the competitive summer season is a huge advantage that Dartmouth provides. After mentioning the D-Plan, you could talk about a specific fellowship or internship opportunity that Dartmouth offers, and show how the D-Plan will facilitate these work opportunities.
    • For example, Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center for Public Policy sponsors several interns to work in policy-related fields. Currently, interns are placed at sites such as U.S. Senate offices, think tanks, nonprofits, and courts. There are many more Dartmouth-specific opportunities such as this.


  • With the community aspect, Dartmouth is excellent at producing an intimate college feel. If one of your passions is exploring the wilderness and interacting with nature, you could heap praise on the first-year Dartmouth Outing Club Trip. The first-year trip can range from elevation gains from 1000 to 5000 feet, hiking as much as 10 miles a day! If traveling on beautiful routes such as Franconia Ridge and the Kinsmans appeals to you and your identity, consider including it.


  • Because Dartmouth is highly focused on undergraduate education, you could talk about a specific professor and his or her research interests, especially if they match yours. Research opportunities abound for undergraduates, which is unusual at bigger universities. Dartmouth heavily emphasizes their close community between professors and students.
    • For example, you can apply for a Sophomore and Junior Research Scholars position, a paid research gig in which you can work on anything from spatial cognition learning at the Neuroscience Center to fieldwork at the Dartmouth Organic Farm.


  • In terms of campus environment, you could mention the many traditions Dartmouth has, such as its yearly class bonfire. Dartmouth provides a liberal arts college vibe with a significantly larger student body (4300), so the campus feel is tight-knit yet populous. If this is something you are seeking for in a college, make sure to make note of it in your essay.
    • For example, you can talk about Darmouth’s Winter Carnival, where you hope to win the Ice Sculpting Contest with a group of your friends.

Overall, never let your essay verge onto generic territory, where the essay could be used for another “Why X School?” essay if the word “Dartmouth” is simply taken out. Be sure to include Dartmouth-specific programs, events, buildings, and people, and how they all connect back to who you are, and you will do great on this prompt!

Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words

Now, you will run into six additional prompts, out of which you will have to pick one to work on. Don’t worry or feel overwhelmed, because all the prompts are extremely general and a bit vague! Most prompts are focused on your passions in life, so think mostly about how you can communicate that passion in a unequivocal, genuine way that isn’t redundant to other parts of your Common Application. Chances are if you write an essay for one prompt, it will fit into another nicely, so focus yourself on content before trying to fit into a rigid mold.


Additionally, 300 words is a great allotment of word space to get in a few substantive paragraphs, allowing for short introductions and conclusions. Here is each prompt, and how CollegeVine recommends you tackle them!

Prompt Option A

In Love Medicine, author Louise Erdrich ’76 writes, ‘Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.’ Describe your ‘hand’ and reflect on how you have played it.

Everyone grows up facing a difficulty outside of their control, although some more pronounced than others. Whether it’s financial circumstances, familial troubles, or issues with health, some of us have grown up with an immense setback that has hindered the quality of our life.

However, this essay prompt does not ask to dote on these problems, but rather to express how you have attacked them. You may have been wildly successful, or wildly unsuccessful, but the essay prompt here is looking more for your grit and perseverance through this struggle. Ask yourself: Is there a personal circumstance I have overcome, or tried to overcome, and then have worked to help others with the same issue?


A great example would be one in which you have become impassioned to fix the hand you have been dealt not only for yourself, but for others as well.

A few examples:


  • You have grown up with a sibling with a mental disability, whom caring for has been incredibly difficult, but whom you love deeply. In high school you want to do more for others with developmental disabilities, so you join Best Buddies, a club dedicated to fostering friendships between those with disabilities and those without. Eventually, you put more and more time into the organization and see the program at your school expand.
  • You have grown up in a low-income household, and you work at your parents’ gas station pretty much every day after school. After work, you spend late nights doing homework to keep up with your grades, as well as taking care of your siblings while your parents are at work. As a result, you don’t have the time or resources to do all the extracurricular activities and prep programs everyone else at your school is doing to get into a good college. However, what you do spend time on is incredibly valuable as well: helping support your family, getting job experience, and striving for success.
  • You are a highly underrepresented minority at your school, and often feel alienated from what the other students are doing. Often you feel mistreated by teachers as well, who don’t give you the same opportunities as other students. You talk to other students of your same race, who feel exactly the same as you, and together you form a small, yet powerful group of students all of the same racial background. This group allows you to find comfort in your own identity, discuss pertinent and critical topics regarding both race nationally and in your school, and help each other move forward together and find opportunities for each other.

Prompt Option B

From songs and film to formulae and computer code, human expression and discovery take many forms. How do you express your creativity? What ideas or values do you explore and celebrate when your imagination wanders?

As the prompt suggests, you don’t have to be a transcendental poet eclipsed in the woods to tackle this prompt. You can be steeped in a STEM major and still find creativity riddled throughout.


The second part of the prompt asks about “ideas” and “values.” If your passion is related to molecular biology research, maybe your imagination is driven to find new ways to tackle a certain disease, and search for creative outlets to better the health of others. If you are a poet or writer, maybe your ideas and values tie into searching for beauty in the smallest, intimate moments.


Take some time to reflect on all the work that you do. Chances are, there are creative elements strewn throughout, which can be incorporated throughout the essay. Remember that the prompt specifically suggests stretching the conventional bounds of creativity into fields like math and computer science, so take advantage of that.


One way to specifically show how your are creative would be to outline your steps or approach to whatever subject you choose, whether it be poetry, coding, or research. Explain exactly what goes through your mind when making creative decisions, and try to give admissions officers a sense of why you make the choices you do.

Prompt Option C

During the 2016 Olympic Games, American runner Abbey D’Agostino ’14 collided with another athlete in the first round of the 5,000-meter event. Both fell to the track. Although injured, Abbey’s first instinct was to help the other fallen athlete so they could continue the race together. Their selflessness was widely praised as the embodiment of the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship. Share a moment when kindness guided your actions.

The key word in this prompt is selflessness. When did you truly put yourself before others, and sacrifice so that other people could have better opportunities? The example given in the prompt is a great model to follow. When was a time where you weren’t guided by any selfish motivations, but were in the background working to benefit others? If you can’t answer this prompt on your own, maybe ask a close friend or family member! They may know the extent of your kindness (possibly being the recipient of it) better than you do.


With a prompt like this, it is easy to fall into the trap of a clichés, especially in regards to a short-term service trip. Make sure that if you do want to talk about a time you went abroad to help others, that the selflessness and kindness comes through in a genuine way, which can be harder than it seems.


The key is to talk about a specific interaction, a specific person you’ve worked with who changed throughout the course of your help, or the tireless hours you’ve spent working on a project that eventually led to others being benefited.

An example:

Maybe you organized a vigil to honor and remember a fellow student who passed away during your time at high school after heroically fighting a disease. To support the student’s family with funeral expenses, you gathered donations from your peers, and you created a wall full of pictures and stories that people at your high school shared with this student. In this way, your actions were made for a purpose much greater than yourself.

Prompt Option D

Twenty years ago, the world met Harry Potter and his companions. One of the more memorable lines from the J.K. Rowling series was spoken by Albus Dumbledore: ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ What ideas or experiences bring you joy?

This prompt is extremely broad and open-ended, as the two key words, “ideas” and “experiences,” stretch far and wide. Essentially, the admissions officers want to know you on a deeper level: What gets you up and running in the morning; what ideas for the future excite you; what work could you imagine yourself doing for days, or years, without being bored or tired out?


Is it literature that brings you happiness “even in the darkest of times?” Is it working with kids? Is it playing basketball? Like the other prompts, you have your entire life experience to draw upon.

An example:

Say you’re passionate about basketball, but was never good enough to make the varsity team (definitely not talking about myself here). So maybe you volunteer at a basketball camp for low-income, minority youth because you want to spread the joy you find playing with others. Maybe you call up the state university in your city, and ask their basketball players to come down and possibly speak to the kids, and they do. Maybe you organize a school 3-on-3 basketball competition to help fund this basketball camp, and get the teachers involved too, as the youth camp you are working at is low on funds. Doing all of this doesn’t seem like a chore at all to you, simply because of the immense joy you get playing basketball, and joy you get seeing others enjoy basketball as much as you do.

Prompt Option E

‘I have no special talent,’ Albert Einstein once observed. ‘I am only passionately curious.’ Celebrate your intellectual curiosity.

This prompt is similar to the previous one (prompt D). What is it that captures your attention when scrolling through the news? What specific school assignment did you spend hours doing even though you didn’t have to, just because you were so passionate about the topic?


Hopefully, you have done something tangible related to this passion. Most extracurricular activities could tie back to a root passion, so it isn’t difficult to show how much you’re passionate about a subject through a school activity/outside work. However, true enthusiasm, or lack thereof, is easy to sense through writing — an admissions officer will know if you are truly passionate about a subject, or talking about it simply because it sounds impressive. One way to refine your passion into a clear message, instead of rambling, is to focus on a specific moment or aspect of what you’re doing and explaining why it is so thrilling.

An example:

If your great passion is anthropology, and you spent a summer working with a professor researching a specific group of people, talk about that experience as a powerful manifestation of this passion in action. When conducting fieldwork, perhaps you have brief moments of pride during which you feel that your actions are making a true difference in the endeavor of understanding a culture. Eventually, your goal may be to study anthropology in college and do your own field work, traveling to different countries to immerse yourself in other cultures.

Prompt Option F

‘Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams,’ television producer Shonda Rhimes ’91 told graduating seniors during her 2014 Commencement address. ‘It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.’ What inspires your hard work? What matters to you, and how do you ‘make things happen’ to create change?

This last essay prompt has multiple parts: first describe your dreams, and then describe how you are working to achieve those dreams, as well as why you are doing so. You cannot just talk about your extremely far-fetched visions in life, unless you have done work to at least somewhat actualize. Don’t be afraid to talk about more minor dreams that you have a genuine heart to work towards.

In terms of the why part of the essay, make sure to mention the core values that drive you to do the work that you do. Whether it is your personal circumstances growing up, your ethnicity, a character trait, a family member, or your religion, don’t be afraid to let the admissions officers know what your grounding is.

Lastly, you want to tie these values into a physical, less abstract manifestation in your daily life.

An example:

Maybe you are extremely drawn towards education and dream about providing quality educational access to those in low-income, high-need areas. Maybe to work towards that goal, you spend countless hours after school in elementary and middle schools, helping kids with after-school learning, working with them on their homework, and just being a good role model to help them stay motivated to keep learning. Maybe the reason you decided to do this was that you believed that a good education is a great equalizer in our society. Maybe you are incredibly thankful for the educational opportunities and resources you have received growing up, and you want to make sure you can impart some of those resources on at least a few other kids who will not get the help you did.

The Bottomline

Dartmouth College is a tough school to get into, period. However, by following these broad guidelines, hopefully you will be able to better brainstorm your essay, and eventually craft a finished piece of writing you are proud of. Answering these prompts is difficult, but ultimately very rewarding, and CollegeVine is committed to helping you along that journey.


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