How to Write the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2018-2019

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Tucked away in the idyllic greenery of Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College has long been a sought-after institution of higher education since its founding in 1769. At the center of this community is its small, tight-knit group of 4,400 undergraduates, who enjoy the resources of over 40 departments and 60 majors.

 

Due to the bucolic nature of its location, approximately 70 percent of undergraduates participate in Greek life, as it serves as the hub of social interaction. Athletics and outdoor activities are also extremely popular – 75 percent of students are involved in a varsity, club, or intramural sport. Besides playing in NCAA Division I in 34 sports, such as basketball, football, and lacrosse, Dartmouth is also home to the largest collegiate excursion club in the U.S.; with roughly 3000 student and non-student members, it serves as the coordinating organization for many outdoor winter activities, notably skiing, mountaineering, ice climbing, canoeing, and kayaking.

 

Dartmouth College currently sits at #11 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities Ranking, its selectivity maintained by its low acceptance rate of 11%. Admitted students typically score 750, and 760 on SAT Reading, and Math, respectively. For those taking the ACT, accepted candidates scored, on average, in the 30-34 range. 1,217 undergraduates enrolled out of 20,035 applicants for the Class of 2021.

 

It is the alma mater of a host of notable alumni, including Robert Frost, Daniel Webster, and Mindy Kaling. Additionally, Dartmouth is also the 22nd richest college in the U.S., with an endowment of $4.95 billion as of 2017.

 

To apply to Dartmouth College, candidates may submit either the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. The college does not prefer one or the other. Candidates may apply through the Early Decision process (due November 1st), or the Regular Decision process (due January 2nd). In addition to the required essay in the Common Application or Coalition Application, Dartmouth requires two supplemental essays: applicants are all required to complete the first prompt, but may choose from 6 different options for the second prompt. Read on to find out how to tackle them!

How to Write the Dartmouth College Admissions Essays

Every essay you write in this college application process, including the Common App, is a component of your candidate profile. To help maximize the admissions committee’s understanding of you, for each school’s essay portfolio, be sure to choose topics that complement each other.

 

For example, if you wrote about a personal geology project in your Common App, don’t also write about your aspiration to solve a geological crisis in the second prompt, or only concentrate on the geology program in the first prompt.

 

Dartmouth asks for two supplemental essays – one in 100 words, and the other in 300 words. Since these essays are so short, you need to jam-pack your Common App essay with even more personal information, which will allow room for you to focus more on Dartmouth-specific academic, professional or extracurricular programs in these supplements.

 

Your response to prompt 1 needs to be tailored to Dartmouth specifically. If in your prompt 1 essay, it is possible to switch out the name “Dartmouth” for another school’s name, with the essay still making sense, then you probably need to dive into greater detail.

 

Since Dartmouth is a more academically-oriented school than its counterparts, it is critical to explain why you would like to pursue the major you choose in at least one of the supplemental essays.  

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, delivered 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 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

This is essentially the classic “Why X School?” essay. With only a meager 100 words available, the goal of this is not to mention every program or component of Dartmouth that attracts you, or give an elaborate praise of those programs. Rather, you have to demonstrate why the essence of Dartmouth resonates with you. Here are some dos and don’ts to get you thinking in the right direction:

 

Do

Pick one aspect of Dartmouth that you feel deeply connected to. For example, if your academic love is environmental science, consider writing this essay on Dartmouth’s prioritization of sustainability through emphasis on programs like beekeeping, ethical fish farming, and proper extraction of maple syrup from sugar maple trees.

 

That said, keep in mind that ultimately, you need to present a holistic candidate profile to the school. That means showcasing as many aspects of yourself as possible – if you focus on an academic interest in this prompt, make sure to hone in on your favorite aspects of campus life and extracurricular offerings in the next prompt.

 

Don’t

Do not, however, dive into a detailed dissertation of why the program you choose to write about is so necessary in our world today. Whichever reason attracts you to Dartmouth, chances are, someone else wants to attend the college for the same reason.

 

The admissions committee is not interested in reading the 1052nd essay on why the school made the right choice to implement these sustainability initiatives — the admissions officers likely know the school well enough to understand why Dartmouth initiated those programs. Instead, what admissions want to know is why these are deciding factors for you to choose Dartmouth.

 

For example, perhaps you lived in an area that was affected profoundly by a catastrophic natural disaster, and since then, you have been hyper-aware of the interactions between people and their habitats, and want to devote your energy towards decreasing the likelihood of a natural disaster happening to someone else.

 

Do

Focus your essay on one core theme. For example, if you choose to write about Dartmouth’s unique outdoor-centric student life, structure the entire essay around this topic. 100 words do not provide you with enough leeway to cover multiple topics well. That said, if there is a tangential factor relevant to your core theme that attracts you to Dartmouth, do add it in to spice up your essay.

 

Don’t

Do not write a list of everything you love about Dartmouth. Don’t try to expound on your love of the college’s vibrant Greek life while attempting to describe your passion for sustainability and your appreciation for the school’s flexible curriculum. Doing so would only allow you to mention each element in passing without connecting it to you personally.

Prompt #2: Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

Option A: “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

Option B: 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.

Option C: You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

Option D: In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

Option E: In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

Option F: Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

Here, you select one of the 6 options below to answer the question in 250-300 words. Though precision and conciseness are hallmarks of quality essays, you are not recommended to go below the 250 word benchmark. These are all open-ended questions that could elicit a much longer response – if you find yourself dipping below the minimum by more than 50 words, you probably are not optimizing your opportunity to showcase your personality.

 

Some tips on prompt selection:

 

Tip #1: Read through each of the 6 prompts.

 

Tip #2: Immediately categorize them into 3 segments: “likely,” “possible,” and “unlikely”.

(a) Under “likely” are all of the prompts that you have an immediate answer for upon first read

(b) Under “possible” are all prompts you find interesting and would be open to

(c) Under “unlikely” are prompts that you find are prone to cheesy answers, or those that you simply cannot relate to at all

 

Tip #3: Jot down an idea or anecdote for each topic under “likely” and “possible”.

 

Tip #4: Review them and select the topic with the most unique story, or one that best showcases your wit and intellectual prowess.

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Option A: “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

Though this may appear like an “analyze the quote” prompt, you do not actually have to make any reference to it. The Albert Einstein quote is only a way for the prompt writers to frame this topic. Focus instead on an anecdote in which your curiosity produced a tangible result.

 

For instance, you may describe the time when after hearing about a friend’s horrifying experience with a violent teacher, your curiosity urged you to investigate the school’s protocol for managing these type of complaints, only to find that a standard procedure does not exist. After realizing that cases like your friend’s are evaluated on an individual basis that downplayed the seriousness of the issue, you started a widespread petition among the student body and parents’ association to pressure the school into establishing a safe channel for students to express their concerns.

 

If the example you are thinking of using did not necessarily produce a distinct change in a public setting, that is completely fine. It does not preclude you from this prompt.

 

For example, you can also write about your curious fascination with electronics – how you tirelessly disassemble every device in your house, sometimes leaving a trail of scattered parts around your room. Though you were not able to fix any of the devices you dismantled, this determination to understand the components of every machine piqued your interest in mechanical engineering, and encouraged you to devote your academic career to understanding, improving, and inventing more machines.

 

Try to keep the timeframe of your anecdotes to your high school career – though the chocolate volcano you engineered in 5th grade may have been cool, the more recent your example is, the easier it is for the admissions committee to get an accurate picture of who you are now.

Option B: 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.

This prompt cannot be immediately categorized as one of the “classic” essay questions and requires a bit more creativity for effective execution. It also adds yet another layer of decision-making to essay-writing – choosing the translation to continue with.

 

A few tips on which interpretation to choose and how to write your essay:

 

Tip #1: Out of all available translations, the term “story” is the most generic of the five. It is easy to argue that your story encompasses your history, your family’s legends, your genealogy and your culture’s traditions. If you do not have an instinctive response to this prompt, but still prefer this question as a whole, then choose this interpretation. The broad scope of this translation will allow you to take your essay in whichever direction you see fit.

 

In regards to writing the essay, you can choose to narrate a defining moment of your life that does not easily fit under any of the other four headings: perhaps on a family hike on Chirico Trail during winter break in your sophomore year, you witnessed the majesty and freedom of paragliders and became fascinated by this extreme sport ever since. You can then expand on how the sport has changed your perspective on the feeling of existence, of your resoluteness to live every moment to the fullest, etc.

 

Tip #2: History here can refer to family history, academic history, employment history, recreational history, etc. Choose this translation if there is a chronology in a certain aspect of your life that you want to highlight, a more or less linear process through which you matured.

 

Perhaps your illustrious history in competitive chess is especially important to you, and was critical in shaping your attitude towards work. Then use this opportunity to delineate your competitive history, and delve into the intellectual, and emotional impact it has imprinted on you.

 

Tip #3: Legend is one of the trickier ones, and will likely be a less popular selection. If you are particularly confident in your creativity, and prefer to distinguish yourself from the onset, then this is the one for you.

 

One way to interpret this is to relate a folktale important to your culture, and use it as a segue to introduce your culture and the role it has played in shaping your values and character. The same thing could be done with a “bedtime story” that you grew up on – you could use the fable as an entry point to describe your upbringing and the continued impact it has on your personality today.

 

Tip #4: Genealogy is also an interesting one – similar to “legend,” you could leverage the anecdote of your family lineage to depict important family members, or even family heirlooms, and the significance of their role in shaping how you feel about your culture.

 

Perhaps you share an unique bond with your grandmother, who was your primary caretaker while you were growing up. Her lineage could be traced back to Edinburgh, Scotland, where generations before, her ancestor braved the extreme weather and fed their community as hardy wheat farmers. Though you had previously hated your ginger hair, and purposefully distanced yourself from Scottish culture because you were teased, you feel more grounded and closer to your origins through the family tales passed through generations.

 

Tip #5: Tradition can be approached in a very similar manner to genealogy, or legend. Choose this translation if the topic you wish to discuss is more a custom than a linearly chronological account of a cultural phenomenon.

Option C: You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

This prompt asks you to impress the admissions committee with a dazzling example of your creativity, but don’t forget the underlying premise – you would really be indulging this prompt’s true purpose if you address how that inspiring moment fostered a greater, more extended flow of ingenuity, and associated examples.

 

Creativity comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes – you don’t have to have invented the next iPhone to call yourself creative. It could have been an internship project that none of your colleagues could find the solution for, but you viewed the conundrum from a different angle that ultimately allowed you to hone in and resolve the root of the issue instead of trying to address insignificant details.

 

Sometimes, the ability to shift mindsets and concentrate on the bigger picture is a form of creative thinking too. In time, this experience trained you to metaphorically step away from the present dilemma and approach puzzles with fresh eyes, which translated into your analytical skill in academics as well as your strategic plays in soccer.

Option D: In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

This prompt alludes to two routes: one is the classic “why X program of study?” route, the other  invites you to elaborate more on your extracurriculars, especially if they happen to pertain to an advocacy issue of some sort. If you decide on this prompt, the route you proceed with should consider your overall candidate profile – if your first essay on Dartmouth focused more on the college’s alignment of academic offerings with your own interest, choose an anecdote that pertains more to you personally or to your extracurriculars, and vice versa.

 

Keep in mind, we are trying to depict you in as holistic a manner as possible. Each individual essay needs to dive deep into an aspect of yourself, and should not cover too wide a variety of topics, especially given the brevity of available word count. However, there should be variety between each essay in your profile, to highlight the multiplicity of your passions.

 

The split between answering the two questions in this prompt should be 30-70, respectively.

 

Use 30% of the essay to explain why you feel personally connected to the “trouble,” with a brief anecdote if possible. The less generic the problem you choose is, the easier it is to bring out your personality. Try to avoid generic topics like “gender equality,” “global warming,” and “refugee crisis.” There are many people who genuinely care about these issues, but each of these topics are so incredibly broad that it is near impossible to discuss them thoroughly and explain how Dartmouth’s course of study helps you address the problem. Instead, pick a specific sub or sub-sub topic within these sweeping subjects and focus on showing your attachment to it on a personal level.

 

70% (the majority) of the writing should focus on how specific programs, activities, courses, or even professors at Dartmouth can help you understand the nuances of this problem better. Remember to explain how you would then leverage these resources to galvanize more activists to contribute to a solution.

 

For example, you may be interested in remedying the antagonizing political climate in which there is a trend of labeling dissenting opinions as untrue and fake. To better understand why this is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon, you are intrigued by Professor Meghan Meyer’s research on the neuroscience behind our self-centered bias, and believe that grasping the scientific explanation behind our selfish tendencies could allow us to consciously combat it, and stop thinking of ourselves as the only righteous ones.

Option E: In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

This is another unconventional, open-ended question that lends itself to a very personal piece. Though the prompt dictates, “discuss,” it is not suggested that you treat this as a literary analysis question. Your SAT essay is already an example of the aptitude of your academic writing, so there is no need to do that again here.

 

One way to respond is to chronicle the progression of your relationship with an important family member, friend, mentor, or even adversary in your life, and how, as you mature and play different roles in other people’s lives, you start to understand more of his/her perspective. Remember to always jump back onto the big picture, and explain how this journey has influenced your continued quest to try and “take a walk” in someone else’s shoes.

 

As an example, you may choose to detail the turbulent relationship with your mom growing up – you thought the way she was overprotective was absolutely crazy, and you didn’t understand why she would be so easily hurt or upset by your minor actions and words. However, as you grow up and experience hurt through the unintentional words or gestures of your close friends or significant other, you begin to realize how your similar expression could deeply upset your mom.

 

You could then go on to discuss how through the assumption of different parts in other people’s lives, you emotionally feel and comprehend the mindsets of those you care about much more. Then, bring the focus back to the big picture – how did this particular experience change the way you view human interaction, your relationship with those you initially dislike, and your attitude toward people going forward?

Option F: Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

The key to an effective response here is to not get too carried away by the infinite directions you could take this in, and make sure to develop the essay around a key idea. Here are some ideas:

 

(1) This could be an especially advantageous prompt for you if you are the typical “well-rounded” candidate, without an incredibly clear direction or passion in one specific area. You could use this prompt to laud the virtues of having pursued several different interests – only through exhausting all possible options of what you could love can you be sure that whatever passion you follow is the most optimal option.

 

(2) Alternatively, you could use this prompt to discuss how you relate to this sentiment because you never want to be limited to a label, a reputation, or other people’s perception of you. As an example, you could write about how liberating it felt when you branched out from your usual STEM focused activities to write poetry instead, and enter in the Scholastic Arts Contest, and how this first breakthrough to a different realm catalyzed your pursuit of the arts.

 

(3) Or, you could interpret this prompt as meaning that one can pursue multiple passions and play multiple roles and be multiple people at the same time. You could share the multifariousness of your intellectual endeavors, as well as the depth and range of your mental capacity in reconciling different aspects of you and your variety of passions.

 

All in all, to respond to each of these prompts effectively, you will need to reach deep into your treasure trove of memories and truly reflect on the defining experiences that changed the way you view yourself, your work, and others. Never fear though, these guidelines will get you started thinking in a good direction! Good luck!

 

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