How to Write the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2019-2020
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% of undergraduates participate in Greek life, as it serves as the hub of social interaction. Athletics and outdoor activities are also extremely popular – 75% of students are involved in a varsity, club, or intramural sport.
Dartmouth College currently sits at #12 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities Ranking, and its low acceptance rate reflects its prestige. For the class of 2023, only 7.9% of applicants were accepted.
To apply to Dartmouth College, candidates may submit either the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. In addition to the required essay in the Common App 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
Dartmouth asks for two supplemental essays – one in 100 words, and the other in 300 words. 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 need to dive into greater detail.
Remember that 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 already about a personal geology project in your Common App, don’t also write about your aspiration to solve a geological crisis in the second supplemental prompt, or only concentrate on the geology program in the first supplemental prompt. You want to showcase other elements of who you are in the supplemental essays.
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:
Pick one 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This prompt gives you an opportunity to discuss a current political or social issue that you are passionate about and to explain how it motivates you to pursue educational opportunities at Dartmouth. You should select this prompt option if you are someone who is interested in service, social action, and policy. You need to be able to clearly articulate the “trouble” in your society that you find particularly compelling and worthy of tackling, explain why it matters, and tell the reader what you plan to do about it one day.
There is no shortage of topics you can tackle. “The world’s troubles” is an intentionally broad category that allows you to hone in on your particular interest. Are you passionate about defending women’s rights and expanding their right to affordable reproductive care? Do you volunteer at your local soup kitchen and ponder solutions to urban homelessness in your social science courses? Do you participate in marches and political actions that focus on preserving the environment and combating climate change? These are just some ideas for possible “troubles” you could explore in your response.
In fact, your topic doesn’t necessarily need to be national or international in scope. If the “troubles” that keep you up at night are closer to home, don’t be afraid to tell the reader about them! For example, if you are planning to study civil engineering at Dartmouth because your rural community has struggled with transportation access, leading you to become curious about better ways to develop road networks, you can, and should, write about that.
Once you’ve outlined the “trouble” of your choice, don’t forget to answer the second part of the prompt. Tell the reader how you hope to address the problem, what actions you want to take and what tools you need in order to do so. Be sure to mention specific programs, courses, or extracurricular opportunities that Dartmouth offers that will enable you to tackle the problem of your choice.
This prompt is ideal for those who are keen to exercise and demonstrate their creativity. It gives you great flexibility to explain what “beautiful” means to you and what you’ve done (or plan to do) to share that beauty with the world around you.
Some clear choices for something beautiful to describe include an artwork you’ve created, a film or play that you wrote, a song you’ve performed, or any other artistic endeavor you’ve participated in. Remember that the prompt asks you to describe an object or idea that you deem beautiful–it doesn’t at all need to be a widely acclaimed piece of art that you’ve exhibited or sold. In fact, if you have created something beautiful that you haven’t shared with anyone but yourself, that doesn’t mean you cannot use it as the subject of your story! Just be sure that you can articulate what it makes it beautiful and meaningful to you.
Note that the prompt doesn’t even require you to have already created your something beautiful. Do you aspire to become a novelist one day and to write a story of your childhood? Are you even an amateur guitar player who hopes to one day be a part of a small band? Do you plan to study architecture so that you can one day build elaborate apartment buildings? Talk about that! The key in discussing any future pursuit is to explain to the reader why you think that a book/song/building can and should be a thing of beauty and why you want to become someone capable of creating and sharing such beauty with the world.
If you are someone who has a favorite book that you reread over and over, or an aspirational novel that you recommend to all of your friends–this prompt is for you! In the next 300 words, you have the opportunity to tell the reader of all the reasons this book is worthwhile and how it has inspired you.
While you have the world’s entire supply of books to choose from, there are some guidelines to keep in mind. The main one is that you must be able to explain why this book is important and what you have learned from it. If your favorite book of all time is the third installment of Harry Potter because you’ve read it with your sister when you were 10, that’s great! However, you will need a more nuanced reason if you are going to write about it in response to this prompt.
For example, maybe you’ve read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in your English class and the story of Nigerians struggling against colonial oppression sparked your interest in international affairs. You could talk about the importance of studying other people’s perspective and taking it into account when developing foreign policy or providing aid to underdeveloped nations. Maybe you want to talk about how reading Why Most Things Fail by Paul Ormerod solidified your interest in economics and inspired you to open your first business venture in high school. Or, maybe your favorite book has nothing to do with career interests at all. Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night has helped you work through a challenging personal issue and led you to evaluate how you respond to emotionally difficult situations in your life. Whatever book you choose, make sure you can articulate how it’s had a meaningful impact on your life–your academic interests, your career aspirations, your relationships with others and with yourself.
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.
This prompt gives you the opportunity to talk about a project or extracurricular activity where you were able to put your skills and knowledge to practical use. If you choose to answer this prompt, be sure you’re not just using it to highlight an activity on your resume that you think looks impressive but that you only have lukewarm feelings about. The key word in this prompt is passion, so be sure whatever your subject, you feel strongly about it and can articulate why.
“Action” does not necessarily have to mean political action, the way it did for Dolores Huerta. That said, if you are someone who is closely involved with a local campaign to lobby for landmark status in your favorite park, or someone who participates in every climate change march, you should feel free to use those examples.
However, you could also tell the reader about your efforts to launch a coding club in your school and the administrative resistance you’ve had to overcome to secure the necessary funding. Or about the time you opted to write your own play after two years of starring in school productions that you didn’t find inspiring. The key is to show the reader that you did something about the challenge you encountered.
It is okay to tell a story of taking action that may not have been as successful as you’d have liked: not every social movement brings about political change and not every school club gets funding. What matters most is outlining the steps you took, the reason you decided to take them, and the conclusions you drew from your experience. Failure is one of the best teachers, and if you can tell the reader how your unsuccessful action motivated you to keep pushing, you’ll have a much more impressive and interesting tale.
The most important thing to remember is that this prompt doesn’t want you to just point out a problem or contemplate the way you may want to solve it in the future. This prompt wants you to evoke a time that you encountered an obstacle or an injustice, and you got up and did something about it. You have a virtually limitless supply of possible topics, and there is no right or wrong issue to take action on–as long as you can explain why you were motivated by this particular subject.
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