How to Write the Dartmouth College Essays 2020-2021

Dartmouth College has been a sought-after higher education institution since its founding in 1769. This Ivy League college boasts a tight-knit, engaging 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. 

 

Dartmouth College currently sits at #12 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities Ranking. For the Class of 2024, only 8.8% of all applicants were admitted, which is the third lowest acceptance rate in Dartmouth history. 

 

The college is frequently ranked one of the most beautiful colleges in America, given its picturesque setting in the deep green Upper Connecticut River Valley. It’s no coincidence that Dartmouth’s Latin motto “Vox clamantis in deserto” translates into “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Dartmouth is surrounded by mountain vistas and thick forests, which makes athletics and outdoor activities extremely popular at the university. Given the bucolic nature of Dartmouth’s location, around 60% of undergraduate students participate in Greek life as the main source of social interaction. 

 

Applications can be submitted to Dartmouth College through either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. In addition to these general applications, Dartmouth requires two supplemental essays; all applications must submit the first prompt, but may choose from six different options for the second prompt. Read on to find out how to ace these essays! Want to know your chances at Dartmouth? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what Darmouth 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 needs to know. 

 

Dartmouth College Supplemental Essay Prompts 2020-2021

Prompt 1: 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 2025, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest? (100 words)

 

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

 

  • Option A: 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 B: What excites you?

 

  • Option C: In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba, Class of 2014, reflects on constructing a windmill from recycled materials to power the electrical appliances in his family’s Malawian house: “If you want to make it, all you have to do is try.” What drives you to create and what do you hope to make or have you already made?

 

  • Option D: Curiosity is a guiding element of Toni Morrison’s talent as a writer. “I feel totally curious and alive and in control. And almost…magnificent, when I write,” she says. Celebrate your curiosity.

 

  • Option E: “Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away,” observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo’s perspective to your own life.

 

  • Option F: 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?

Overview of the Dartmouth 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 supplement essays. 

Prompt 1

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the US 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 2025, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest? (100 words)

This is essentially the classic “Why This College” 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 of Dartmouth’s programs, values, activities, clubs, or classes 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 hundreth 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. 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

 

For the second prompt, you need to select one of the six options below to answer the question in 250-300 words. While quality essays often require conciseness, you are not recommended to go below the 250-word benchmark. All six of the prompts are unique and open-ended, which means there are a lot of routes you can take to create the perfect essay. 

 

Some tips on prompt selection: 

 

Tip #1: Read through all of the prompts. While you may notice that there is one prompt that immediately grabs your attention, this does not necessarily indicate that it would be the best prompt to showcase your unique traits to the admissions office. 

 

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

 

  1. Under “likely” are all of the prompts you have an immediate answer for 

 

  1. Under “possible” are all prompts you find interesting and would be open to 

 

  1. 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 ideas for the prompts you deemed were “likely” or “possible”.

 

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

 

With those tips in mind, let’s dive into the different essay options!

Prompt 2, Option A

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) 

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 have been 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 a 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 ancestors 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.

Prompt 2, Option B

What excites you? (250-300 words) 

This prompt gives you the opportunity to showcase your personality and talk about a passion, hobby, or experience that does not really “fit” into the themes explored by other prompts. Think about this essay as a personal inquiry, it gives the admissions officer the ability to humanize your application and understand what type of person they are admitting to Dartmouth. 

 

There is no shortage of topics you can explore with this prompt. 

 

  • Are you excited whenever Sunday Night Football is able to bring together your family for a night? 

 

  • Or, are you excited when it rains outside and you can dance around with your friends? 

 

  • Or, are you excited when you get the opportunity to talk about gender equality at an organization that you intern at? 

 

Whether it’s a monumental achievement or a simple pleasure, at the core of this essay the admissions office is asking you to speak with passion. 

 

It’s important to connect whatever topic you are discussing to the resources and opportunities available to you at Dartmouth. 

 

For instance, if you are a student who gets super excited when you can collect rocks down at the beach with your friends, this would be a great chance to connect your passion back to research opportunities at Dartmouth in the Earth History department or how the outdoorsy-feel of Dartmouth would feel like home. 

 

Don’t be afraid to take a risk with this prompt. If watching Avatar excites you, feel free to explore this route, especially if you are an applicant that can connect this back to East-Asian studies or film/production studies at Dartmouth. However, be cautious about going on a tangent or exploring too many things within this essay. Stick to talking about one thing that excites you and connecting it back to Dartmouth. 

Prompt 2, Option C

In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba, Class of 2014, reflects on constructing a windmill from recycled materials to power the electrical appliances in his family’s Malawian house: “If you want to make it, all you have to do is try.” What drives you to create and what do you hope to make or have you already made? (250-300 words) 

This prompt highlights an applicant’s entrepreneurial skills, perseverance, and imagination. From this essay the reader wants to gauge how you approach problems and whether you have taken the initiative to solve problems in your own life. Whether this means you created a marketing strategy for a non-profit or makeshift solar panels to charge your phone, make sure that your creation connects to your goals at Dartmouth. 

 

Now, let’s shift our focus to the first part of the prompt. The admissions office wants to see what drives you to create, which means that they want to see passion for a certain topic or cause. 

 

If you are super interested in sustainable business and hope to start a non-profit one day that supports marginalized artists in rural communities, then take this essay as an opportunity to flesh out your plan and the vision behind your idea. 

 

Remember these admissions officers are looking for applicants who will take full advantage of the degree that Dartmouth will give them, so an applicant with an idea stands out from the bunch. 

 

Let’s take a look at the second part of the prompt.

 

If you have created something that you are proud of then we highly recommend that you use this prompt. Dartmouth would love to see an applicant that is taking action before even starting college. If you are a prospective digital media major and you created a video game in high school that 10 people played, don’t be afraid to share this! 

 

Do not compare your creation to those of other people. Take this opportunity to reflect on the motivations and thought process behind your creation, instead of spending the entire essay just describing the characteristics of the creation. 

 

Regardless of which part of the prompt you choose to focus on, you need to reflect on how Dartmouth can make your idea a reality or help you advance the creation you already made. 

 

Talk about specific departments or courses that will help you build on your knowledge or study-abroad opportunities that are perfect to help advance your design. Personalize the essay to Dartmouth by talking about how the community or educational environment will directly advance your ideas/creations. 

Prompt 2, Option D

Curiosity is a guiding element of Toni Morrison’s talent as a writer. “I feel totally curious and alive and in control. And almost…magnificent, when I write,” she says. Celebrate your curiosity. (250-300 words) 

This prompt is super open-ended, which gives you the opportunity to share a moment or experience that is directly related to something you are curious about. Do not think that only people who are passionate about writing can choose this prompt, because “curiosity” is being presented as something everyone can celebrate. 

 

Some of the ways you can approach this essay include:

 

  • Choosing an anecdote that explores a moment or event where your curiosity was sparked

 

  • Writing a “love letter” to something that sparks your curiosity or telling the reader about a topic that makes you curious

 

Be careful not to oversimplify your answer, you need to reflect on your answer and how it connects to your undergraduate ambitions. 

 

For instance, if you are a prospective public policy major but something that sparks your curiosity is statistics, you could talk about Dartmouth’s special Quantitative Social Science program that allows students to combine mathematical training with the social sciences. 

 

It is important to spend around 75% of your essay talking about what makes you curious and 25% of the essay directly talking about resources at Dartmouth that will allow you to explore said curiosity. 

 

Dartmouth is looking for students that can show a passion for certain subjects, because those students end up being the most successful in undergrad and beyond. So, do not pick something you are not actually curious about. It does not sound better to half-heartedly talk about a fake curiosity in “War and Peace” and classical literature, even if literature studies is your intended major. 

 

Take this prompt as an opportunity to showcase your personality, and do not force the connection to Dartmouth. If you feel yourself forcing the connection, then this may not be the prompt for you. 

Prompt 2, Option E

“Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away,” observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo’s perspective to your own life. (250-300 words) 

This prompt requires you to put a lot of thought into how to connect your own experiences with the thoughts of the esteemed artist, Frida Khalo. Dartmouth wants to see your perspective shine through within this essay, and the best way to execute that effectively is to jot down ideas about each part of the quote, then find a “thought” that connects them all. 

 

A few tips on how to write your essay:

 

Tip #1: Try and focus on specific events or topics instead of talking about big ideas. 

 

For instance, if you are a student who is extremely passionate about social justice and advocacy, do not talk about how the criminal justice system is changing and disproportionality affecting minority populations. Instead, try and talk about an experience you witnessed or something that directly affected you in relation to the criminal justice system or the minority identity. 

 

Tip #2: Focus on how an experience or perspective has impacted your and your goals. 

 

Since a “perspective” is often tied with your identity, try and focus on how something ever changing or uncontrollable in your life left a positive impact on your sense of self. While it may be intriguing to interpret the “goes away” as a negative experience, shy away from using a lot of negatively connotated phrases/words in your essay because this will bring down the mood of the admissions officer reading your essay. Instead, show your personal growth. 

 

Tip #3: Do not be afraid to explore your creativity with this prompt. 

 

For instance, you could talk about something abstract like time evolving or something concrete like changing your hair color often. Regardless of the subject, approach it with flexibility and play around with the structure of your essay. 

 

Finally, when asked to apply a perspective to your own life, it is important to qualify the impact of said perspective. 

 

In this case, if you were a prospective religious studies major, you could talk about how the flow of life and spirituality in your East Asian household has impacted how you choose to confront challenges. 

 

Or, if you are a student who wants to play sports in college, you could mention how practicing and accepting defeat has instilled in you a sense of perseverance that will be beneficial when pursuing higher education. 

 

Again, make sure to qualify the impact of this perspective and reflect on how it applies to your own sense of self. 

Prompt 2, Option F

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? (250-300 words) 

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.

 

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