The Requirements: 1 essay of 100 words, 1 essay of 250-300 words.
Unlike many of its Ivy League peers, Dartmouth’s supplement is mercifully brief. It’s also deceptively brief! Although its list of prompts could comprise an essay unto itself, applicants only have to submit two essays. With six (6) options to choose from for the second essay, you need to think strategically about which one will help you reveal something unique that admissions won’t see elsewhere on your application. On such a short supplement, every word counts!
If you have the unsettling feeling that you’ve read this prompt somewhere before, worry not. This prompt should ring a bell because it’s just a slightly more verbose version of the most common supplemental essay question out there: why here? Phrased this way, Dartmouth’s prompt is specifically probing for information about what you love – about Dartmouth, and about the idea of college in general. The emphasis on campus life is clear, so focus on what you would do at Dartmouth. Are you planning to major in English? What cozy corners of campus would you curl up in to read a book? Do you have more of a newspaper or lit mag vibe? As with all other why prompts, research is the key to writing a memorable essay, so spend a little time on the Dartmouth website and literally map your path from where you are now to where you hope to be in the near or distant future.
Do you believe in fate? What about privilege? Whether your lens on the world is spiritual or political, this question is about turning chaos into sense. What aspects of your life have been out of your control and how have you reclaimed them? This prompt may be particularly appealing to folks who have faced major challenges in their lives (especially if you haven’t already written an essay on Common App prompt 2). Maybe you were born with more allergies than you can count, but as a result of advocating for your own needs, you’ve also become sensitive and responsive to the needs of others. Perhaps you didn’t speak a word of English when your family first came to the U.S. but you found a way to connect with your peers through a shared love of SpongeBob Squarepants. If your story starts from a position of disadvantage, make sure your narrative culminates by showcasing your triumph or resilience. On the other hand, if you choose to talk about how hard your parents worked to make sure you had every advantage, remember that gratitude is key. Without being overly self-deprecating, aim to showcase your humility and perspective.
Hear that prospective comp sci majors? You’re creative too, and Dartmouth knows it! If you consider yourself a tinkerer or maker of any kind, this question could be perfect for you (unless you’ve already responded to Common App prompt 6). As the prompt suggests, creativity lies in your outlook: seeing the opportunity to use one of your skills in a novel situation; looking at a problem from a new angle to find the solution that no one else could see. No matter who you are, remember this classic writing advice: show don’t tell. So you claim that gardening or calculus is how you show your creative side? Okay, then immerse the reader in this activity with you. If you enjoy gardening, describe the plants, their qualities, and how you make your horticultural choices; are you drawn to the aesthetics or are you botanically inquisitive? Similarly, if your subject is calculus, show the reader how you sat in your dad’s office for six hours straight trying to calculate Pi on a three dozen sheets of paper using red crayon. Write descriptively so that the reader can feel as if he or she were experiencing your creative passion with you.
This prompt is set up for you to reflect on what a wonderful person you are. Just kidding! Don’t get ahead of yourself. Admissions doesn’t expect you to be perfect. If empathy is one of your strong suits, this prompt will showcase your natural instincts very well. Use this prompt to show Admissions that you are not one of those self-absorbed Generation Z kids that old people complain about. A good response to this prompt will strike the perfect balance of showing and telling. You have already chosen to respond to this question, so don’t waste your precious words telling admissions, “I have always thought of myself as a nice person.” Instead, dive into the story and show them what it means to hold kindness as a core value. When has this value been tested? When has it been hard for you to treat another person with kindness? When have you made a personal sacrifice for another person? On a more upbeat note, have you been inspired by the kindness of others? Do you believe in paying it forward? Do you think kindness is the key to world peace? (For tips on how to avoid some of the most common clichés, check out this blog post.)
First a quick shoutout: Appy Birthday Arry! In some ways, this prompt is a more open rephrasing of the earlier question about creativity. What makes you smile? What activities can absorb your attention to the point that you forget about your troubles? As the quote suggests, this prompt is also (once again) about resilience. How have you dealt with the darkest times? What gives you strength? Maybe your grandpa introduced you to classical music, and now, when you get sad, you pop in your earbuds and fire up your Schubert playlist. Or perhaps you’ve found that practicing jiu jitsu is a great way to release your anger and feel safe no matter where you are. Whatever you choose, remember that you aren’t simply answering a question; you’re also telling a story. Perhaps it’s the origin story of a routine or ritual. Or maybe it’s examining how a particular idea or practice has changed your life for the better. No matter what, make sure your arc has a beginning, middle and end.
Wow, a third question that is eerily similar to the others. Be aware of the fine distinction Dartmouth draws between “ideas you celebrate when your imagination wanders,” “ideas that bring you joy,” and now, “intellectual curiosity.” Whatever you write about, be precise and make sure it fits best with this prompt and neither of the others. Also keep in mind that this prompt also echos Common App prompt 6, so proceed with caution if you’ve already written about that “topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.” All that being said, this prompt is perhaps the best opportunity you have to really let your nerd flag fly. What do you love about school? What homework do you look forward to doing? Did you love The Scarlet Letter so much you pitched your English teacher an original term paper topic? Did the sheer elegance of a geometry proof once bring you to tears? Go all in. The idea here is to “celebrate” the ideas you love the most. Now isn’t the time to hold anything back.
Despite its lovely narrative, this prompt (yet again) smacks of a Common App essay you may have already written! Prompt 4, on a problem you have solved or would like to solve, could be the one that got away… and now is your chance to write it! Otherwise, carry on. (Or circle back, as the case may be.) If you’re feeling inspired to continue with this prompt, ask yourself, “When have I made a change in my life? Who did it impact?” You answer can range from the personal to the global. Maybe you have worked incredibly hard to overcome an eating disorder. What was your first step? How did you motivate yourself to keep going? Or perhaps you noticed the dearth of books written by people of color in your school library and went on a campaign to diversify the selection. When have you been proactive in attempting to effect change? What inspires you to action? What kind of mark would you like to leave on the world?