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Dartmouth College 2018-19 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Dartmouth College 2018-19 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 essay of 100 words, 1 essay of 250-300 words.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Oddball, Topic of Your Choice

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!

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? 

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.

Choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:


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

A word of caution for those who are reading this supplement for the first time: many of the prompts on this lists will center on quotes about intellect, creativity, and emotional intelligence. So, in one sense, you can’t go wrong: you could probably write any story you want and find a way to back it into one of these prompts. But on the other hand, you should be precise about choosing the prompt that relates most closely to your story.

So, could this Einstein quote be the one for you? Well, this prompt echoes 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.” That being said, this prompt isn’t confined to intellectual curiosity; it invites you to celebrate curiosity in general. So while you could choose to geek out about school (your favorite subjects, the reason you love The Scarlet Letter), you could also take a broader definition of curiosity. When did the desire to know more or ask a question serve you well? How has it helped you connect with others or discover parts of the world (even within your community) that few others know about? Remember that this essay is a “celebration,” so don’t hold back on your enthusiasm.

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 offers an unexpected point of entry to a fairly basic prompt akin. So it’s worth considering why Dartmouth framed this question around the word mo’olelo. Although the instructions specifically focuses on the less-common translations, we think the word “story” still drives at the crux of this prompt: tell a story that reveals something about your background in the context of history, legend, family, or tradition. This sound a heckuva lot like Common App prompt #1, so we’ll give the same advice: use this as your catch-all prompt for stories about your life. Anything related to your childhood or upbringing will likely fit into one of the categories listed above, so hone your story first, and then back it into the prompt.

“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 Maya Angelou quote offers a hint about an ideal structure for your response. While the prompt asks you to focus on a specific “moment,” it’s also getting at the creative momentum you have maintained throughout your life. In some ways, this prompt competes with the introductory Einstein quote about curiosity, which could be a better fit for an essay about outside stimulus that inspires you. To really crack this prompt, you’ll want to turn your focus inside to your “impulses” — What does it feel like to get inspired? What does creativity mean to you? When you finally finish a creative project — be it a poem, painting, or batch of cookies — how do you feel? In what way does creative success (or failure) motivate you to keep trying?

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?

Well hello there! Looks like we’ve found another Dartmouth prompt that closely resembles a Common App counterpart. In this case, we’re talking about Common App prompt #4 about a problem you’ve solved or would like to solve. The Dartmouth version is a bit more specific in you must choose one of “the world’s ‘troubles’” and connect it to your academic future at Dartmouth, but if you’ve already showcased your problem-solving abilities in your Common App personal statement, you might want to pick a different prompt on this supplement. This essay is also probably the most research-heavy of the bunch, which could be a blessing for the uninspired, or a curse for the anxious. In addition to showcasing your own talents and interests, you’ll need to exhibit clear personal knowledge of your chosen problem and a detailed understanding of Dartmouth’s related offerings. There’s still room for creativity, mashing up topics and disciplines in unexpected ways, but at the end of the day you need to demonstrate specific knowledge, motivation, and vision.

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.

Another bit of competition for the Einstein prompt, this quote from Louise Erdrich gets at the concept of curiosity through a more intimate lens. What do we owe each other? Is it truly impossible to “understand the heart of another”? What might one learn through the endless pursuit of understanding? Although the prompt is merely to “discuss,” we would encourage you to consider a specific experience or relationship that you can describe as you attempt to grapple with these questions. Who has had a great impact in your life? When have you felt motivated to overcome interpersonal conflict or get to know someone completely different from you? When have you been surprised by how little you truly knew about someone close to you? Why is it important to try to understand other people? Do you dream of being a leader of the people and know that the path will include long conversations in which you learn about people who are very different from you? Do you hope to one day be a social worker who helps people become the best version of themselves? How will your pursuit of understanding help you in this career?

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?

This is an oddly leading question to find on an application supplement, so we’d like to append our own follow up: Why or why not? Before you decide to tackle this question, you might want to spend some time unpacking the quote itself. According to Donald Glover, what “doesn’t exist yet”? Is he imagining something specific that has yet to come into being? Or is he describing an open horizon of possibilities? Both? Or is he talking about something else entirely? The wording is ambiguous, but your interpretation should be clear. How does this quote relate to your own state of mind? It aligns perfectly or contradicts directly, think about how you can illustrate your point with specifics. Admissions isn’t looking for an abstract list of existential musings, but a concrete understanding or who you are, what you value, and who you hope to be.

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