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Dartmouth College 2019-20 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Dartmouth College 2019-20 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

The writing supplement includes questions specific to Dartmouth that help the Admissions Committee gain a better sense of how you and Dartmouth might be a good “fit” for each other.

Dartmouth’s writing supplement requires that applicants write brief responses to two supplemental essay prompts as follows:

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 2024, 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.

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

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.

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 Painted Drum, author Louise Erdrich ‘76 wrote, “… what is beautiful that I make? What is elegant? What feeds the world?” Tell us about something beautiful you have made or hope to make.

If you are an aspiring artist, clothing designer, or baker, or simply a person who loves making and appreciating beautiful things, this is the prompt for you. If you enjoy snapping photographs of waterfalls, designing websites, composing rap music, or fixing up old Mustangs, this is your ideal prompt. Remember, you don’t have to be on a first-name basis with the staff at the Louvre to impress admissions here. You can write about a mural you painted in your city that you drive by everyday on your ride to school. Maybe it makes your day every time you see a new person posing in front of it on Instagram. With this prompt, Dartmouth is also giving you the opportunity to write about something you hope to make. Perhaps looking after your younger siblings while your mom works graveyard shifts at the hospital has inspired you to jot down ideas for a series of fantasy children’s books based on the interconnected lives of the families in your neighborhood. Also remember that something beautiful doesn’t necessarily have to mean something visual or even material. Maybe when you moved to a new country in high school, you started a club for foreign students, so you all could meet and discuss the challenges of adapting to a new culture and language. Perhaps the friendships that blossomed because of that club are the something beautiful you have made. So again, for this question think about the things that you love creating or wish to create–be it a chocolate souffle, hip-hop routine, or student leadership conference–being sure to explain to admissions what makes these particular creations beautiful in your eyes. 

“Yes, books are dangerous,” young people’s novelist Pete Hautman proclaimed. “They should be dangerous—they contain ideas.” What book or story captured your imagination through the ideas it revealed to you? Share how those ideas influenced you.

Dartmouth wants to know why a certain book or story captivated you, and hear about how that book shaped how you see the world. Did Into the Wild make you rethink the dangers and rewards of independence? Were you fascinated by the struggle between history and identity as you tore through the pages of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents? As you brainstorm for this prompt, think carefully about what you want your book selection to say about you. As with similar prompts, we encourage you to write about a work that isn’t assigned reading in school. Admissions will probably read quite a few essays about Catcher in the Rye and the difficult transition into adulthood. That being said, if a more popular book truly changed your outlook on the world and you want to write about it, go for it! Just be sure to make your essay as personal as possible, and open with a creative, catchy first sentence (or hook) so that it doesn’t get lost in a sea of snoozeworthy Animal Farm essays.

One last thing: don’t lose sight of the mention of “imagination” and “ideas”in this prompt. Is there is a fantasy or graphic novel such as Assassin’s Fate or Perspepolis that transported you to a different dimension or world? How did the views in your chosen book challenge your thinking? So go on, scour your bookcase and memory for a book or story that you are truly passionate about, and get ready to wow admissions with your insight, imagination, and critical thinking abilities.   

“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 list 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.

Labor leader Dolores Huerta is a civil rights activist who co-founded the organization now known as United Farm Workers. She said, “We criticize and separate ourselves from the process. We’ve got to jump right in there with both feet.” Speak your truth: Talk about a time when your passion became action.

Dartmouth wants to accept students who possess an unshakeable determination, focus, and ability to make their dreams a reality. More than just learning about a cause which you care deeply about, admissions wants to hear about a time when you showed that you can take initiative and accomplish your goals. Maybe you landed a summer job at a local bakery and, after seeing how much food waste was produced on a daily basis, forged a partnership between the bakery and a local homeless shelter to donate day-old baked goods. Perhaps you convinced your family and friends to paint colorful signs and drive out to Washington, D.C. with you to participate in the DACA protests because you are an ardent supporter of immigrant rights.  

At the end of the day, Dartmouth wants not only to learn about the causes or issues that matter to you. They also want to see how you have proactively sought out solutions to these issues–a skill that will serve you in college and beyond. 

Have you started your personal statement?
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Our Common App Guide will help you choose a prompt!

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