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Dartmouth College 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Dartmouth College 2020-21 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 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.

What excites you?

This prompt is as simple as they come, and yet it can be totally overwhelming to tackle. If nothing comes to mind immediately, read through the other prompts to see if anything makes that magic light bulb appear above your head. If you find yourself coming back to this prompt, try to focus on a subject that stokes your curiosity, a specific concept that has infiltrated your browser history, or an experience that has burned itself into your brain. Which kind of homework assignments are you clamoring to complete first? Which topics want to make you open up a new book, Google the definition of a word you’re not familiar with, or hit play on a podcast? Who challenges you to think of issues in new ways? Whatever excites you, Dartmouth is aiming to bring self-motivated, deep thinkers into their student body. Admissions officers want to know that you’ll be eager to contribute to lively class discussion and maybe conduct research in your latter years on campus. Remember, enthusiasm is infectious, so show them that you’ll be a valuable addition to any classroom setting by getting specific here — and maybe even getting them excited about a new topic!

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?

Do not be overwhelmed by this prompt! You don’t need to have created clean energy or curated an art gallery in Chelsea to impress admissions with your response here. Admissions just wants to about your motivations, aspirations, and goals. What kinds of things do you make and what inspires you to make them? What do you hope to create in the future and why? What drives you to create, to dream? This prompt is as much about ingenuity and problem-solving as it is about creativity. Did you build custom compost bins for your school, encouraging students and faculty alike to reduce their carbon footprints? Did you build an app for your nonverbal sister to help her to communicate with others in a new way? Whatever it is, be specific and don’t be afraid to sound a little wet behind the ears — every game-changer was once a dreamer.

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.

This is a classic short-answer: a broad, pithy question that demands a specific, personal response. This prompt isn’t just about your academic interests, so rather than starting with a broad subject area (molecular biology! geometry!) or big category (films! marine life!), try to come up with a few specific examples. When was the last time you went down an internet rabbit hole trying to research something? When were you extremely motivated to solve a problem or create something new? What was the last fact or skill you learned outside of school that truly captured your imagination? Once you come up with good examples, be sure to address the “celebrate” part of the prompt: what does your curiosity allow you to do? Maybe you’re fascinated by tasks that combine your love of logic with your intuitive, creative side. If that’s the case, what other intellectual pursuits that fuse these two sides do you plan to pursue in the future? The bottom line here is to discuss examples of what truly fascinates you while also reflecting on what these examples say about your personality traits, interests, or learning style.

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

The only constant in life is change. We’ve all heard this quote or ones like it. Admissions wants to see if you can roll with the punches and adapt to the world around you. So, how has change presented itself in your own life? Maybe you moved across the country (or the world!) while in middle school. How did you approach this change and acclimate yourself to your new surroundings? Perhaps a mindfulness class at school helped you to accept the impermanence of everything around you (including life itself). Do you now have a greater appreciation for the present moment? The great thing about this prompt is that it applies to absolutely everyone, since we all live in a world full of adaptation, innovation, and adjustment. How does change show up in your life?

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?

If you choose this prompt, there’s obviously an issue or problem that is on your mind. And rightfully so — there are so many issues at the forefront of our collective consciousness right now. Maybe after reading this prompt, you immediately thought of police brutality, institutionalized racism, income inequality, climate change, gun violence, or immigration politics. Although the scope and scale of the issue you choose can vary, remember that Dartmouth is looking to accept passionate students who think critically about the world around them. Once you identify the “troubles” you’d like to tackle, focus your attention on the final part of the prompt: How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it? Admissions wants to know that you’re passionate and informed, but they also wants to ensure that you’re ready to take steps to be part of the solution.

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

COMMON APP ESSAY GUIDE »
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