How to Write the Dartmouth Supplemental Essay

Here’s a guide to answering Dartmouth’s supplemental essay prompts:

Please respond in 100 words or fewer:

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?

This is Dartmouth’s version of the “why this school” essay. The key to answering this question is research: spend some time on your intended major’s department page at Dartmouth. What resources are available? Are there generous research or study abroad opportunities? An eminent professor whose work you’ve examined in school already? A state of the art facility? Be sure to be specific in this essay here, and feel free to mention details about Dartmouth’s student life and tight-knit community. It’s only 100 words, so it’s important to make use of the little space provided.

In addition to the supplement above, which every applicant must write, you must choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

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.

This prompt is a space for you to explain to the admissions officers an aspect of your background that they wouldn’t otherwise know about. Anything formative about your family, culture, upbringing, tradition or childhood would be appropriate material to bring up here. Focus also on the significance of the story you are telling – how have these aspects of your life shaped you, taught you lessons, or influenced your values?

B. What excites you?

Since this prompt is broad, you can think of it as a backup if none of the other prompts speak to you. That being said, if you choose to answer this prompt, make sure your passion for whatever you are writing about shines through. Feel free to interpret the word “excite” liberally; this could be an idea, a subject, an natural phenomenon, a person, a book, a historical movement, or any other number of things. Get creative and try to convey your unique personality.

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?

Even though the example given here is a pretty impressive one, you can write about any act of creation. We do recommend that you write about a specific type of creation or experience you had creating something, rather than about your motivation to create in a more general sense. This will enable you to write a story that pulls your reader into the essay. You can bring in both past experiences and future ambitions to this prompt. Just make sure that whatever example you use demonstrates your drive to create and gives unique insights into your personality.

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.

This prompt is similar to Tufts’s about your intellectual curiosity. This prompt is even more broad because it doesn’t necessarily have to be an intellectual curiosity; you can write about any topic as long as it celebrates your curiosity. It could be a good idea to write about your intellectual or academic curiosity in order to help admissions officers anticipate your potential major, imagine how you would fit in culturally, and predict how the you might contribute to the classroom. If you go this route, you should write about an area of study you can see yourself enjoying and excelling at, and ideally which you have some experience with. If, alternatively, you choose to write about a non-intellectual curiosity, like baking the perfect swiss roll or making up games with your little sister, make sure you highlight aspects of your character that you think will make you a more compelling applicant to Dartmouth. 

The key in this essay is to connect your academic or personal past and your future as a Dartmouth student with the thread of your intellectual curiosity. Don’t hold back on enthusiasm, and give the admissions officers a preview of what type of student you would be on campus.

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

If your common app essay didn’t revolve around some major change (or any other the other minor changes) in your life, this essay is a great chance to dive into that. You can talk about how you deal with change and what changes you’ve had to deal with in the past. These can be internal changes too— like changing your religious views or losing your passion for a certain subject and finding a new one. Whatever you choose to write about, try not to dwell on the negative. This prompt wants you to embody the spirit of the quote, which is totally accepting of change as part of life. Plus, if you view change this way you will convey a sense of maturity that is really appealing to admissions officers!

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?

This prompt is a great opportunity for students who want to address a more research-based topic. “The world’s troubles” is up for interpretation—feel free to choose whatever current issue you feel is worth addressing. This prompt almost serves as an extended “why Dartmouth” essay. The “how might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it” portion of the prompt allows you space to talk more about the resources and opportunities at Dartmouth that you’d take advantage of, and how you intend to use the degree you earn to improve the world around you.