Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, is one of the best universities in the world. A member of the Ivy League, Dartmouth has notable graduates, top-of-the-line programs, and a minuscule admissions rate.
If you want to be one of the 9% of students accepted to Dartmouth every year, you'll need to write some amazing essays as part of your application's Dartmouth supplement.
In this post, I'll talk about what the Dartmouth essay prompts are, which essays you can choose to write, and how to craft standout responses that'll help ensure your admission.
What Are the Dartmouth Essay Prompts?
You can apply to Dartmouth using the Common Application or QuestBridge Application. No matter which application you choose, you'll also have to submit the Dartmouth Supplement.
Part of the Dartmouth Supplement involves answering two writing prompts. The first writing prompt is short (100 words or less) and required of all students. For the second essay, you'll get to choose one of six prompts to write a 250-300 word response.
According to Dartmouth's website, "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."
Basically, that means that the Dartmouth Admissions Committee wants to know who you are…and how you'll fit in on Dartmouth's campus. Your Dartmouth supplemental essays give the admissions committee a chance to get to know you beyond your test scores and other credentials. The essays will give Dartmouth a better idea of how you think and act, so they can see if you would be a great addition to the student body.
Similarly, the essays also give the admissions committee a chance to assess your passion for Dartmouth - how badly do you really want to go there? The more you can show your passion for Dartmouth, the better.
Let's take a look at the Dartmouth essay prompts.
Dartmouth Essay Prompts
Here are the 2020-2021 Dartmouth Essay Prompts. All students must answer the first prompt of the Dartmouth essays (100 words or less) and must choose one of the second set of Dartmouth essays as well (250-300 words).
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 2023, what aspects of the College's program, community or campus environment attract your interest?
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.
- What excites you?
- 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?
- 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.
- "Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away," observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo's perspective to your own 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?
Dartmouth Essays Analyzed
Let's take a look at the Dartmouth essay prompts for 2020-2021.
Dartmouth Essay Prompt 1
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?
All Dartmouth students are required to answer this prompt and for good reason — it's the "Why Dartmouth" essay! This essay shows the admissions committee why Dartmouth is the right school for you.
At only 100 words, this prompt doesn't give you a lot of room to expand upon your favorite parts of the College, so you should pick one or two aspects of Dartmouth that you really love and focus on those.
The prompt encourages you to talk about the program, community, or campus, so don't feel like you have to limit yourself to academics. You can talk about other things about Dartmouth that interest you, such as the student life or extracurricular activities.
Whichever features you choose to highlight, make sure your connection to them is real and personal. In other words, don't just say you're a fan of Dartmouth's sterling academic reputation. Instead, focus on a specific part of that reputation - a professor whose work you admire or a class that you really want to take.
Dartmouth Essay Prompt 2
Dartmouth's longer essay prompts give you plenty of room to think creatively and show off your individuality. All students are required to pick and answer one of the prompts in 250-300 words. Let's take a look at the prompts and examine how to answer them.
Prompt A: The Introduction Prompt
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.
How did you become you? Was it the influence of your family? An important moment in your life? A defining experience with a piece of art or literature?
Whatever made you, you, this essay is the chance to share it.
Don't feel confined to traditional, linear methods of storytelling in this prompt. You can play around with form and structure, as long as you do it well. Get an advisor or mentor to read your work and offer feedback, especially if you deviate from your typical style.
Something to remember - a story that is legendary to you and your history doesn't have to be monumental to everyone else. What's important is that the moment you choose is important to you.
Prompt B: The Passion Prompt
B. What excites you?
This essay prompt is asking you to think toward your future and write about something—anything!—that gets you pumped. Dartmouth Admissions is looking to see if you have purpose and passion.
To answer this prompt, take some time to think about your future: your goals for your time in college, things you hope to achieve, opportunities that you find invigorating. You'll want your response to be focused and organized, so choose one idea, goal, or possibility that most excites you and go into detail about that in your response.
For example, maybe you're excited about the opportunity to improve your creative writing craft in the company of other student writers at Dartmouth, so you make becoming a better writer the central idea of your response to this prompt. You might go into detail about how you're excited to take writing workshop courses, learn from other students' writing styles, and eventually work on a creative writing publication with other students.
Whatever topic you choose to write about, you need to have a central idea—something that excites you—and you need to be able to explain how your excitement will shape your life choices as a student at Dartmouth.
There are no right or wrong answers in terms of what excites you, but it is important to try to think toward your future and explain
Prompt C: The Creativity Prompt
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
Creativity is crucial to every field of study, and this essay prompt is asking you to show that your interests, academic or recreational, inspire you to make things. To respond to this prompt, you'll need to be able to explain an idea, issue, or interest that motivates you to make stuff, then describe what you've made in the past or hope to make in the future!
The first thing to do is establish what drives you to create. To do this, think about who you are, where you come from, what experiences you've had, and who you want to become. Like in the example given in the prompt, maybe there's a need right in your own home that inspires you to create. You could think locally, like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, or you could think outside of your personal experience too. Is there a global issue that drives you to create something that will help others in the future, during, or after college? If so, describe that vision and the global issue that motivates it.
Keep in mind that "creating" and "making something" can be interpreted many different ways. Your vision for "making" doesn't have to be artistic or some scientific invention. It could be creating a virtual reading service for overworked parents who need help educating their children during a global pandemic! On the other hand, maybe you're creating a science curriculum through your school's independent study program so you can learn more about climate change, which is your passion.
Whatever the case may be, it's a good idea to relate that creativity to your time at Dartmouth. For instance, maybe your virtual reading service has inspired you to major in business, so you can turn that service into your future career. It would be a great idea to research and talk about joining the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth to help show admissions counselors that Dartmouth is the only school that can help your dreams become a reality.
Prompt D: The Curiosity Prompt
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.
"Celebrate your curiosity" might feel a little bit cryptic, but this prompt is actually just an invitation for you to dive deep into something that you're insatiably curious about. Dartmouth admissions wants to see that you have that intrinsic motivation to learn, grow, and expand your horizons, and they want to get to know you better by hearing you go off about that thing that you're endlessly curious about.
So, how do you celebrate your curiosity in this response? Start by pinpointing that one thing that you're the most curious about. You can probably look to your activities, relationships, and even your Google search history to identify what that one thing is. Maybe you're endlessly curious about food: different cultures of eating around the world, America's relationship to food, how to select, prepare, and eat it...and if you're really curious about food, you could probably go on and on about everything you know and want to know about it in your response.
This is a good thing! To organize your response, describe the thing you're curious about in a way that helps admissions counselors get to know you better. Going back to the food example, you could talk about where your curiosity about food comes from, or your background with food, how your curiosity with food plays into your day-to-day living, and some specific things you hope to learn about or do with food as you continue engaging with it.
And finally, connect your past experience, present questions, and future goals at Dartmouth in your response. This will show Dartmouth that you're a dedicated, independent learner who will be an endlessly curious student too.
Prompt E: The Kahlo Prompt
E. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away," observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo's perspective to your own life.
Variations of the perspective offered by Frida Kahlo in this prompt apply to everyone's life. In short, we are all constantly growing and changing. This prompt asks you to reflect on your own life and look at your experiences with this idea in mind.
In your response, you'll get the chance to show that you see the value of being adaptable and accepting change. You can demonstrate this quality by writing about how you've seen something happening cyclically, something changing, or a season coming to an end in your life. It's important that you write about a situation that was meaningful to you—one where you saw yourself growing and learning.
Alternatively, you could write about an ongoing situation of your life that has helped you come to see that Kahlo's perspective is true. For example, maybe your family had to move many times as you were growing up because of your parents' jobs. You could describe how these experiences were tough in the moment, but eventually helped you realize that living many different places teaches you how to relate to all kinds of people and appreciate different cultures.
Dartmouth admissions knows that even though Kahlo's sentiments are true, they can still be tough to accept. It's okay if the thing you choose to write about is something you've had conflicted feelings about. What's important in your response here is that going through the changes you describe strengthened your determination and adaptability—qualities that will be valuable when you become a Dartmouth student.
Prompt F: The Change Prompt
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 more tangible and concrete than the others available for selection. If you feel intimidated by discussing your creativity or personal history, this prompt is a good one to choose.
This prompt asks you to pick a real-world issue (aka, trouble) and discuss how it inspires you to act. The second part of the prompt asks you to talk about how your coursework at Dartmouth will help you solve this problem.
It's important to answer both parts of the prompt—you need to explain why Dartmouth is the correct place to learn how to solve the trouble of your choosing.
Speaking of the trouble, don't feel like you have to pick something grand and far-reaching, like starvation or world peace. You can also pick an issue that affects people locally, in your community, for instance. The key is to pick a topic that you have a personal connection to and reason for wanting to fix. Your passion will come across in your description of the issue.
How to Write Great Dartmouth Essays
In order to write great Dartmouth essays, you need to show the committee two things. First, you need to give them a clear idea of who you are. Second, you need to show them, "Why Dartmouth." In other words, why Dartmouth is important to you. Here are some tips to help you accomplish both of those goals.
#1: Use Your Own Voice
The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.
You should, then, make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not.
If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Dartmouth wants you to be.
#2: Avoid Cliches and Overused Phrases
When writing your Dartmouth essays, try to avoid using common quotes or phrases. These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Strive for originality.
Similarly, avoid using cliches, which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work. Don't speak in platitudes about how the struggle for gay and lesbian rights has affected you… unless it actually has! And even then, you don't want to speak in platitudes. It's better to be direct and specific about your experience.
#3: Check Your Work
It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Dartmouth essays are the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Dartmouth application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.
Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.
It's a good idea to have someone else read your Dartmouth essays, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.
That being said, make sure you don't rely on them for ideas or rewrites. Your essays need to be your work.
#4: Play With Form
Dartmouth's essay prompts leave a lot of room open for creative expression - use that! You don't need to stick to a five paragraph essay structure here. You can play with the length and style of your sentences - you could even dabble in poetry if that makes sense!
Whichever form you pick, make sure it fits with the story you're trying to tell and how you want to express yourself.
Learn more about the most selective colleges in the US. If you're applying to multiple Ivy Leagues, it's a good idea to know your chances at each!
If you're hoping to attend a highly selective school like Dartmouth, you'll need to have a very strong academic record in high school. Learn more about high school honors classes and societies.
Not sure what your GPA means for your chances of college admission? Find out what a good or bad GPA might look like based on your goals.
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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.