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How to Write Excellent Dartmouth Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: The Unrivaled Guide

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One of the oldest colleges in the nation, Dartmouth College is a small but mighty institution with a 10.5% acceptance rate.

The college has highly ranked academic programs and offers over 50 majors, making it one of the most sought-out Ivy League institutions.

Despite its prestige, the Dartmouth application is quite accessible and available on the Common App.

The writing supplements for Dartmouth College stand out in comparison to other schools due to the creativity required to answer them. From Harry Potter to Einstein to the Olympics, there are a variety of topics you may choose to write about!

The Dartmouth Supplemental Essay Requirements

There are two writing supplements required for your application.

  • The first response is short and addresses why you would like to attend Dartmouth. It is a 100-word essay.
  • The second response has a longer word count and six different prompts to choose from. It is a 250-300-word essay.

According to their website, the college uses the supplements in hopes to get insight into your personality, as well as your “sense of humor, passion, intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, and social awareness.”

While the prompts are fun, they should also be carefully crafted to present your story.

Dartmouth Supplemental Essay 1: “Why Dartmouth?”

The first prompt for Dartmouth requires a short response of fewer than 100 words. You must respond to the following:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, uttered 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 2022, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?

Thanks to this limitation, you should read the question carefully in order to decide how you would like to respond.

The prompt asks you to describe your interest in Dartmouth College as it relates to their programs, community, or campus environment. This is the quintessential “Why This College” essay.

The “or” in this case is important to recognize. This means that the admissions reviewers do not expect you to cover all three topics in fewer than 100 words.

  • Instead, you should choose one or, maybe, two of the three options to write about.

If you are passionate about attending Dartmouth, it may be difficult to decide which topic to cover! When making your choice, consider:

  • Which of the three choices could I discuss and my response not be easily transferred to any college application?
  • Am I most excited about Dartmouth’s programs, community, or campus environment?
  • Have I researched enough about my choice to make accurate references in my writing?

The other key term in this prompt is “aspects.”

Dartmouth does not want you to simply write that you like the college, as the example above cites, because it is small.

Instead, describe what is it about a small college that excites you? Why would their particular school be the right fit for you as an individual above all other schools?

  • For example, you might be interested in pursuing neuroscience, and Dartmouth has close collaborations through the medical school and surrounding hospitals.
  • By virtue of Dartmouth being a small school, this would allow you to pursue more opportunities, such as working closely with faculty members on research projects or building a mentor-mentee relationship with your academic and research advisors. This would be more difficult at a larger institution.

With a tight word limit, you will want to be brief when discussing what makes Dartmouth most attractive to you as a future student.

We recommend you use as close to your entire 100 words as possible to express yourself.

  • You’ll want your response to be more than “I like (insert aspect) about Dartmouth because (insert reason).”
  • Be sure to use the specific names of programs, professors, projects, and other compelling factors that draw you to Dartmouth.

Whatever you do, be specific. Specificity will help you win the admissions game because you’d be able to demonstrate why you want to attend Dartmouth.

Dartmouth Supplemental Essay 2

The second part of Dartmouth College’s writing supplement gives you plenty of freedom. Not only do you get a longer word count (250-300 words), but you also get to choose one of six interesting and diverse prompts.

Six options!

That’s wonderful, but how do you know which one would be the best choice?

Our first piece of advice is not to choose a topic simply because you love the references. 

First, read every option carefully and consider what it is asking. Eliminate the prompts that you feel would elicit a vague response or those that you might have a hard time finding a specific example from your life to reference.

Then, brainstorm events from your life that you might discuss to address the remaining prompts. This college essay brainstorming guide is one of the best you will find on the Internet.

Here are the six prompts and suggestions on some things you could write about for each prompt. This is how you can answer each one:

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.

We strongly recommend that you do not focus on your life story – it’ll be too much for 300 words. Instead, focus on one story or anecdote that is a microcosm of your life. What about that story describes you well?

  • You could write about hardships you’ve faced, such as a physical or learning disability.
  • Did your ethnic or economic background ever keep you from an opportunity?
  • What skills did you learn while dealing with and overcoming these hardships?
  • What changes in your life have forced you to show resilience? Perhaps you moved several times in your life or experienced a loss that affected you deeply.
  • What about your values and characteristics shifted and changed while you played your hand?

If you choose to write about how you’ve dealt with a problem, don’t write about only the hardship. Spend more than 50% of your essay on how you overcame it and in what capacity the ordeal changed you. Focus on action steps.

Tell Dartmouth that your story has shaped your character. And so, what about your character will you bring to Dartmouth, and how will it help their campus?

Maybe your story includes a positive trait, like a photographic memory. How did you use this skill to reach a goal?

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What excites you?

Similar to option #4, this is an incredibly broad question. Don’t write broad just because the question is broad! It is your job to create a narrative. Stay focused and specific.

It is best to think of one thing that you feel like excites you to the point of driving you as a person. Consider: 

  • What do you get most excited about or enthusiastic to do during your week? Why? What is at the heart of that drive? 
  • Where does that excitement come from, or how was it formed? 
  • Has your excitement had any impact on other areas or your life or the lives of others? Does that fuel your enthusiasm? 

Paint a picture of your excitement, and above all else, avoid: 

  • Being general. Don’t give an answer like “education excites me” and talk about the broad impact of education on the world. This essay is about you. 
  • Giving an answer you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Don’t say politics excites you if it doesn’t. If bird watching is your thing, tell them that, but drive at the heart of why. 

This essay should give the committee an understanding of the forces at the core of who you are. When you finish, ask yourself if it accomplishes that.

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?

There are two parts to this question, and it’s important to make sure that you address them equally to fully answer the question. By nature of the question, the committee is assuming that you are, in fact, driven to create, and wants to know more about that. If your instinct was “well, I’m not driven to create,” then do not answer this prompt!

Similarly to the prior question, this asks you to get at the core of your personality. First, consider what drives you to create? 

  • Was there a time early in life that you remember creating something of your own? What was it? What motivated you to attempt this thing? 
  • When you are most innovative, what has the task at hand been related to? Was it out of necessity? Passion? Intrigue? Pure curiosity? 
  • If you had to describe your primary motivation in life, what would it be, and does it relate to your urge to create? 

Once you’ve tackled this part, ensure you get to the second half: What do you hope to make, or have you already made? 

Remember, there should be a clear connection between this part of the question and the first part. For example, if you were driven by necessity, do you believe that has led you to your greatest creations already, or do you see leveraging that to solve the problems of others in the future?

  • What creation are you most proud of? 
  • Do you have a desire to solve problems in the world through creativity? If so, which ones? How do you see yourself achieving that?

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 particularly broad question, so stay disciplined when writing.

We strongly recommend that you stick to one curiosity when writing this essay. Curiosity can be an inspiration, idea, experience, passion, or concept that encourages you to delve deeper into its inner workings.

You want to start by briefly mentioning the curiosity. Then, paint a picture of why it’s important to you. Here are some ideas:

  • Were you close with your mom before she passed away? Are you now interested in the meaning of life and suffering?
  • Did you learn anything valuable from a volunteer experience?
  • Are you passionate about STEM, politics, writing, or Spanish?
  • Describe a conversation where you learned something new because you asked lots of questions and allowed your curiosity to embody you.
  • When has your intellectual curiosity paid off? Maybe you discovered and were awarded a scholarship that started as a random Google search.
  • Important: Do not provide test scores or grades as evidence of your intellect. Your intelligence already shows on your transcript.

A foolproof approach to this essay is extrapolating your past experiences while exploring this curiosity. In other words,  how did you work toward this curiosity?

Here’s an outline of an example essay:

  1. You love the idea of interplanetary travel because you’d gaze at the stars when you were younger. Your dad bought you a telescope, which only bolstered this passion.
  2. In high school, you founded and served as president of the Propulsion Club, where you and your team designed and built rockets.
  3. You then took your best rocket design and pitched it in a local innovation solutions challenge. Your team won first place.
  4. After studying at Dartmouth, you want to work at SpaceX or NASA and help bring humanity to Mars. You eventually want to join a manned mission to an extraterrestrial body.

Don’t simply state facts about your intellect, but don’t be too modest. State a fact about your intellectual curiosity, and then move on to give details.

If you’re interested in this essay but are struggling to hone in on one curiosity, ask yourself, “What makes me intellectually unique?” Dartmouth is full of bright students, so think beyond the numbers.

When writing the latter half of this essay, you can let Dartmouth know you’re going to pursue this curiosity on campus.

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

This is a particularly vague and perhaps confusing prompt. If this quote or sentiment does not immediately resonate with you, avoid answering this question, as your response is likely to miss the mark. 

This quote asks you to reflect on the ephemeral nature of life and the world. This idea can be received and applied in a negative way or a positive way. Your job is to explain how you yourself would apply it to your own life. Consider: 

  • What idea was Frida trying to convey? Does this sentiment resonate with a certain emotion to you?
  • Are you a planner or do you go with the flow? Why? What philosophy do you use to guide your decisions? 
  • What things in your life serve as guiding pillars or your truth, if any? Do you have certain core values, people, events, etc. or do you agree with Frida in the truest sense? 

This essay is an opportunity for you to be truly philosophical and share some of your guiding principles or notions with the admissions committee. However, be careful not to miss the mark of your own life by getting too theoretical. Make sure you explain how your understanding of her words applies in actionable ways in 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?

This essay provides a great opportunity for you to elaborate on activities you love or ambitions you want to pursue. The “trouble” that inspires you to act can be something pandemic and political or deeply personal.

Either way, if you care about something that affects people, you can write about it here.

We recommend spending only a brief amount of time stating and explaining the problem. The admissions officers have access to the Internet, so they can check up on in-depth statistics if they’re further interested in the problem you mention.

Once you explain the problem, go into how you were inspired to take action and address this problem on a personal level. Did you participate in volunteer projects, internships, protests, or extracurricular activities that encouraged you to do your part in addressing this problem?

Then write about one of the following.

  • What about your past experiences or values guided your actions?
  • What did you learn from your actions? What did you learn from your engagement
  • How can your kindness shape Dartmouth’s campus? What do you have to offer?

Then, explain how an education at Dartmouth will help you develop your skills so you can take your involvement to the next level.

More Dartmouth Supplemental Essay Tips

As mentioned above, Dartmouth has carefully crafted these prompts in order to get to know their potential students.

  • While drafting your response to the second writing supplement, keep in mind that admissions officers want to know about a combination of your passions, curiosity, humor, self-awareness, and social awareness.

If you read your final draft and can’t see yourself in it, it may be time to revise.

One way to ensure that you have written a strong response is by including specific details about your life and experiences.

  • Dartmouth claims to read every word of these responses and wants to find out more about you than what appears on a resume. If you are rehashing any part of your application, you need to rethink your strategy (or pick a different prompt).
  • Think of it this way: You want to introduce a new part of your personality to the admissions officer. Don’t get stuck mentioning the same thing in both essays and on the Common App.

While responding to the second supplement, make sure that you have cast yourself in an active role.

If you describe an incredible organization, their mission, and the selfless volunteer coordinator who introduced you to service-learning, that’s cool to hear, but admissions officers haven’t learned anything about you.

  • Instead, you should include detail about the work you did with the organization and the difference it made to your worldview, education, and career choice.
  • Including action steps is the safest way to craft a powerful supplemental essay. Mention what you did and how you took the initiative to pursue your curiosity.

Always remember, you must “help [the college] envision what you’ll bring to Dartmouth.” Show Dartmouth that you will be a contributing student on campus.

Conclusion: The Dartmouth Supplemental Essays

Before you write your response, remember that writing supplements are not full-length essays.

Do not waste your word count attempting to fit in an introduction and conclusion.

Instead, get directly to the point, address the question, and allow your passion to show through your writing. After all, Dartmouth says that their intention is to get to know you, and you wouldn’t want to disappoint!

Also, make sure your responses sound like you. Have someone who knows you well read over your responses. They’ll be able to let you know if your voice and personality were captured.

Dartmouth’s website encourages this authenticity when crafting your essays. They say, “If you’re always funny, be funny. But if you’re the serious type, show us that side of you.”

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