How to Write the Dartmouth Supplement

Continuing our How To Get In series, this time we’re tackling the Dartmouth supplement. The Dartmouth College supplement consists of two additional short writing responses. The biggest challenge is the length of the writing responses--the first response is 100 words or less, and the second is 250-300 words. For both, we encourage our students to repeat and embody our mantra of: “think small and tell a story.” We break down every prompt for you below.

But first, let’s take a look at a few typical Dartmouth students to understand the type of student they’re admitted before. Below, we’ve detailed 3 students who we spoke to while writing this post. We’ve changed the names, but their profiles are accurate. Talking to current students is also a good starting point for your research on Dartmouth or any other school. Every time you apply to a school, you need to really know the ins and outs of it, and it’s important to reference the details of your research throughout your application.

  1. Laura is a Dartmouth ‘19 Engineering major at Thayer and she plays on the club ultimate frisbee team. She loves to hike in her spare time, and volunteers for OLE (Outdoor Leadership Experience), teaching local middle school students leadership skills through outdoor activities. Laura also loves cheese. So much so that she is thinking about teaching a Collis Miniversity “Cheese 101” Class. She’s most excited for sophomore summer this upcoming summer, and she’s taking her off-term in the fall to intern at a green startup in New York.

  2. David is an ‘18 Latin American Studies major. He just decided to tack on a minor in Geography. David rushed and joined Sig Ep fraternity his sophomore fall, and got super involved. He was just elected to be Social Chair. He led a nature photography trip for First Year Trips this past fall. David works at RWIT (Institute for Writing and Rhetoric) located in the library, helping students write and edit papers. He also regularly writes creative and cultural pieces for The Mirror section of The Dartmouth, the campus newspaper. He studied abroad last spring in Barcelona.

  3. Katia is a ‘20 and is pretty sure that she’s going to be a Government and Psychology double major. She’s a drill instructor for the French department, teaching less advanced language students to speak French using the Rassias drill method. She isn’t sure if she’s going to rush next fall, but if she does she knows she wants to join a local sorority, like KDE or Sigma Delt. She was just selected to be a Rockefeller First Year Fellow this summer. She’ll be interning at a think tank in Washington DC.

Onto the essays.

Oh, The Places You'll Go is one of the most popular books by ''Dr. Seuss'' (Theodore Seuss Geisel, Dartmouth Class of 1925). Where do you hope to go? What aspects of Dartmouth's curriculum or community might help you get there? 100 words or less

This is Dartmouth’s version of the “Why X School?” question, but with a twist: its restrictive length. Because this response is so short, it’s imperative that you do your research and choose one definitive takeaway to reference. If the broadness of the question, “Where do you hope to go?” is overwhelming, then start from the other end. Think about where you don’t want to go or what you don’t want to do as a framing mechanism to start your research. As always, you need to tell a story in this response, but keep it concise because of the length. As a reference point for length, this paragraph has already hit 100. So you’ll have to really plan what you want to say in order to keep your story concise. Include one specific, telling detail about Dartmouth that incorporates well into your profile and make sure it’s not random. If you haven’t mentioned your interest in writing or politics once in your application up until now, this is not the best place to write about how you want to be Editor in Chief of the Dartmouth. Remember that this question is really testing two things: (1) if you’ve done your research and (2) if you’re focused.

Respond to one of these: 250-300 words

1. Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth '91, creator of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, recently documented her Year of Yes; for one year she vowed to say YES to everything that scared her. Share a moment when you stepped out of your comfort zone, and describe how it helped you grow into who you are today.

Every student that we’ve coached through this asks the same question: “What does [Dartmouth/insert any school here] want me to say?” Alas, there is no right answer. For this prompt, it’s important to remember that the event itself doesn’t matter. How the story illustrates growth matters. This prompt is the perfect place to think small, and perhaps talk about a time when you may have failed in one respect but succeeded in another.

We worked with one of our former students, Amanda, on this prompt. Amanda is incredibly shy and introverted, and so she told a story about when she volunteered to present a project first in her history class. She debated about volunteering for the duration of the project and ultimately decided to squash her fear and do it. After she presented, Amanda may have thrown up in the bathroom from her anxiety, but she felt strong. It was a lesson for her in the power of controlling your emotions and expanded her perception of what was possible. Presenting first in a class is not a big story to tell, but the lesson for her was huge. Her response painted a dynamic story of a student who not only acknowledge her fears but, confronted them head on by taking a tangible step towards progress. And she got in.

2. Celebrate an example of excellent teaching and how it illuminated the subject you were studying. Why did it resonate with you and excite your intellectual curiosity?

A response to this prompt needs to really stand out, because it’s asking about a very specific relationship: mentorship. As such, your writing on this topic should tell a story about a unique connection and experience. This prompt is not for the majority of students, to be frank, so if you’re searching the depths of your soul for a mentor relationship to talk about--skip it. Don’t stretch. Admissions officers can always tell when you’re making a story up. If you do decide to tackle this question, make sure there is a narrative arch.

If you tell a story on this topic we advise starting in medias res because it will draw the reader in.  Make sure that there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. We can’t say this enough. This story should involve two individuals/characters, and stay that way throughout. The secondary character, the teacher, should mirror personality traits the primary character is striving to have. Overall, the message should connect the two individuals in a way that surpasses the limits of the story. Perhaps the mentor reflects an aspect of the mentee’s personality that indicates a depth of thinking. The point is to illustrate a more mature mentorship relationship through the lens of a very small lesson or event that occurred and bonded the two individuals. Contact us if you need help with this because if done incorrectly it’s atrocious.

3. In the wake of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey proclaimed, ''The world's troubles are your troubles...and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.'' If you could tackle any of the world's ''troubles,'' which one captures your imagination and inspires you to act? What would you invent or devise to mitigate it and how might your coursework at Dartmouth inform your ambitions?

This is our personal favorite, if we had to choose one. Because this prompt asks you to delve into a specific issue, you absolutely should. Keep it focused, and don’t stray too far from the information that the reader already knows about you based on your application. The topic that you choose should connect to your profile, but you can choose a topic that you have yet to fully delve into because you haven’t had the opportunity or space. You can venture outside the theoretical space to tackle a practical problem. Be mindful of the topic that you choose. And again, keep it to a small, accomplishable task that addresses a problem that you find important under a larger issue umbrella.

For example, we had a student tackle the issue of ‘gender-based violence’ for this prompt. Of course, you can’t tackle all of feminism (or world hunger or the conflict in Syria) in 250-300 words. But what he did was kept it local and actionable:

If violence against women/gender-based violence is the overarching issue then you tackle it by:

  1. Observing the issue: where there is immediate evidence of the problem (bring in statistics)? Our student kept it small by talking about college campuses.

  2. Offering a solution: leaders must acknowledge the problem. And the financial supports of institutions need to demand the incorporation of mandatory education for freshman on the topic. This, in combination with a robust increase in funding to support a comprehensive structure of resources, counseling, and justice advocates. This is your suggestion for change.

To tackle this prompt successfully, we cannot emphasize research and specificity enough. Your short prompt will serve as a lens into a larger trend. Pretend that you’re preparing for a paper (which you are, just a mini paper) and you must read all of the leading scholars’, writers’, and editors’ opinion on this niche topic. Then come up with your own perspective based on your knowledge while also incorporating the thoughts of more influential writers.

4. ''It's not easy being green'' was a frequent lament of Kermit the Frog. Discuss.

This is your chance to be seriously creative. This prompt might be intimidating because it’s so vague and short. Rid yourself of that fear. Let’s reframe it as humorous and open-ended. You can interpret it however you’d like--there’s no right way to take it. You can take it literally, figuratively, politically, or metaphorically. But by all means, do not take it seriously.

Some ideas that we have about this prompt include: writing a letter to Kermit in an attempt to assuage his lamentations. Perhaps you can’t empathize with his being green but you can identify with being envious of other people at times. You could even disagree with Kermit; after all, Kermit isn’t real, so how can he think something? Maybe “It’s not easy being green” is Kermit’s conclusion and you have to tell the ‘before’ story from his perspective. Whatever you decide, make the writing fast-paced and funny. If you’re going to answer this question, be funny. Are we getting that point across? Another crucial note is that this is Dartmouth’s subtle way of referencing its colors (“Go Big Green”), so don’t overlook that and be sure to include some *subtle* reference to that without hitting it on the nose.

5. ''Three things in human life are important,'' said the novelist Henry James. ''The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.'' Share a moment when kindness guided your actions.

This prompt is your chance to pull on the admission reader’s heartstrings. More than that, though, it’s a chance to share a genuine story about an interaction. If one does not immediately come to mind, then you probably shouldn’t choose this prompt. Similar to prompt #2, if you have a contrived story about an interaction with someone that doesn’t read as sincere, then it will come off as self-important. If you choose this prompt, then it needs to stem from the most empathetic moment of your life where you exercised selflessness in a unique way. This prompt is complex because your response needs to simultaneously tell a story about how you executed a situation where you stood to gain nothing in return, but you still need to expand the story in a way that reflects who you are. If you want to talk through this prompt feel free to email us and we’ll give you our honest opinion.

6. ''Won't you be my neighbor?'' was the signature catchphrase of Fred Rogers, the creator and host of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. What kind of neighbor will you be in our undergraduate community at Dartmouth? What impact have you had on the neighbors in your life?

Our advice for this prompt would be to write a letter to your future neighbors (similar to the Stanford supplement). Explain who you are, what type of neighbor you’d be, and what you’d bring to the neighborhood through a series of anecdotes. We find students are able to express more of their personality in a letter. You could even interpret the idea of “neighbors” loosely, and write a letter to people other than your future dorm-mates. It could be a letter to your neighbors sitting next to you while you do your reading on The Green, your neighbors posted up in Baker Berry Library studying alongside you for finals, or your neighbors in Studio Art 25: Painting I whose easels will flank yours for the duration of the quarter. Explain who you are through this letter with personal examples and anecdotal stories. We’d advise keeping the tone light, jovial, and funny. Any chance that you have to make an admissions reader laugh, take it.

While all of the above essays and response ideas are based on our experiences and certainly have worked, they are just a few of many ideas. We wanted to give you one option for how to answer each question, but the real truth is that we have so many creative ideas for each student. There’s no one size fits all answer. In our work with our students, and after getting to know them, our answers or ideas may very well change. We will say, however, that every time we’ve helped a student with the Dartmouth supplement, they’ve gotten in. Give us a call or send us an email--we’d love to help you get into your dream school.