How to Write the Dartmouth College Supplement 2018-2019

Dartmouth is a small liberal arts (Ivy League!) school located in the woods of New Hampshire. Last year their acceptance rate was 8.7%. It’s located on the Connecticut River, which partly separates Vermont and New Hampshire. It’s a great place for outdoorsy and library-loving students alike, but it certainly is in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, that’s the appeal for many who attend. Dartmouth owns its very own skiway and a slew of cabins available for students to rent throughout the year. With a bit less than 4,500 undergraduates, Dartmouth is all about building community. And supplement speaks to that; they want students who apply to understand what it means to attend and to know their specific answer to why Dartmouth?

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 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

While we love Dartmouth for many reasons, but we don’t love how this question is phrased. Put simply: it’s pretentious. Alas, this speaks to what we said above about really knowing Dartmouth for yourself and speaking to your interests. Think of this as your opportunity to make an argument to Dartmouth about why you want to be there. Not just at Dartmouth, but: in Hanover, New Hampshire; in the Upper Valley of the American northeast; amongst the trees; walking distance to Vermont; straight-up on top of the Appalachian Trail, which ranges all the way from Maine to Georgia. This is a challenge because you have to both do your research and keep it short. Make it snappy, informed, and unique.

Choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

“I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

In order to choose this essay and have us sign off on you doing so, you really need to be an expert in something. That one thing that we’ve been asking you to really delve into for the last four years? Your interest in discovering new viruses and experience working in virology labs for three summers? Your intense commitment to crafting recipes and writing a cookbook over the last two years? Your passions for teaching and storytelling which lead to your attending and performing at eight shows of The Moth your junior year of high school? This is the time to talk about those things in relation to this quotation. It’s really for those students who have gone above and beyond in one specific area and want to speak to that. Take the reader on the journey from realizing there is a gap in the world that your knowledge could fill to presenting your research. You have to have something tangible to point to that indicates your interests. It’s OK if that’s not you, but if it’s not, then don’t choose this question.

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 is a great one; it’s easy. It’s essentially a second Common App essay and it can be about pretty much anything. Whatever your secondary interest was that got left on the cutting room floor of your Common App essay crafting experience? This is where you can revive it. All you have to do is condense it down into 250 words. Remember: less is more, and the quirkier the better.

“You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

Although this seems like an easy essay because it’s about “creativity” that’s exactly the trap that Dartmouth wants you to fall into. This essay isn’t about creativity in general, but rather about a specific creative burst that cause the tectonic plates of your life to shift in such a way that they are never the same. If this doesn’t sound like a familiar experience, then this essay is not for you. This moment has either happened to you, or it hasn’t, and the format of this essay should read almost like a painting. It should indicate complexity, texture, and bring in unexpected symbolism; it can’t be a normal essay. And this isn’t about an emotional or mental revelation that you then kept to yourself and pondered for a year--this is about an event. We’d advise that you avoid talking about any extracurriculars here, particularly because this is a question that aims to highlight the profound. And, they already know that you were a championship tennis player because it says so in your Activities section.

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?

We encourage you to exercise extreme caution before deciding to pursue this question. There are a lot of troubles in the world right now that personally scare us enough to act on a daily basis. It’s complex and terrifying, and there is very little that you can say about “action” in 2018 that won’t come off as, well, glib and entitled. Many people are directly impacted by the political crises of today, and we generally like to avoid our students coming off as “soapbox-y.” In fact, we regularly tell students to run away from the soapbox. Writing about a political issue that doesn’t actually impact your life directly is tenuous ground to stand on when your application is stacked against individuals who are writing about things that matter, like poverty, homelessness, existing in this world as a person of color, or gender-based violence, when they have actually been faced with and continue to face on a daily basis. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t continue fighting these fights. In fact, you should probably be fighting way harder than others because you have the emotional space to give your time and energy to these causes and you haven’t been disenfranchised or shut out of potential success for centuries. What we are saying is that if you choose this prompt, you should be writing a story about what you have already done. We're all worried and concerned about everything--what have you done about it? Though we will say: if you’re reading this, Emma Gonzalez, feel free to choose this prompt and give them something jaw-dropping on the topic of gun violence. You have the brightest green light from us.

In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

While we might choose prompt B because it’s easy to craft to our interests, we would like to think we’d challenge ourselves to answer this question. This question is about the big E: Empathy. Your answer to this should be a story and an interaction that prompted an important lesson. What does empathy look like to you, and how do you continue to expand your conception of empathy? We should all answer this question as an exercise in humility, self-reflection, and emotional expansion.

Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

Honestly? Don’t choose this prompt. Reg flag alert. You are like everyone else when your words are floating on a page amongst hundreds of thousands of other words on thousands of pages sitting in the Dartmouth Admissions Office. No matter how compelling your words, in this case, you won’t be able to make yourself jump off the page. We always tell students to “show, not tell,” and this prompt is a trap because it’s asking you to tell them why you can’t conceive of anyone being at all similar to you; why you are so intensely unique that you cry tears that turn into glitter and sing as if Amy Winehouse was reincarnated into a unicorn who you embodied in a past life. There are many other opportunities for you to show your quirks and unique interests. This is not it. It’s too on the nose.


Let us know if you have additional questions. If you can’t tell, we’re opinionated and can probably help you decide which one is right for you pretty quickly.