How to Write the Dartmouth Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

Padya Paramita

How to Approach the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2019-2020 

If you’re planning to apply to Dartmouth College, you probably already know that you need to build a stellar application in order to stand out among the tough competition. After all, Dartmouth only accepted 7.9% of applicants for the Class of 2023. Your scores, extracurriculars, and personal statement are undoubtedly important. But you send these to every school. So in order to be more specific about why you’re applying to Dartmouth, and convey to the admissions officers why you might be a good fit for the school, you need to take advantage of the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020

A lot of students apply to top schools such as Dartmouth for the name and fame - to appease their parents or tell their friends they got into an Ivy League school. If you’re truly interested in attending, writing a well-thought out supplemental essay that demonstrates your commitment to the school can go a long way. Admissions officers use the supplemental essays to get to know you better - what you value in an academic setting, what current events matter to you, an unusual aspect of your background - and determine whether you’re a student who would thrive at the college. To guide you through Dartmouth’s essays, I’ve outlined each of the prompts, how to tackle them, and more tips for writing your Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020.

How to Write the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

Alongside the standard “why Dartmouth” question, the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020 also offer you the chance to showcase how you might fit in with certain characteristics the school values in prospective students. While the first prompt is mandatory, you only have to answer one of the following six short answer prompts. Depending on which prompt resonates with you, you can elaborate on your background or what you hope to change about the world. You might reflect on the way you find creativity, or recount a story that has moved you. 

Let’s take a look at each of the upcoming cycle’s prompts and some ways to go about answering them. 

Prompts for the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

1. 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 2024, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

The first thing that catches the eye with this prompt (other than the fact that it’s not optional) is the word limit. 100 words isn’t a lot of space. In fact, you can barely write an introduction in under 100 words. So how are you supposed to write about all of the things you like about the college?

The key to answering this prompt is to prioritize what you’re hoping for from your college experience. Don’t write one sentence each about ten or twelve different things you appreciate about Dartmouth. Focus on one or two. Remember, admissions officers want to know if your interest in the school is authentic and well-informed. When the word limit is so restricted, there’s no space to beat around the bush. Browse the college’s website or social media pages and see how courses, clubs, or study abroad programs align with your passions. 

You might be fascinated by the ability to design your own unique major. You might be excited by the prospect of studying Astrophysics in greater detail than ever. You may be inspired to write about how you’re drawn in by the campus improv groups and view them as a great opportunity to hone your performance skills. It’s important to think about how you might benefit from and contribute to the Dartmouth community. 

Don’t spend too much time providing context on who you are. Get straight to the point because you have very little space. Admissions officers need to come out from reading the essay with a clear picture of why you are excited to attend Dartmouth! The things you mention in this essay should align with your application persona - or, the overall theme of your application. Are you an artist who has participated in exhibitions around your state? Are you a budding zoologist who’s worked in animal shelters? Even though the word limit is so short, admissions officers should be able to picture parts of campus where you’ll contribute.

2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

Option 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.

Since this question asks for a story, legend, genealogy, or tradition, you have freedom in deciding the part of your background to highlight. Don’t forget the second part of the question, however, which asks you to introduce yourself. While it’s okay to talk about how your grandmother migrated to a different country at a young age or how a certain tradition held a lot of meaning for your ancestors, your mini-essay should ultimately focus on you. How are you affected by your family history? What has the story in focus taught you about your goals and ambitions? How do you navigate a family tradition in present day?

Dartmouth makes sure each of its classes is made up of individuals from a wide array of backgrounds, and makes it a priority to “leverage that diversity to enrich and deepen the education of our future global citizens.” So this prompt is a chance for admissions officers to learn more about where you come from or an interesting story about your background that they might not deduce from your application. 250 words provides slightly more room to talk about various parts of your identity. It’s important to strike the right balance between sharing your background and clearly introducing yourself within this still restricted limit.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!


Option B

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 College appreciates students who are aware of current events and aren’t afraid to have a “sense of responsibility for one another and for the broader world.” This question on the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020 directly aligns with that value. The heart of this question is in the last two sentences: admissions officers want to know which issue in the world you’re the most concerned about, and how a Dartmouth education can help you combat it. 

Think about which academic program or department might connect with the “trouble” that drives your future plans the most. If you’re passionate about the environment, you could write about your concern regarding the current state of climate regulation, and how you want to work with an organization that studies and tackles the issue. Support your passion with details about how the Dartmouth Environmental Studies department can prepare you for this career, mentioning specific courses, such as ENVS 60 - Environmental Law or ENVS 80.1 - Arctic Environmental Change, that can instill the skills and knowledge you will need. Accompany your course choices with relevant activities you’d participate in such as the Dartmouth Organic Farm, the sustainable living community, or the college’s study abroad program in South Africa to prepare for battling climate change.

If you choose to answer this prompt, make sure you pick an issue you’re genuinely concerned about. Don’t say something that you think sounds impressive - like child labor in South Asia for example - if you don’t have any prior knowledge or authentic curiosity surrounding the issue.

Option C

 In The Painted Drum, author Louise Erdrich ‘76 wrote, “… what is beautiful that I make? What is elegant? What feeds the world?” Tell us about something beautiful you have made or hope to make.

This question might appeal to you if you’re someone who spends time on creative work - whether it is poetry or documentary film-making. Creative work definitely doesn’t mean you have to be an artist or performer. You could also be an engineer who has made a robot that does household chores. Or you could be a programmer who’s coded an app that helps your community. It could also be something on a larger scale, such as forming your own nonprofit - the word “make” in the prompt is flexible. Use the 250 words to write about what inspired you to start the project, discuss some fulfilling and tough parts of the creative process, how you feel about the end result, and what you hope to achieve.

Remember, your focus can also be on something you haven’t done yet. If you’re planning to write a novel or create your own recipes, show Dartmouth your vision. The goal here is for admissions officers to read your answer and know right off the bat that what you’re describing is a project you’ve worked hard on (or plan to work hard on), and are genuinely passionate about. Remember that the school wants to give you “opportunities to share [your] expertise and passion.” If your love for what you do shines through, admissions officers will gain a deeper understanding of your interests and how the school might be able to help you. 

Whether you’ve created the object of your focus yet or not, your project should be thoughtful and require effort. It should authentically reflect your goals and interests as a creator, and not be something you make up on a whim as an answer for this question. 

Option D

“Yes, books are dangerous,” young people’s novelist Pete Hautman proclaimed. “They should be dangerous—they contain ideas.” What book or story captured your imagination through the ideas it revealed to you? Share how those ideas influenced you.

This question might seem fairly straightforward, but it can be easy to lose track of the different parts. You might think you just have to write about your favorite book. That is not the case. Not only does the book or story have to be something you enjoyed, it also needs to have inspired ideas in you.

Just because the book has to be inspiring doesn’t mean you must take the prompt literally and write about a self-help book. The influence doesn’t have to be translated into grand gestures either. You could have been motivated by the scope of a historical fiction to conduct an oral history project about your own family. You could be inspired by a musician’s biography to explore a career in curating movie soundtracks. Or you could be inspired to partake in a random act of kindness every day. There are numerous possibilities - but make sure it’s a book or story that genuinely resonates with you, rather than thinking of a classic novel that you are supposed to feel connected to but don’t actually care about at all. 

Consider adding how you plan to take action on these ideas at Dartmouth. Don’t go overboard with connecting it back to Dartmouth (the question doesn’t ask for this explicitly), but it may feel natural to reference how you plan to use your inspiration at the college. 

Finally, remember to carefully divide up each of the different questions the prompt is asking to fit within the word limit. With prompts like this, you might be tempted to summarize the entire plot of the book. Don’t do that - briefly provide context, and primarily focus on one or two key points that are directly related to the ideas they revealed to you.

Option E

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

This particular prompt might be the most open-ended question among the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020. It can mean anything really to “celebrate” your curiosity. And your curiosity doesn’t have to be academic either. While it’s definitely not a bad idea to connect the prompt to your extracurricular or career interests, you can write about something entirely different so that Dartmouth admissions officers can see a different side of you. You might use this prompt as an opportunity to talk about a varied interest and let them know that you’re multifaceted!

Write about a niche topic that you could discuss forever. You could be curious about anything. If you were a dancer as a kid, you might be curious about how dancers rehabilitate and recover from injury depending on the genre of dance. If your favorite subject is math, you might be completely intrigued by the Pigeonhole Principle.

Another way to tackle this prompt might be to narrate an anecdote which demonstrates the ways you expressed your curiosity. For example, you could outline a series of instances when you asked your dad questions he was completely thrown off by.

Just like the “why Dartmouth” essay, don’t try to squeeze all of the questions or anecdotes you may have about your curiosity for the world into 250 words. Find one or two related topics that spark your curiosity and elaborate.

Option F

Labor leader Dolores Huerta is a civil rights activist who co-founded the organization now known as United Farm Workers. She said, “We criticize and separate ourselves from the process. We've got to jump right in there with both feet.” Speak your truth: Talk about a time when your passion became action.

This one is pretty straightforward. To gain acceptance into Dartmouth, you can’t just say you have important ideas. You have to show that you’re more than a big talker through concrete examples. While the quote centers around social justice and activism, the prompt asks about any time that “passion became action.” While it’s definitely impressive if you started a reproductive rights advocacy organization based off your passion for women’s health issues, you can also write about something on a smaller scale, such as playing in your own rock band because you live and breathe music. 

The question asks about the time you drove into action mode, so instead of using too much of your word count to explain your passion, focus on how you actually pursued the activity, whether it happened in a day or gradually, and how you’ve had an impact. Dartmouth appreciates students who are committed to collaboration, so emphasize ways you included a bigger community in your efforts. 

Additional Tips for Writing Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2019-2020


  • You have a choice - use it well - Since you have the option to select one of six prompts for your second essay, the topic choice could make a significant difference to your admissions decision. You could also look at the finished product and make your decision. If it turns out that a story about your sketchbook fits prompt D better than prompt C, then select prompt C. Don’t be afraid to be flexible with your ideas, but ultimately choose the prompt that you believe will bring the strongest essay out of you. 
  • Cut unnecessary words - It’s obvious that the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020 allow very little room to write your answers. Between the two essays, you only get 350 words! It can be tricky to get your point across in so little space. You can’t change the limit, so don’t waste your time sulking or complaining about the fact that you’re 300 words over; just start cutting! Use a thesaurus, ask a teacher or friend for feedback, and read sentences out loud to see if they’d still make sense if you shorten them. 
  • Don’t repeat your personal statement - Since a lot of the options in the second part of the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020 ask you to reflect on your goals, achievements, or background, it could be easy to repeat what you’ve written in your personal statement. After all, your personal statement is a story unique to you, and the topic of it might overlap with one of the Dartmouth prompts. But, remember that the admissions officers will already have read your personal statement. Supplemental essays are meant to add another layer, providing more context on your identity and character. Don’t repeat your personal statement and give admissions officers the idea that you have no other interesting stories to tell. 

The Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2019-2020 provide an additional opportunity to tell the admissions officer who you are. While the first prompt is all about showing that you really have done your Dartmouth College research, the optional essays let you share more about your background and interests. Both are golden opportunities to solidify your interest in Dartmouth and convince admissions officers that you embody the values they look for in students. So take advantage of the supplemental essay component. Your knowledge of the school and personal stories might end up getting you admitted.

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