How to Approach the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Padya Paramita

How to Approach the Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays 2021-2022 

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 8.8% of students for the Class of 2024. 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 are a good fit, you need to take advantage of the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2021-2022

Many students apply to top schools like 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, 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 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 2021-2022.

How to Write the Dartmouth College 2021-2022 Supplemental Essays

Alongside the standard “why Dartmouth” question, the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2021-2022 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 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 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. 

Please respond in 100 words or fewer:

Why Dartmouth Prompt

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 2026, 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 aren’t many. 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 looking for from your college experience. Don’t write one sentence each about ten or twelve different things you enjoy 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 the community. 

Don’t spend too much time providing context on who you are. Get straight to the point because you have very little space. When the admissions officers finish reading your essay, they should have a clear picture of why you are excited to attend Dartmouth! Your essay should highlight your application persona, which is the memorable hook that makes you unique.  . 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 restrictive, admissions officers should be able to picture you contributing to different aspects of campus life.

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

Prompt 1

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.

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.

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. So while it’s okay to talk about how your grandmother migrated to a different country at a young age or how a certain tradition holds a lot of meaning to 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 the present day? 250 words provide 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.

Prompt 2

What excites you?

This is an extremely open-ended prompt. In fact, the scope is so broad, you might be tempted to avoid answering this question altogether. However, this prompt does provide a wonderful opportunity for the Dartmouth admissions officers to get to know you beyond what you’ve stated on your personal statement and activities list. On its website, the school states that it, “encourages independent thought, and promotes a robust culture of interdisciplinary collaboration” as well as provides a “comprehensive out-of-classroom experiences, including service opportunities, international study, and global engagement.” Think about these factors as you ponder on what to write about — how do you express yourself? How have you collaborated with others? What inspires you to get out of bed every morning?

The answer to this question doesn’t have to center on a groundbreaking activity or passion. While it’s certainly impressive if you started a reproductive rights advocacy organization based on your passion for women’s health issues, you can also write about something on a smaller scale, such as how excited you are to play with your own rock band because you live and breathe music. You might add in 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 these ideas at the college. 

Prompt 3

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?

This question might appeal to you if you’re someone who spends time on creative work - whether it is poetry or a documentary. Creative work definitely doesn’t mean you have to be an artist or filmmaker — Dartmouth wants to give you “opportunities to share [your] expertise and passion,” regardless of what it is. 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 your own nonprofit - the word “make” in the prompt is flexible. 

Whatever your interest, there is almost certainly the opportunity to make something. Use the 250 words to write about what inspired you to start the project, what were some fulfilling and tough parts of the creative process, how you feel about the end result, and what you hope to achieve with it. Remember, what you focus on can also be something you haven’t done yet. If you’re planning to write a novel or create your own recipes, talk about 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. 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. 

Prompt 4

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 particular prompt is another very open-ended question among the Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2021-2022. To “celebrate” your curiosity can mean almost anything. 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 from your application persona so that Dartmouth admissions officers can see a different side of you. You can use this prompt as an opportunity to talk about a unique interest and let them know that you’re not a one-trick pony!

This is the place to write about a niche topic that you could talk about 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 in your childhood when you asked your dad questions completely threw him off. Just like the, “Why Dartmouth” essay, don’t try to squeeze all of the questions or anecdotes you may have about your curiosity about the world into 250 words. Find one or two related topics that you are curious about and elaborate.

Prompt 5

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

This prompt asks for a story of growth. It might be intimidating at first to try and analyze the quote, but upon greater observation you may realize that it’s very similar to how the personal statement prompts often expect you to reflect on moments of change. Dartmouth admissions officers hope to use this prompt to understand how you’ve dealt with change, and what you’ve taken away from situations that may even have forced you to change yourself. 

Over your four years in high school, you meet a lot of new people and go through a lot of new experiences. It’s not unheard of for someone to feel like a completely different person by the end of those four years. Like the other prompts, there’s no one way to interpret what the question asks. You could have gone from the weakest link on your football team to the star player, or from the singer in the back of your choir to the top a capella soloist. If you found yourself working hard to practice and improve, the end result may have been impressive. Don’t forget to highlight what you learned about yourself through the experience. It could be your own grit and never-give-up attitude. You could have learned who your true friends were in a time of struggle. Whatever it may be, make sure to exemplify how your actions have changed since the growth - is there anything different that you’ve noticed in your behavior or approach to matters? Demonstrate your self-awareness and ability to adapt to new circumstances.

Prompt 6

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 2021-2022 directly aligns with that value. The heart of this prompt 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 improve 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 change, and how you want to work with an organization that studies and tackles the issue. Support your passion with details about how the Dartmouth College Environmental Studies can prepare you for your career, mentioning specific courses, such as ENVS 60 - Environmental Law or ENVS 80.1—Arctic Environmental Change, that can instill the skills and knowledge that you need. Complement your course choices with relevant activities you’d want to participate in such as the organic farm, sustainable living community, or study abroad program in South Africa to learn more about how to best prepare for tackling climate change.

Additional Tips for Writing Dartmouth College supplemental essays 2021-2022

  • You have a choice - use it well - Since you have the option to choose one from the six prompts for your second essay, the topic selection 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 2021-2022 provide you very little room to write your answers. Between the two essays, you have to write you only get 350 words! It can be tricky to get your point across in so little space, but you can’t change the limit. So don’t waste your time sulking or complaining about the fact that you’re 200 words over on your essay, but instead start cutting words. Use a thesaurus, ask a teacher or friend for feedback, and read sentences out loud to see if they still make sense after 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 2021-2022 ask you to reflect on your goals, achievements, or background, it could be easy to repeat what you’ve written about 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 schools with more context on who you are. 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 2021-2022 provide you with the chance to tell the admissions officer who you are. While the first prompt is all about showing that you really have done your research, the optional essays enable you to share more about your background and interests. All are golden opportunities to solidify your interest in Dartmouth and convince them how you embody the values they look for in students. So take advantage of the supplemental essay component. Your knowledge of the school and your stories exemplifying Dartmouth’s ideal characteristics might culminate in an Ivy League acceptance letter.

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