Dartmouth Essay Topics

Dartmouth College 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 essay of 100 words, 1 essay of 250-300 words.

Supplemental Essay Type(s):Why, Oddball, Community, Topic of Your Choice

Unlike many of its Ivy League peers, Dartmouth’s supplement is mercifully brief. It’s also deceptively brief! Although its list of prompts could comprise an essay unto itself, applicants only have to submit two essays. With six (6) options to choose from for the second essay, you need to think strategically about which one will help you reveal something unique that admissions won’t see elsewhere on your application. On such a short supplement, every word counts!

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, 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?

If you have the unsettling feeling that you’ve read this prompt somewhere before, worry not. This prompt should ring a bell because it’s just a slightly more verbose version of the most common supplemental essay question out there: why here? Phrased this way, Dartmouth’s prompt is specifically probing for information about what you love – about Dartmouth, and about the idea of college in general. The emphasis on campus life is clear, so focus on what you would do at Dartmouth. Are you planning to major in English? What cozy corners of campus would you curl up in to read a book? Do you have more of a newspaper or lit mag vibe? As with all other why prompts, research is the key to writing a memorable essay, so spend a little time on the Dartmouth website and literally map your path from where you are now to where you hope to be in the near or distant future.

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

In Love Medicine, author Louise Erdrich ’76 writes, ”Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.” Describe your ”hand” and reflect on how you have played it.

Do you believe in fate? What about privilege? Whether your lens on the world is spiritual or political, this question is about turning chaos into sense. What aspects of your life have been out of your control and how have you reclaimed them? This prompt may be particularly appealing to folks who have faced major challenges in their lives (especially if you haven’t already written an essay on Common App prompt 2). Maybe you were born with more allergies than you can count, but as a result of advocating for your own needs, you’ve also become sensitive and responsive to the needs of others. Perhaps you didn’t speak a word of English when your family first came to the U.S. but you found a way to connect with your peers through a shared love of SpongeBob Squarepants. If your story starts from a position of disadvantage, make sure your narrative culminates by showcasing your triumph or resilience. On the other hand, if you choose to talk about how hard your parents worked to make sure you had every advantage, remember that gratitude is key. Without being overly self-deprecating, aim to showcase your humility and perspective.

From songs and film to formulae and computer code, human expression and discovery take many forms. How do you express your creativity? What ideas or values do you explore and celebrate when your imagination wanders?

Hear that prospective comp sci majors? You’re creative too, and Dartmouth knows it! If you consider yourself a tinkerer or maker of any kind, this question could be perfect for you (unless you’ve already responded to Common App prompt 6). As the prompt suggests, creativity lies in your outlook: seeing the opportunity to use one of your skills in a novel situation; looking at a problem from a new angle to find the solution that no one else could see. No matter who you are, remember this classic writing advice: show don’t tell. So you claim that gardening or calculus is how you show your creative side? Okay, then immerse the reader in this activity with you. If you enjoy gardening, describe the plants, their qualities, and how you make your horticultural choices; are you drawn to the aesthetics or are you botanically inquisitive? Similarly, if your subject is calculus, show the reader how you sat in your dad’s office for six hours straight trying to calculate Pi on a three dozen sheets of paper using red crayon. Write descriptively so that the reader can feel as if he or she were experiencing your creative passion with you.

During the 2016 Olympic Games, American runner Abbey D’Agostino ’14 collided with another athlete in the first round of the 5,000-meter event. Both fell to the track. Although injured, Abbey’s first instinct was to help the other fallen athlete so they could continue the race together. Their selflessness was widely praised as the embodiment of the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship. Share a moment when kindness guided your actions.

This prompt is set up for you to reflect on what a wonderful person you are. Just kidding! Don’t get ahead of yourself. Admissions doesn’t expect you to be perfect. If empathy is one of your strong suits, this prompt will showcase your natural instincts very well. Use this prompt to show Admissions that you are not one of those self-absorbed Generation Z kids that old people complain about. A good response to this prompt will strike the perfect balance of showing and telling. You have already chosen to respond to this question, so don’t waste your precious words telling admissions, “I have always thought of myself as a nice person.” Instead, dive into the story and show them what it means to hold kindness as a core value. When has this value been tested? When has it been hard for you to treat another person with kindness? When have you made a personal sacrifice for another person? On a more upbeat note, have you been inspired by the kindness of others? Do you believe in paying it forward? Do you think kindness is the key to world peace? (For tips on how to avoid some of the most common clichés, check out this blog post.)

Twenty years ago, the world met Harry Potter and his companions. One of the more memorable lines from the J.K. Rowling series was spoken by Albus Dumbledore: ”Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” What ideas or experiences bring you joy?

First a quick shoutout: Appy Birthday Arry! In some ways, this prompt is a more open rephrasing of the earlier question about creativity. What makes you smile? What activities can absorb your attention to the point that you forget about your troubles? As the quote suggests, this prompt is also (once again) about resilience. How have you dealt with the darkest times? What gives you strength? Maybe your grandpa introduced you to classical music, and now, when you get sad, you pop in your earbuds and fire up your Schubert playlist. Or perhaps you’ve found that practicing jiu jitsu is a great way to release your anger and feel safe no matter where you are. Whatever you choose, remember that you aren’t simply answering a question; you’re also telling a story. Perhaps it’s the origin story of a routine or ritual. Or maybe it’s examining how a particular idea or practice has changed your life for the better. No matter what, make sure your arc has a beginning, middle and end.

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

Wow, a third question that is eerily similar to the others. Be aware of the fine distinction Dartmouth draws between “ideas you celebrate when your imagination wanders,” “ideas that bring you joy,” and now, “intellectual curiosity.” Whatever you write about, be precise and make sure it fits best with this prompt and neither of the others. Also keep in mind that this prompt also echos Common App prompt 6, so proceed with caution if you’ve already written about that “topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.” All that being said, this prompt is perhaps the best opportunity you have to really let your nerd flag fly. What do you love about school? What homework do you look forward to doing? Did you love The Scarlet Letter so much you pitched your English teacher an original term paper topic? Did the sheer elegance of a geometry proof once bring you to tears? Go all in. The idea here is to “celebrate” the ideas you love the most. Now isn’t the time to hold anything back.

“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams,” television producer Shonda Rhimes ’91 told graduating seniors during her 2014 Commencement address. ”It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” What inspires your hard work? What matters to you and how do you “make things happen” to create change?    

Despite its lovely narrative, this prompt (yet again) smacks of a Common App essay you may have already written! Prompt 4, on a problem you have solved or would like to solve, could be the one that got away… and now is your chance to write it! Otherwise, carry on. (Or circle back, as the case may be.) If you’re feeling inspired to continue with this prompt, ask yourself, “When have I made a change in my life? Who did it impact?” You answer can range from the personal to the global. Maybe you have worked incredibly hard to overcome an eating disorder. What was your first step? How did you motivate yourself to keep going? Or perhaps you noticed the dearth of books written by people of color in your school library and went on a campaign to diversify the selection. When have you been proactive in attempting to effect change? What inspires you to action? What kind of mark would you like to leave on the world?

I’ve always had a fondness for Dartmouth. To me, it’s the Ivy that’s content to do its own thing, nestled in the remote town of Hanover where its students can bend the bounds of their own intellectualism far from the trappings and distractions of bright city lights. Its alumni are unsurprisingly talented and thoughtful—including favorite sportswriters, journalists, comedians, and actors like Zach Lowe, Rembert Browne, Mindy Kaling, and Meryl Streep—and, if you’ll allow me to remark on purely anecdotal evidence, especially effusive about their experiences at Dartmouth.

Why should this matter to you, as you sit down to write your supplemental essay to Dartmouth this fall? First of all, Dartmouth engages in the practice of helping you learn about their institution through the nature of their questions. Not content simply to receive your answer, the admission office has thoughtfully chosen essay prompts that will educate you about the spirit of the institution—and its priorities—if you look carefully at each of the questions and the considerations behind them.

For example, rather than a simple “Why Dartmouth?” prompt, they ask applicants:

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?

Within that one question, you should be able to glean the importance of the long history of Dartmouth College, the pride taken in its size and setting, and the passion that current students and alumni feel for their alma mater. A generic response to a question like this will probably not do. Bring enthusiasm, passion, and depth of interest. Choose one aspect of the program, community, or campus environment, and set your sights solely on that idea. Make clear that you get it, and that you fit it at the same time.

With your second supplemental essay, you’ve got six essay prompts to choose from. Each of those prompts includes a relatively lengthy preamble before presenting the question at the end. Do not ignore the preamble in order to more speedily address the question, for each prompt—taken as a whole—contributes to the collective details of the Dartmouth experience:

Option A focuses on aspects of social justice and opportunity;

Option B introduces the myriad forms of human creativity and expression;

Option C supports the idea that a community of kindness and selflessness is an institutional value;

Option D is a celebration of joy in the context of the kind of whimsy we see in the world of Harry Potter;

Option E celebrates intellectualism;

Option F argues that only hard work can truly make things happen, that we’re impotent without effort.

Collectively, you should see the core attributes that define students at Dartmouth and contribute to a diverse community of talented, intellectually curious young people. My advice to you is to consider which of the six values above most closely connects to your greatest potential to contribute to Dartmouth. Might you be known as a joyful roommate and classmate, or are you more likely to stay up into the wee hours of the night exploring your own intellectuality through complex ideas? Choose thoughtfully, making your selection a tool you use to help Dartmouth admissions better understand what you have to offer your future friends and classmates.

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