How to Write the Dartmouth Essays: Tips + Examples

Two students writing an essay
September 5, 2023
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 8/9/23

Are you struggling with your Dartmouth essays? Read on to learn what the admissions committees are looking for and how to make your essays memorable!

According to Ernest Hemingway, “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 

If only it were that easy! Supplemental essays help determine your candidacy for your dream school and ultimately your career trajectory, which can make writing them seem impossible! 

Students often struggle when it comes to the Dartmouth essays and wonder how to start their essays, what to write about, and most importantly, how to impress the judges. Fortunately, we have the tips and suggestions you need to sit down at your laptop, assuming you don’t have a typewriter, and bleed out the most compelling essays!

Someone writing an essay

Dartmouth Essay Prompts

The first part of learning how to write the Dartmouth essays is reviewing the prompts themselves! Here are the first two mandatory prompts students must respond to:

1. Dartmouth celebrates the ways in which its profound sense of place informs its profound sense of purpose. As you seek admission to Dartmouth's Class of 2027, what aspects of the College's academic program, community, or campus environment attract your interest? In short, Why Dartmouth? Please respond in 100 words or fewer.
2. "Be yourself," Oscar Wilde advised. "Everyone else is taken." Introduce yourself in 200-250 words.

For your final essay, you’ll be given the choice to answer any one of the following prompts:

A. Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta recommended a life of purpose. "We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things," she said. "That is what we are put on the earth for." In what ways do you hope to make—or are you making—an impact?
B. What excites you?
C. In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba '14 reflects on constructing a windmill from recycled materials to power 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 made?
D. Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel of Dartmouth's Class of 1925, wrote, "Think and wonder. Wonder and think." What do you wonder and think about?
E. "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced," wrote James Baldwin. How does this quote apply to your life experiences?

Your answer must be between 200-250 words.

How to Write the Dartmouth Supplemental Essays

Now that you know which essays you’ll be responding to, you can begin brainstorming experiences, abilities, talents, and goals to share with the committee. As you likely noticed, your responses should be short. You only have between 100-250 words to answer each prompt. 

While this may seem like a relief, it will be challenging to adequately answer the prompt while staying as clear and concise as possible. Follow these suggestions to ensure all of your answers pack a punch:

Prompt One

The number one tip to keep in mind as you answer the first prompt is to do thorough research. Do not be fooled by this prompt’s word count. You’re still expected to demonstrate your immense interest and enthusiasm to join Dartmouth.

To do so, you’ll need to research Dartmouth’s programs, community, and other unique attributes. Do not write a generic answer that could be used to apply to any college! Be specific, get straight to the point, and reflect on your choice to apply to Dartmouth. 

Go beyond Dartmouth’s prestige and Ivy standing. The committee knows students are drawn to their school for its status and esteem, so differentiate your essay by choosing another reason to attend Dartmouth. Ask yourself the following questions during the brainstorming process:

  • Why am I applying to Dartmouth?
  • What excites me most about going to Dartmouth?
  • What programs or extracurriculars do I hope to join at Dartmouth?
  • What is my ideal college experience? How does Dartmouth meet or exceed these expectations?
  • How will I fit into the Dartmouth community?
  • How can Dartmouth help me achieve my goals?

Focus on one or two main attributes of Dartmouth that you’re most excited about. 

Prompt Two

The second prompt tends to be a little more challenging for students. So, to simplify it, your answer should revolve around key qualities, traits, and interests that make you, you. Do not start from your childhood and work your way up, there is simply not enough room for you to do this, and frankly, it’s unnecessary.

The committee is interested in learning more about the type of person that will be joining their community. Do not list your accomplishments or extensive extracurriculars, they will already have access to these through your Common Application.

Think about what makes you stand out, the experiences that have shaped you, and your future goals. There isn’t a right or wrong way to answer this question, so think outside the box! 

Maybe you’ll explain who you are through a narrative, by choosing three words to describe you and elaborating, or simply speaking directly to the committee.

Prompt Three

The final prompt to discuss when exploring how to write the Dartmouth supplemental essays offers you several options to choose from. Let’s breakdown how to answer each of these prompts to ensure you pick the best one:

Option A

The first option asks you to consider the impact you want to make on the world and how you’ve already begun working on these goals. Your impact does not have to be related to your academic interests. 

For instance, if you’re planning on pursuing a science degree in hopes of becoming a doctor, but spend your free time tutoring underserved students, you may want to mention your interest in continuing to serve underserved populations and ensuring education is accessible to everyone.

Choose a long-term goal you’re genuinely passionate about and ensure you demonstrate your enthusiasm to make the world a better place. Discuss how you plan to reach your goals, who they’ll impact the most, and how Dartmouth will aid you in your journey.

Option B

The second prompt you can answer is quite open-ended. You can take it whichever route you choose, but the safest option is to expand on your interests and passions. 

As difficult as it may be, stick to just one interest for this prompt. Do not submit a laundry list of all of your interests without developing them further. This question may ask you to simply state what excites you, but the admissions committee is expecting detailed elaboration. 

Consider the following questions as you craft an answer for this prompt:

  • Why does this passion excite you?
  • How have you developed your interest?
  • How do you plan on further developing your interest?
  • Does your interest relate to your career? If so, how?
  • How can Dartmouth’s resources help facilitate this passion?

Remember to connect your answer to Dartmouth as much as possible to demonstrate how well you’d fit into their community!

Option C

Students often misunderstand this question, so let’s break it down part by part. The first step is to share your motivation to create. This creation does not have to be related to the arts; it can involve projects you pursued in or outside of the classroom or initiatives you started to bridge a gap in your community.

The next part of the prompt asks you to discuss what you’ve already created and what you hope to create in the future. Ensure you touch on both of these points to impress the committee. 

Avoid choosing a topic you have yet to make any contributions to, because it will be harder to convince the committee you’re genuinely passionate about a creation you have not even attempted to begin. Connect your creations back to Dartmouth and explain how you hope to achieve your goals through them. 

Option D

Prompt D, like prompt C, is vague. Asking what you wonder and think about leaves a lot to the imagination. The possibilities for this prompt are endless and there isn’t a particular answer the committee is looking for. On the contrary, this answer should showcase your unique interests and personality.

Do not pose philosophical, worldly questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” or “is there an afterlife?” While you may genuinely wonder about these things, they are too cliche and broad. Think about more specific questions you have about the world. Consider places you want to see, careers you’re curious about, or even potential bucket list goals you have. 

This will offer the admissions committee a glimpse into your thought process! Be sincere and honest. Explain why you’re curious about your chosen topic and share any relevant anecdotes that can offer more insight into your interests. 

Option E

The final essay option asks you to share any challenge you may have faced in your life. This challenge could have occurred at any time of your life; it may even be a challenge you’re currently working through.

It does not have to relate to your academics; it can be personal as long as you avoid sharing highly personal information that could be considered TMI. Explain the challenge, the impacts it had on you or those closest to you, how you overcame it, and what you learned.

The traits you want to emphasize through your answer are resilience, problem-solving, perseverance, responsibility, and leadership!

Dartmouth Essay Examples

Now that you know the basics of how to write the Dartmouth essays, you may be curious to see how all of these tips look when combined. To ensure you leave this guide feeling as confident and prepared as possible, here are sample essays for you to draw inspiration from:

Prompt One:

Here’s an example to prompt one from a student that hopes to join Dartmouth’s mathematics program:

I have always appreciated the simplicity of mathematics. It has no grey area, is objective, and unambiguous. Its sense of certainty is why I took AP classes in mathematics and further developed my intrigue in complex mathematical models.
This sparked my desire to pursue a career as a mathematician. Majoring in mathematics at Dartmouth will provide me the skills to apply abstract mathematical theories to the real world. 
I am also highly interested in becoming one of Dartmouth’s Bryne scholars, so that I can work amongst distinguished experts to use mathematics to solve pressing challenges in today’s world. 

Prompt Two: 

Consider this example from a student that used a meaningful narrative to answer prompt two:

Ironically, I have been a huge fan of Oscar Wilde since I first read his poem “Requiescat.” I fell in love with the way he danced around such dark themes with beautiful imagery and hid tragedies behind perfectly poised phrases. 
For instance, I learned “Requisecat” was written about his sister who died at the age of nine. However, you do not get a sense of tragedy in his poem. Instead, there is beauty and tranquility in the way he depicts his sister at peace now, at rest where the daisies grow.
Oscar Wilde is who inspired me to write and turn my own tragedies into beauty. I lost my father at the age of 15. He fought a long and unfair battle with an enemy that never slept, had advanced weaponry, and absolutely no remorse. The doctors called it ​​cholangiocarcinoma. 
But, instead of letting this tragedy define me, I made it into something beautiful. I wrote a novella about the life my father lived before his sickness consumed him. About his upbringing in Sicily, his boyish wonder, and love for race cars. 
That was how I chose to remember my father. Through this experience, I learned to make the best out of everything, to always find tranquility in chaos, and to use it as my muse. A writer is who I am at my very core. I hope to continue honing my writing skills and ability to create life from death through Dartmouth’s Creativing Writing program. 

Prompt Three: Option A

Use this sample to guide you in your brainstorming process for option A:

Palliative. It’s an interesting word, when you don’t know the meaning of it. I was in the seventh grade when I heard the first whispers of this strange word. 
Then again in the eighth when the whispers grew to soft words spoken around the dinner table, and eventually screams as my parents argued over whether it was finally time to put my brother in palliative care. 
He had cystic fibrosis and had been waiting for a lung transplant for years. By his ninth birthday, he was in active lung failure and there was nothing else the doctors could do. So, we were introduced to palliative care; keeping my brother comfortable until he passed away—which he did, six months later.
After my brother’s passing, I made it my goal to ensure other kids did not meet the same fate as him. During my freshman year, I was able to set up a fundraiser stand at our local carnival for the few weeks it was in town. I was able to raise $11,000 that year for cystic fibrosis research, and continued fundraising each subsequent year. 
In the future, I plan to be more heavily involved by conducting the very research I am currently fundraising for. I hope to find more accessible and effective treatments for cystic fibrosis so fewer families have to encounter the dreaded “P” word, like I did.
I know the first step is obtaining a Biomedical degree and participating in extensive research at Dartmouth. 

Option B

Here’s a sample answer to option B:

I pushed my first piano key when I was six years old at a music shop my mother frequented often. She was an avid violinist and enjoyed spending her free time visiting different music shops. 
My mother saw my interest in the piano, as my eyes lit up at the sound that I thought came from my finger at the time. She enrolled me in lessons the next day and I have been playing the piano ever since. 
There were often nights I would play the piano from dusk till dawn, in complete delight at the sound of each key. Music became my full-time hobby, creating it and listening to it. Music is magical to me, the way it makes people move, brings them together, can soothe a broken heart, or open up unhealed wounds. 
Music has always been my therapy. It has been my comforting companion during the worst and best of times. It has added color to my life and has given me purpose. I hope to share my music with others and become a professional pianist in the future, so that I may broaden others’ horizons, help them heal, and unite them. 
I believe Dartmouth’s Music program will allow me to not only hone my piano skills, but to learn more about the roots and lineages of music traditions, how to become the best performer, and perhaps even how to play new instruments!

Option C

This student took an unconventional approach to prompt C:

I was always told to pick up a hobby whenever I complained of being bored. My mother would say “busy minds don’t have time for boredom” as she barely looked up at me from her knitting. 
I tried knitting, but found my mind wandering and yearning for more excitement as my hands robotically looped and pulled and looped and pulled. As I contemplated which hobby to try, my father called me outside to help him in the garden. 
He always sported a sunburn, had soil caked under his fingernails, and smelled of the earth. He needed me to help him sow some seeds to make a pumpkin patch.
I dragged my feet and questioned his ability to grow pumpkins. My father answered my doubt with a smile and urged me to follow along with his pumpkin project and see the “magic” for myself. That summer, I not only ensured the pumpkins received adequate water, were protected from squirrels and weeds, but I created my own garden. 
I grew lettuce, cucumbers, beans, and even cherries - which I learned have cancer curing properties. I fell in love with creating life with nothing more than my hands and a rake. I loved the feeling of the cool soil in my hands and was stimulated by the research required to grow plants to their optimal levels.
I hope to continue this journey of discovery and creation by researching the potential medicinal properties and abilities of natural ingredients, such as cherries, in the future.

Option D

This sample of a student who is interested in criminal psychology may help you option D:

The criminal mind has always been a topic of interest to me. I have watched all of the crime documentaries out there, read dozens of novels trying to explain why criminals commit the acts they do, and even listen to crime podcasts in the shower! 
I am intrigued by criminals’ backgrounds and wonder if they are made or born, and if there is a way to prevent the creation of criminals. After pondering the idea for years, I have yet to come to a definitive answer. 
What fascinates me the most about this topic is that its ambiguity does not stem from a lack of research. On the contrary, researchers and scholars have dissected the criminal brain for centuries. 
One of the earliest criminologists was Cesar Lombroso, who brought forth the idea of the born criminal and suggested they are a regressed form of human. I find his work utterly captivating and hope to explore his theories further in the modern age. 
To continue my own investigations and to hopefully contribute more concrete answers to this discussion, I plan on becoming a forensic psychologist. 
To do so, I will first major in biology and minor in psychology at Dartmouth. I know at Dartmouth I will have the chance to participate in faculty-mentored research where I can learn more about human behaviour in general and the factors that determine it. 

Option E

If you choose to write the last essay topic, here’s a sample to guide you:

I grew up in Punjab, where the air was always warm and welcoming and carried the scent of flowers and incense. Everywhere I went, I heard my beautiful language being spoken by people that greeted me with smiles as warm as the sun.
Then, I moved to America. My father wanted a better life for my siblings and I. So, we traded our tight-knit village for the bustling, large city of Chicago, where no one knew my name, and I rarely heard my beautiful language. 
Instead, I heard a foreign language that I struggled to learn. When I started school in the fourth grade, I was an easy target for bullies. I had an accent almost as thick as my glasses. I always said “present” during attendance, and my bullies were quick to notice I rolled my “r” for far too long.
But, I took ESL classes throughout middle school. I read in my free time and joined ESL summer programs every year. Chicago started to feel more like home. I started hearing a different beautiful language that I understood more and more everyday. 
By high school, English became my favorite subject. I understood even the most complex novels and wrote compelling essays on them. I am also no longer ashamed of my roots, in fact, I smile when I catch myself rolling my “r” on some words.
I also smile when I learn new English words, and am happy to say I am now the master of two beautiful languages.

FAQs: Writing the Dartmouth Essays

In case you have any remaining inquiries about how to write the Dartmouth essays, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about these supplemental essays.

1. How Do You Approach Dartmouth Essays?

To write a successful Dartmouth essay, you must first spend time brainstorming. Write out all of your ideas so that you can then fine-tooth them and determine which ones reflect your personality best. 

Once you’ve found the perfect topic or experience to discuss, be descriptive, sincere, and demonstrate your enthusiasm. Focus on aspects that make you unique and highlight your most valuable skills and traits throughout your answers.

Whenever it’s appropriate, ensure you also connect your response back to Dartmouth!

2. How Many Essays Do You Write for Dartmouth?

You will have to write three Dartmouth-specific supplemental essays and one Common Application personal statement to apply to this college.

3. How Long Should Dartmouth Essays Be?

Each essay has a word limit, so ensure your essays fall within them. If you pick a topic you’re passionate about, you should find it difficult to stay within the word count! The first prompt is only meant to be 100 words; you will likely need all 100 words to explain your interest in Dartmouth.

Similarly, the other two prompts are supposed to be up to 250 words. Aim for your answers to be at least 200 words. 

4. Are the Dartmouth Essays Required?

Yes, you’re required to complete the Dartmouth essays as part of the application process. These essays not only give the admissions committee more insight on your writing skills, but help humanize your application! 

Final Thoughts

With these tips and suggestions in mind, you may be able to heed Hemingway’s advice and easily write essays that capture your essence and core values, traits, and experiences! Remember to remain genuine, honest, and demonstrate your sincere interest in joining Dartmouth. Good luck!

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