Dartmouth College asks applicants to answer three supplemental essay prompts, each quirkier than the last. As the smallest and most northern Ivy League school, Dartmouth stands out for its tight-knit community and famously creative alumni, from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Rogers, to Mindy Kaling and Robert Frost. If you’re applying to Dartmouth, you might find their unusual essay prompts intimidating. In this post, we’ll break down how to answer each of the Dartmouth supplemental essays. We’ll also help you choose the right prompts for your unique background and personality so that you can put your best foot forward on your application.
Dartmouth College’s 2023-2024 Prompts
You will need to write three essays for your Dartmouth College application. The first essay is a relatively straightforward “Why Dartmouth?” prompt. For the second and third essays, you’ll be able to select your favorite prompt from a list of prompts. You’ll want to choose wisely!
Supplemental Essay Prompts
- 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 2028, what aspects of the College’s academic program, community, and/or campus environment attract your interest? In short, why Dartmouth? (100 words)
- Please respond to one of the following prompts. (200-250 words)
- There is a Quaker saying: Let your life speak. Describe the environment in which you were raised and the impact it has had on the person you are today.
- “Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde advised. “Everyone else is taken.” Introduce yourself.
- Please respond to one of the following prompts. (200-250 words)
- What excites you?
- 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 already making—an impact? Why? How?
- Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel of Dartmouth’s Class of 1925, wrote, “Think and wonder. Wonder and think.” As you wonder and think, what’s on your mind?
- Celebrate your nerdy side.
- “It’s not easy being green…” was the frequent refrain of Kermit the Frog. How has difference been a part of your life, and how have you embraced it as part of your identity and outlook?
- As noted in the College’s mission statement, “Dartmouth educates the most promising students and prepares them for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership…” Promise and potential are important aspects of the assessment of any college application, but they can be elusive qualities to capture. Highlight your potential and promise for us; what would you like us to know about you?
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 2028, what aspects of the College’s academic program, community, and/or campus environment attract your interest? In short, why Dartmouth? (100 words)
This prompt looks like many other college application prompts: it just boils down to “Why Dartmouth?” That said, there are some differences. Dartmouth admissions officers, when composing this prompt, hint at the location and mission of Dartmouth College. If you find yourself drawn to any specific aspect of Dartmouth’s mission statement and core values, this essay response is a great place for you to break down why those values speak to you and/or draw you to apply to Dartmouth College.
In addition, the reader expects you to have completed some research on Dartmouth’s unique offerings. Name programs, courses, clubs, and/or specific cultural qualities of Dartmouth College that interest you. Then, explain what interests you about them. You could also touch on what makes Dartmouth different. Without putting other schools down, what does Dartmouth provide that you couldn’t have access to anywhere else? The key is that your reader should know you’re writing about Dartmouth whether they’re explicitly told or not. Why? Because your explanation for why Dartmouth is right for you could not be repurposed for any other school.
Who Are You?
The following two prompts, which you can choose between, both focus on who you are. Option A asks about your background; option B asks you to introduce yourself. Unlike many other essay prompts, these prompts don’t focus on who you will be and what you will do, but rather on who you are now.
Here’s a quick breakdown to help you choose the prompt that’s right for you:
- If you would prefer to focus on how your community, hometown, family, school, or other factors outside of your control have shaped the person you are today, option A is probably the best option for you.
- If you would prefer to write about how you have developed as a unique individual, not necessarily as a result of your background (which may feel less compelling to you to write about), then option B is probably your best bet.
Option A: There is a Quaker saying: Let your life speak. Describe the environment in which you were raised and the impact it has had on the person you are today. (200-250 words)
This prompt asks you to reflect on your past and bring it to the page in a brief essay response. It’s a tall order: you’ll need to describe not only your background, but also how it has impacted you, and who you are today. These elements can be provided in any order. For instance, your essay could have one of the following outlines:
- Describe my unique way of seeing the world
- Describe my family and how they see the world
- Describe how my family influenced the way I see the world
- Open with an anecdote about my school
- Describe how I struggled to fit in at my school
- Express how that experience has shaped who I am today
These outlines are just examples, not suggestions or prescriptions. Before writing this essay, consider writing your own outline so that you can be sure you incorporate all of the important elements into your essay.
Option B: “Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde advised. “Everyone else is taken.” Introduce yourself. (200-250 words)
This essay prompt asks you who you are, but more than that, it asks you to describe what makes you unique. If “everyone else is taken,” authenticity is all the more important. Honesty and integrity are crucial aspects of the college application process; this essay particularly relies on authenticity and standing out from the crowd by means of your authenticity.
Like your “Why Dartmouth?” essay, you want this response to be applicable only to you. If someone who knows you read this essay without anyone telling them who wrote it, they should be able to identify the author confidently.
Introducing yourself is a notoriously difficult task despite sounding quite simple. Consider the biographical details that make you who you are. Also, consider your response to the classic “Tell me about yourself” interview question. Then, try to identify a thread that links some or most of your identifying characteristics together. To the best of your ability, highlight that thread in your essay response.
What Do You Do?
The following six essay prompts are diverse and creative, but each comes down to the same core: what do you do? This question could apply to your academic life, your extracurricular activities, your community service, your family obligations, what you do for fun, or some combination. It can also apply to what you will do in the future (and how you are currently preparing to do those things in the future).
Here’s a brief breakdown of why you should pick each prompt:
- Option A is the broadest and should be chosen if you feel like you have a good sense of a cohesive answer already that doesn’t quite fit with the other prompts.
- Option B might be best suited to students who are engaged in civic or community service and wish to continue impacting society, though bear in mind that the prompt can be read expansively.
- Option C is likely best suited for students who have powerful imaginations that drive their academic, personal, or extracurricular explorations.
- Option D might be the prompt for you if you possess a specific, unique nerdy interest that might not otherwise be reflected in your application.
- Option E is a strong choice for students whose identities, experience of diversity, or challenging backgrounds have shaped their life experiences.
- Option F, last but not least, is the stand-out choice for students whose identities and actions in the actions in the present are most heavily influenced by their goals and intentions for the future.
Option A: What excites you? (200-250 words)
This essay prompt gives you a broad canvas to paint upon—which means you especially need to make sure your composition is cohesive! When writing your response to this prompt, you might want to start by focusing on a specific 2-4 activities, topics, ideas, etc. that excite you. If possible, draw a thread between the different items you list.
Note that it’s okay to describe just one topic/idea/activity which excites you. If you choose that route, you’ll want to be sure that you expand upon the nuances of your choice and how it excites you in a multitude of ways. Even if your essay focuses on a limited subject, you can describe the different strengths you employ to do this exciting activity. Alternatively, you could discuss the different parts of your personality which are required to engage with this idea which excites you.
When answering this question, don’t feel restricted to academic or “serious” endeavors. Excitement doesn’t need to have formal or educational origins to be genuine and appropriate for a college essay context. Nevertheless, if possible, provide some diversity to your brief list. You can get creative with your answer! For instance, you might list many (i.e. 10+) topics, but each revolves around 1-2 related central ideas. Stay cohesive and cogent.
Option B: 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 already making—an impact? Why? How? (200-250 words)
This essay prompt requires specificity when it asks “Why? How?” When describing the impact you hope to make or are already making, make sure your description is grounded in concrete details. Consider the following types of details you can name:
- Community organizations you work with or hope to work with
- Specific communities of individuals you help or would like to help
- Specific initiatives you are spearheading or hope to spearhead
- Specific social issues you are working to solve now or in the future
Even though this prompt implies topics of community or civic service in its response, you can respond expansively. For instance, if you are a painter, you might want to impact the people who view your paintings with a certain kind of emotion. If you’re a student-athlete, maybe you want to inspire the next generation of student-athletes or run marathons for charity. If you’re an aspiring mathematician, maybe you want to impact your specific field of interest with groundbreaking discoveries.
Whatever impact you hope to make or are making, do your best to elucidate what actions you are taking to instigate this change. Additionally, provide some insight regarding what motivates you to make this impact.
Option C: Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel of Dartmouth’s Class of 1925, wrote, “Think and wonder. Wonder and think.” As you wonder and think, what’s on your mind? (200-250 words)
Imagination comes in many flavors, and this essay prompt gives you the opportunity to share your unique flavor of imagination. Before you respond to this prompt, try sitting with your thoughts (with your phone and other devices put away). Let your mind wander. Do this activity for at least 15 minutes before writing down your thoughts. Write them down quickly, so you remember what they are! Feel free to do this exercise several times on different days. Doing so will help you accrue a diverse selection of thoughts.
When drafting the essay, you can use the fruits of your mind-wandering sessions as the basis for your answer. Using your real thoughts to spark your essay response will allow you to generate a genuine, memorable essay. Still, you’ll need to make sure that your essay is comprehensible to someone who doesn’t know you well. When we think, we often skip through logical progressions that make inherent sense to us. Be sure to share this essay response with a few readers who don’t know you well. These readers can point out where they struggle to follow your thought processes.
Option D: Celebrate your nerdy side. (200-250 words)
This joyful essay prompt gives you the opportunity to embrace what makes you a nerd, freely and without judgment. Many students have nerdy interests that don’t naturally fit into a college application. Maybe you have an obsession with a board game, a book series, or an esoteric area of study. If so, this prompt is for you.
If you’re full of nerdy qualities but finding this essay prompt challenging, consider asking a few friends or family members who know you well to describe what they think are aspects of your nerdy side. Oddly enough, “nerd’ is not usually a label we assign to ourselves, but one that others assign to us, sometimes in a critical manner. This essay prompt lets you reclaim this label in a positive light and express what nerdy activities, behaviors, or thought experiments you engage in—and how your nerdy side makes you you.
Option E: “It’s not easy being green…” was the frequent refrain of Kermit the Frog. How has difference been a part of your life, and how have you embraced it as part of your identity and outlook? (200-250 words)
This essay prompt puts a positive spin on the premise of being different and facing challenges. Try free-writing a response to this prompt before you compose a proper draft. What makes you stand out from the crowd, and how have those character traits, aspects of your identity, activities, or other qualities impacted the way you move through the world?
When embarking upon a draft of this essay, try to describe the way you, today, are influenced by your difference(s). What actions do you take, what perspectives do you hold, and how do you interact with the world as a result of your difference(s)?
As always, keep your essay response specific and personal to you and your experience. Although this essay response is about what makes you different, there may be many other students who are different in the same way or a similar way as you are. Ideally, if someone who knows you reads this essay, they will instantly know it’s about your experience, not the experience of someone who happens to be similar to you.
Lastly, note the usage of “embraced” in the essay prompt’s wording. The reader is anticipating an optimistic outlook and/or positive view of your differences. If/when you describe the adversity you’ve faced, make sure that your response emphasizes the way you have embraced your difference(s) despite or even because of the adversity you have faced.
Option F: As noted in the College’s mission statement, “Dartmouth educates the most promising students and prepares them for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership…” Promise and potential are important aspects of the assessment of any college application, but they can be elusive qualities to capture. Highlight your potential and promise for us; what would you like us to know about you? (200-250 words)
The wording of this prompt is giving you a heads-up when it says “Promise and potential… can be elusive qualities to capture”: many students respond to this prompt without quite capturing the promise and potential they aim to highlight. Knowing this, it’s your job to capture those qualities in yourself nonetheless.
How can you illustrate your promise and potential to a reader, without sounding arrogant or self-satisfied? One way is to describe the concrete actions you have taken to grow and/or better yourself. Demonstrating growth will imply the continuation of growth. Moreover, if you make that implication explicit by describing how you continue to foster your growth, you will be able to humbly prove your potential.
In sum, you can provide a brief narrative of how you overcame a challenge or obstacle; how you grew as a person; or how you learned an important life lesson. Focus on an area of your life not otherwise highlighted in your application. Then, describe how you changed as a result of that experience. Finally, conclude by describing the actions you take currently to keep overcoming challenges, learn, and grow.
If you need help polishing up your Dartmouth College supplemental essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.