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.