Choose one of the following prompts:

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • What excites you?

  •  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.  

  • “Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away,” observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo’s perspective to your own life.

If you love thinking about Big Ideas, like why books are dangerous, how to nurture creativity, and ways we cultivate beauty, you might find writing the Dartmouth essays actually fun! The hard part? Choosing a prompt.

Quick tip: You can probably recycle this essay for another school’s supplemental essay, or vice versa (tweak something you’re writing for another school for this prompt). If you already have a list of your essay prompts for the other schools you’re applying to, consider writing a Super Essay and use it for both. 

Here are some quick tips for each prompt:

  • Prompt #1: Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. Like the Common App Personal Statement, this one is open to broad interpretations. See the example below for more tips about this prompt.

  • Prompt #2: Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it? This is a future-focused essay in that it doesn’t really rely on Something Important You’ve Done. So, hey, if you’re worried that you haven’t done a ton of stuff worth writing about, this might be a good one to consider.

  • Prompt #3: What drives you to create? This is a great prompt for not only creatives, but also scientists, and even business students. Think about it: you can create lasting friendships, a way of looking at life, or the best way to cook scrambled eggs. Spend a half hour thinking about all the things in your life that you make. There are probably a lot. Then ask yourself: Why do I create?

  • Prompt #4: What excites you? This prompt is an open request for you to talk about your interests, but remember to bring it back to yourself and your values. To brainstorm ideas, take 2 minutes to play the “I Love” Game. That should give you a menu of ideas. Pro Tip: this could also be a great chance to write a mini “Why Major?” Essay

  • Prompt #5: Celebrate your curiosity. Curious about internet slang? Wondering where Suzan-Lori Parks drew her inspiration for Topdog/Underdog? Here’s your chance to write about it. Check out the example below for more tips on this prompt. 

  • Prompt #6: Everything changes, everything moves. What in your life has changed, or evolved? Or what changes have you witnessed in your community? Have you been comfortable with these changes, or not so much? How have you adapted, grown, developed? This is another one that’s worth spending 30 minutes just thinking about. Maybe go for a walk, put on some music, and let your mind wander as you consider what change has meant in your life. Or, for that matter, curiosity, creation, or any of the rest of these prompts.

Here’s a great example:

Dartmouth Supplemental Essay Example:

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. (250-300 words)

•2002 Prasuti-Griha Hospital, Nepal. I’m born Shrinkhala Sunuwar. Eleven months later, my parents weep. Diversity Visa Lottery is a win and loss: my parents can’t bring me to America with them. 

•2008 Kathmandu, NP. I greet people with नमस्कार (namaste). Dust permeates my nostrils as I walk by others bargaining in market stalls to grandpa’s palm reading sessions. Flickering temple lights, smells of incense, and lively monkeys open my eyes to my Nepalese ethnicity and religion. 

•2009 Brighton-MA. I become American and reunite with my parents. I’m mystified by July-4th fireworks. Autumn turns green leaves red and yellow. Other firsts: riding trains, biking in parks, learning to swim at the YMCA, and my first loss: grandpa’s death to laryngeal cancer. These experiences strengthen my character and impulse to explore the unknown. 

•2012 Walter-St, Roslindale-MA. I become a photographer. My escape: Arnold Arboretum. I birdwatch and sit atop Peter’s Hill to marvel at the city view. I bike across winding trails that lead to secret destinations. Desire to capture nature leads to a love for photography. 

•2015 Centre-St, Roslindale-MA. I’m reborn as Caroline Sunuwar. A paint palette and a palate for American dishes. First house. We spend hours painting walls red, white, and blue. I eat Harry’s All-American Breakfast, A & N Pizza, and burritos. I gain appreciation for America’s colors and flavors. 

•2016 Boston, MA. I become a leader. BLCDC. Seven teenagers host drives, bake sales, petitions for nuclear disarmament through Mass Peace partnership. Social advocacy leads to a stronger self. 

•2019 Everywhere.  Hello has replaced नमस्कार. Instead of running around temples throwing bananas at monkeys, I pray peacefully at Sri Lakshmi temple. Rather than observing market vendors, I observe physicians, politicians, and researchers. The Diversity Visa Lottery that separated my parents and me has ultimately yielded more wins than losses. 

— — —

Quick Tips + Analysis 

  1. Due to the word limit for this one, if you want to include a challenge, keep it short and impactful. The writer clues us into incredible challenges (being separated from her parents for 7 years and her grandfather dying while she is away in America), but she doesn’t linger for too long on these. The essay could have been about seven years without her parents and how that shaped her (and in some ways, it is), but she keeps going. She shows her values of independence and adaptability. She also explores complexity. Instead of “My parents left me behind when they went to America,” for example, she writes, “Diversity Visa Lottery is a win and loss: my parents can’t bring me to America with them.” This demonstrates that she recognizes the opportunity this change brought for her parents even though it was likely difficult for the whole family. 

  2. If possible, avoid common phrases. How? First, write a draft describing your story exactly as it happened. Focus on getting all the details on the page (the more, the better). Then, think about what’s essential to the story, and then try to describe the big challenges and transitions in an unexpected way. Challenge yourself to find unique words and phrases that are specific to your life. Some examples from this essay:

Instead of:

“I grew up speaking  Hindi” 

She writes:

“I greet people with नमस्कार (namaste).”

Instead of:

“Then, I came to America and learned English.”

She writes:

“Hello has replaced नमस्कार.”

Here’s another great example essay:

Dartmouth Supplemental Essay Example:

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? (250-300 words)

While I lived in Mexico, my dad’s security system could not protect our restaurant from robbers, who would steal anything from cash to the shrimp from our freezer. After the sixth robbery that year, I began experimenting with our security system. It turned out the devices were utterly unusable: the cameras would disconnect, the sensors would malfunction overnight, and the alarms wouldn’t contact the police. I wondered how we could improve that system.

That’s when my interest in engineering was born. 

I want to design a multitasking, roof-crawling, autonomous device capable of sensing, recording, and reporting potential criminal activity. But to develop the necessary skills and knowledge, I’ll need Dartmouth’s help.

At Dartmouth, I look forward to a modified major in the Thayer School of Engineering that teaches both Psychology and Engineering/Computer Sciences. 

Thieves are often able to outthink security systems because they research their target prior to attack, so exploring cognition through courses like “Psychology and Organizations” will help me create a system ready for the most creative minds.

In addition, I am interested in Professor Charles Sullivan’s research on “Microfabricated magnetic components using nanomaterials,” and Professor Eric Fossum’s research on “Advanced image sensors and camera systems.” Miniaturizing the components of a robot and utilizing next-generation camera technology together can revolutionize the ways that security devices monitor and record. 

Finally, having been raised in three distinct cultural worlds, I seek to promote diversity wherever I go, and I’m looking forward to sharing part of my Mexican heritage with other Latinx students by joining La Alianza Latina.

Coming from a family that has been committed to intensive manual labor, I pioneer the era of modern technology. With a Dartmouth education, I contemplate the possibility of upgrading the security of our small restaurant and perhaps, one day, national security.

— — —

Tips + Analysis 

  1. Consider using this simple, three-part structure: the challenge, what you’ve done (or hope to do) about it, and how Dartmouth can help. Even though this prompt asks you to discuss a problem in the world, admission readers really want to know about you and how you’ll use your education. State the problem succinctly, say why it matters to you personally (if you can), then spend the rest of the essay showing how you’ve tackled it (or will tackle it) and what specific resources you’ll make use of. 

  2. Consider hooking the reader (briefly) before revealing your specific topic. This student starts off with “robbers, who would steal anything from cash to the shrimp from our freezer,” creating a compelling story line and urging the reader to continue reading to learn more. This is much more interesting than if he’d started with the thesis, “I want to create advanced image sensors and camera systems to prevent robberies at my dad’s restaurant.” 

  3. Approach the second half like a “Why us?” essay. Get super duper specific with what opportunities you’ll make use of at Dartmouth. Imagine yourself at Dartmouth and paint that picture for the admissions reader. Include professors you’re interested in working with and classes you’re dying to take. By letting us know that Dartmouth has a modified major in the Thayer School of Engineering that teaches both Psychology and Engineering/Computer Sciences and classes like “Psychology and Organizations” to help him get into the heads of thieves, it’s clear that this student has really done his research. For more on how to do this, click here for the complete guide.

Here’s one more great example:

Dartmouth Supplemental Essay Example: Prompt #2

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.  

“I don’t get it.”

I glance over at my sister. We are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at Composition, my favorite piece by Piet Mondrian. Tracing the dark lines, we watch as they meet at vertices to form rectangles. “It’s math,” I reply. “No pun intended, but that’s the point.”

If we had not been in a crowded museum, I would have told her that one of the first things we are taught in algebra is how to graph a line on a coordinate plane. That Y=MX+B governs us until we learn Y=ax^2+bx+c. I would have explained how we are reminded, time and time again, of the importance of graphical analysis; like the paintings of Mondrian, though not as gracefully, our lines come together to form shapes. Geometry then teaches us of right angles, the foundation of both structure and society. Calculus asks us to retrieve data from the lines we had graphed when we first learned. Forming an Eulerian cycle, our mathematical world follows a path, hitting off each edge and meeting back at the same vertex.

I was not a math person until I stumbled upon the works of Matt Parker and Noson S. Yanofsky. Staying up late into the night, flashlight in hand, sister reminding me to get some sleep, I was introduced to a world of numbers beyond what I’d been taught in school. I began to see mathematical concepts for their beauty, recognizing their influence in art and philosophy, even pushing myself to try Coursera courses in coding after Parker’s references to logic gates. Besides being the bane of schoolchildren everywhere (and perhaps my family at the dinner table), graph theory underlies the methods with which we perceive our universe — both literally and figuratively, the possibilities are limitless.

— — —

Tips + Analysis 

  1. Consider using “geeky” language. This writer shows us that she knows her math and catches the reader’s tired eyes with: “That Y=MX+B governs us until we learn Y=ax^2+bx+c.” 

  2. Tell us what you’ve done outside class. Push yourself to go beyond what’s offered at school and show that off (humbly) in your essay. For many, high school sucked. This student tells us about her late-night internet discoveries (Matt Parker, a literal “Standup Mathematician,” and Noson S. Yanofsky, a college-level math prof who writes college-level stuff for the advanced and curious HS students). But then she goes further, taking “Coursera courses in coding after Parker’s references to logic gates.” What do you learn about outside of school? Surprise us. Haven’t explored much outside class? There’s still time! (Probably.)

  3. Try to make uncommon connections. Art + math = uncommon connection. We don’t expect a moment at the MET to turn into an ode to math. But it does, and that’s what makes this essay great. How do you do this? Take a look at this values list and ask yourself: What’s something the reader would not expect me to say?

Special thanks to Cathleen for contributing to this post.