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How to Ace Dartmouth’s Supplemental Essays | Guide & Examples, 2022-2023

School Supplements
Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller
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Dartmouth really throws down the essay gauntlet. Luckily, Prompt is here to make getting through easy and effective.

Basically, Dartmouth requires three supplements:

  • Why Dartmouth (100 words or less)
  • Introduce yourself (200-250 words) and
  • Choose one of five choices (200-250 words).

All of these quesions (and especially the second) can be hard to answer well without expert guidance. Luckily, you’re on this webpage — expert guidance is at hand! Good news: it’s going to be fairly easy for you.

Meet us below the table of contents to get started.

(For help with all aspects of your college application, head to our College Essay Help Center.)

Begin by brainstorming the experiences you most want to talk about;Why Dartmouth — Talk about 1-2 Dartmouth aspects you can’t wait to experience;Why Dartmouth — Example;Be Yourself — Discuss your experience that best shows one of the 5 Traits;Be Yourself — Example;Choice of 5 options — Our thoughts on choosing your prompt;Choice of 5 options — Examples;Helpful info on all the “other” stuff you’ll consider as you apply to Dartmouth (and other schools)
Begin by brainstorming the experiences you most want to talk about;Why Dartmouth — Talk about 1-2 Dartmouth aspects you can’t wait to experience;Why Dartmouth — Example;Be Yourself — Discuss your experience that best shows one of the 5 Traits;Be Yourself — Example;Choice of 5 options — Our thoughts on choosing your prompt;Choice of 5 options — Examples;Helpful info on all the “other” stuff you’ll consider as you apply to Dartmouth (and other schools)

    Begin by brainstorming the experiences you most want to talk about  

    Dartmouth gives this advice on their essays (emphasis added):

    “Your essays should help us understand those intangibles that can't easily be reflected in a resume. Show us the qualities that make you you. Your sense of humor, your passion, your intellectual curiosity, your self-awareness, or social awareness, or some mix of these. Your writing lets us get to know you and we read every word. Help us envision what you'll bring to Dartmouth.”

    Allow us at Prompt to translate. 

    By “intangibles” and “qualities,” Dartmouth is referring to the 5 Traits colleges look for in applicants. Dartmouth lists some traits they like:

    • sense of humor, 
    • passion, 
    • intellectual curiosity, 
    • self-awareness, 
    • social awareness

    And it’s a good list. Our list of the 5 Traits has a lot of overlap with this list, but it might be a little easier to navigate:

    • Drive (grit)
    • Initiative
    • Contribution
    • Intellectual Curiosity
    • Diversity of experience

    Basically, these qualities will lead you to succeed in college and beyond. If you write essays that contain experiences showing 1 or more of the 5 Traits, you will increase your chances of admission. That simple! (In fact, good essays can increase your chances by as much as 10x.)

    Thus, a bad way to think of essays is as a way for Dartmouth “get to know you,” as they say. (So many colleges say this, but they really mean “to get to know you to see if you have any of the 5 Traits.”) 

    A good way to think of essays is as a way for them to see, as they say, “what you'll bring to Dartmouth.” Yes! Show them what you’ve done so far so they can envision what you might do on their campus.

    This is why our biggest advice for both the personal essay and supplements is to begin not with the prompts — which at Dartmouth are a bit overwhelming, let’s face it — but by brainstorming your own experiences:

    • Academic work
    • Extracurricular experiences
    • Work experiences and domestic obligations
    • Personal learnings, projects, hobbies.

    Decide which 3-4 of your experiences are most compelling. These need to go into your essays. (Hopefully, the best of them are already in your personal statement — if not, here’s some guidance for how to make that as strong as possible.)

    Once you know what 5-trait-demonstrating experiences you want to talk about in your essay, the prompts become much more manageable. Now, they’re little places to plant the experiences you wanted to share that show all your college potential. 

    If you’ve done your brainstorming, let’s approach each supplement in turn:

    Why Dartmouth — Talk about 1-2 Dartmouth aspects you can’t wait to experience

    The prompt is (emphasis added):

    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.

    Our advice

    Why Us prompts seek to ensure that students are a good fit at that school and that you’ll likely choose the school if admitted. 

    So your goal in this very short answer is to show 

    1. That you know 1 or 2 specific things that Dartmouth has to offer (ie: do some research) having to do with academics, community, or campus environment +
    2. That they are a good fit for you (ie: talk specifically about your experience with those specific things that Dartmouth has to offer).

    Again, it’s all about fit — you + them = works well together. 

    Based on your brainstormed list of experiences, decide what would best fit here. Spend some serious time investigating Dartmouth’s website, particularly its academics, “campus life,” and news pages. The more you can cite specifics of their programs that make sense with your interests, the more you're going to score points here.

    Finally, if you visited the campus, that’s great. Mention it and anything that struck you during your visit in your answer.

    Bonus: here’s a cute blog post by a current Dartmouth student ruminating on the “Why Dartmouth” answer. Maybe it will inspire you. 

    Why Dartmouth — Example

    Example Why Dartmouth

    I didn’t want to write about wanting a college where the outdoors were part of the experience and how thrilled I was at the prospect of maintaining parts of the Appelachian trail with the Outing Club. But once I visited, I realized I could come clean: so many students I met viewed this aspect of Dartmout as integral to its appeal. That and being able to conduct independent studies (I’ve already done two in high school!) and speaking French in the French LLC: it’s my idea of college heaven. 

    Notes:

    • Word count: 89
    • Note: the links are just there for your reference. You don’t need links in your answer. 
    • Fit: The student cites many specific attributes of Dartmouth, and has clearly done research, including visiting. There’s not a lof of space, so the student didn’t get to share why they are great at these things, but their application presumably backs it all up elsewhere. 
    • Enthusiasm: Again, a Why Us answer is a great place to show you love the school. This answer’s enthusiasm is clear. 
    • Other ideas: You could also mention specific majors, classes you’d like to take, or professors whose work you like (the news webpage is generally good for that). 

    Be Yourself — Discuss your experience that best shows one of the 5 Traits  

    The prompt is: 

    "Be yourself," Oscar Wilde advised. "Everyone else is taken." Introduce yourself in 200-250 words.

    Our feedback:

    • Oscar Wilde — 10 out of 10. This is great advice. Also a great quip. No notes.
    • Dartmouth — not great. This is a totally scary, wide-open question that will likely lead many candidates astray. 

    Luckily, not you. You have Prompt to keep you focused. 

    Our advice:

    With this wide-open question, there’s no reason not to serve up your very, very best experience that demonstrates one or more of the 5 Traits. Whatever you achieved that really showcased this trait almost by definition has to be something authentic and profound about your identity. So think about it through this lens, as it’s just much more likely to lead you to essay fodder that impresses the admissions team, while still truthfully answering the question.

    Be Yourself — Example

    If you live near Central Square, like I do, you’ll hear a lot of complaining about the homelessness. All of this was backdrop to me, until I learned a friend was handing out free food with a nonprofit every Wednesday night. The idea that you could do something about these issues gripped me. 

    I joined the friend every Wednesday. It felt great to know I was contributing to lessening the problems in my neighborhood. But it wasn’t enough. Wanting to go deeper, I started helping the nonprofit with research for their grant applications — I both helped count people served, tally food distributed, and the like, as well as looking into reports my manager thought would help explain the greater homelessness trends. 

    That led to my first independent study as a junior. I convinced my school to let me devise a course of study, with guidance from a professor that my manager at the nonprofit put me in touch with. I looked at a variety of sources, including books like Color of Law that showed how exclusionary zoning laws have increased the price of housing, to articles on substance abuse. Today, I’m eager to continue learning about an incredibly complex issue, and eventually advocate for changes that could make a difference.

    Who am I? Not a person who could solve homelessness. But a person who is gripped by that problem, and wants above all to contribute to its solution. 

    Notes on be yourself:

    • Word count: 238
    • 5 Traits — they’re all here: Contribution (the initial reflex to help), Drive/initiative (taking on more responsibility, starting an independent study), intellectual curiosity (the independent study), and diversity of experiences (their outlook given these experiences). This is kind of an over the top story, but it shows how you might showcase these strengths. 
    • Weaknesses: though this would be a great essay, it might come off as a little pompous. There’s definitely room in your answer to this question to be much more down to earth, humorous and less high-falutin, even while showcasing some of the 5 Traits. 

    Choice of 5 options — Our thoughts on choosing your prompt

    The prompt options are (questions bolded):

    Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 200-250 words:

    • 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?

    To keep in mind as you approach your choice:

    First, know which experience you want to showcase here. Which of these prompts best lets you show off some of the 5 Traits? (But we covered that already.)

    Second, consider your answer here in conjunction with the answer above. How can you best fit your strongest experiences in, given the space you have between these two supplements? How do your two answers come together to paint a picture of your potential for success? 

    Third, these choices are actually all pretty good. There are just a few with potential pitfalls. Consider:

    Choice A — In what ways do you hope to make—or are you making—an impact?

    • Our rating: great option! 
    • It would be really hard to answer this prompt without being specific about experiences you’ve had that showcase drive, contribution, or intellectual curiosity. 

    Choice B — What excites you.

    • Our rating: could be great.
    • Potential pitfall: The concern here is that you talk on and on too much about the thing that excites you. Instead, make sure you keep the focus on the actions you’ve taken to learn about that thing, what you’ve done for your studies, what you’ve done with the knowledge acquired. You are trying to get into Dartmouth. The admissions team wants to know about you. They don’t really care about 19th Century Naval History, or whatever your thing that excites you is. 

    Choice C — What drives you to create and what do you hope to make or have you made?

    • Our rating: great option! 
    • Potential pitfall: Just make sure you talk about not just your motivation and what you want to do, but also the steps you’ve taken on your creative journey so far. Shouldn’t be too hard. 
    • Again, it would be hard to answer this prompt without being specific about experiences you’ve had or are having that showcase drive, contribution, or intellectual curiosity. 

    Choice D — What do you wonder and think about?

    • Our rating: could be great.
    • Potential pitfall: Similar to Choice C, the concern is talking too much about the thing. Keep the focus on you and your actions as you contemplate this thing.

    Choice E — Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

    • Our rating: great option! 
    • Potential pitfall: As with C and D, keep the essay’s focus on your actions, not on describing the problem you are facing. 
    • Overall, it seems likely that in answering this prompt you’ll focus on your actions taken so far and where they’ve gotten you compared to this problem. We like that.

    Choice of 5 options — Examples

    Choice A — In what ways do you hope to make—or are you making—an impact?

    Choice A Example:

    I hope to make an impact on reducing homelessness. That might sound naively overambitious. However, ever since I decided as a sophomore to do something about the homelessness that is rampant in Central Square near to my home, I’ve felt empowered, not hopeless. 

    I learned small beginnings lead to much larger effects. I began simply volunteering to distribute free food on Wednesday evenings. I wanted to do something and, after much online searching and asking around, that was the only opportunity I could find. Even it was difficult: I had to get a waiver for being under 18. 

    But slowly as my experience grew, so did my interest, and the opportunities open to me. I spoke with the nonprofit manager about wanting to understand these issues at a deeper level. She invited me to learn while helping her with research tasks for grants she was applying to: helping to count people served and track food donated, for example, as well as directing me to read and summarize certain new reports and articles she thought might help provide context on the issues we were facing. In that way, I started slowly learning more about the social factors at play. Eventually, I knew enough to work on my own independent study in high school.

    Today, I know how much I don’t know. But I also know that tackling even large, seemingly unsurmountable problems is the only way to eventually arrive at meaningful solutions. And to replace hopelessness with empowerment. 

    Notes:

    • Word count: 247
    • 5 Traits: all of them, as with the example above. 
    • Note: of course don’t reuse the same content across two different prompts. This is just to illustrate. 
    • This essay shows the strength of this prompt. No matter what your answer, you’ll be inclined to focus on the work you’ve done. Having lots of action verbs, no matter if you solved homesslessness or did something much smaller, will lead to a great essay that showcases a dynamic student who would add at lot to the Dartmouth campus. 
    • Actually, we like this content better in this prompt than in the “introduce yourself” prompt. 

    Choice B — What excites you?

    Keeping up with new technology excites me. There’s nothing I love more than when the latest tech release hits the stores. Most weekends, I’ll take the bus fifteen stops south of my house and then walk home, hitting up each tech store on the way back. These walks are where I get my ideas for the tech column I write monthly (unless there are a lot of releases, then more) in our school paper.

    I love being able to translate this new technology for people — explaining both what functions are new and why they matter as well as, practically, what tech might be worth upgrading for and what might best be left unbought. 

    Computers and tech have always “spoken” to me. That’s how I got my first job. I was at camp, and the computers kept breaking. I diagnosed various problems so often that the camp finally hired me as their tech person during my stay. I actually missed camp activities to stay in the office and rewire their system to be more functional. Personally, I had way more fun that way! I loved it so much, I did it again the next year.

    What’s great about tech is it will never dry up. There’s always new ingenuity to investigate. I look forward to doing so through coursework on computer science, engineering and business classes, as well as by continuing to stay abreast of tech advances and hopefully finding summer work at a tech company or startup. 

    Notes:

    • Word count: 249
    • 5 Traits: This essay showcases intellectual curiosity, in this student’s deep interest in tech, as well as initiative in terms of getting their summer job, staying abreast of new developments, and getting an unusual newspaper column, which likely took some doing.
    • Other notes: This essay comes across as genuine. The student seems unique and dynamic, like they’d have a lot to contribute to campus culture.
    • Potential pitfall: The student stayed away from describing new technology at all, and instead showed how they pursue that interest. This is the best way to write a strong essay for this prompt.  

    Choice C — What drives you to create and what do you hope to make or have you made?

    Example C 

    I’m driven to draw. Nothing profound motivates me — it’s more of an outlet for otherwise ill-expressed nervous energy. As for what I hope to make: I want my cartoons to get into the holy grail itself. That is, the New Yorker

    My interest in drawing segued into cartooning after I checked out Sempé books at the library, just because I liked his drawing style. As I realized how much more there was to his work — the extraordinary humor but also profound statements about mankind’s pettiness in the face of magnificent life and magnificence in the face of the mundane everyday — I found myself drawn (ha!) to the cartooning tradition that I learned he was a part of. I checked out books by Charles Addams, George Booth, and many more, and eventually devoured How About Never, Is Never Good for You? by the New Yorker’s longtime cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, about the business of cartooning. 

    That’s when I started working towards my New Yorker goal. I started drawing cartoons to get into the school newspaper (which didn’t publish cartoons). It took my entire sophomore year, but at the end, they ran one. I’m still pretty bad, but at least I make the editor laugh more often now: I get one or two in most months. I can’t wait to keep working on this skill and one day wearing down the New Yorker the same way I wore down the Newton Voice

    Notes:

    • Word count: 240
    • 5 Traits: This essay has tons of intellectual curiosity (learning about cartoonists and cartooning) and considerable drive (keeping at submitting to the newspaper until successful), which all creative pursuits require.

    Choice D — What do you wonder and think about?

    Example D

    What makes a great movie, a great story, a great cinematic experience, and what makes it all fall short? 

    Though I wouldn’t have articulated them that way, these are the questions that gripped me ever since a friend showed me Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. It’s not a great movie, necessarily. But it was the first time I understood that movies were about more than “the latest” entertainment. Instead, the friend watching Lifeboat showed me that movies could be about understanding the past (What thrilled people in 1944, at the tail end of WWII?), a concept (How many thrills and emotions can you extract from a closed situation, just a few people on one tiny boat?) and then, most exciting to me, about exploring one director’s vision (What do Hitchcock’s films together show us about his view of the world?).

    Ever since, I’ve explored those questions informally and especially by founding a film club at the school. That club has taught me the value of a different kind of cinematic experience: instead of expanding the student body’s cinematic horizons (as I initially wanted), I learned we had more success by creating events (a Frozen singalong), partnering with clubs (Some Like it Hot with the LGBTQ Alliance) and enjoying a meaningful moment in a crowd — that might not notice they’re watching a black and white 1959 movie!

    I’m excited to keep wonder-and-thinking about every cinematic experience, especially when combined with more formal academic study at Dartmouth — and hopefully many more rowdy, meaningful film nights.

    Notes:

    • Word count: 250
    • 5 Traits: This student exhibits tremendous intellectual curiosity as well as some initiative and drive, which their film club experience.
    • Note: the essay could spend more time on things the student has done with this interest instead of focusing so much on their introduction to the world of cinema. 

    Choice E — Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

    Example

    In my neighborhood, there are many trees with t-shirts or clothes permanently wrapped around them. On these are the names of men, mostly young and all Black, who lost their lives in the immediate vicinity. When you see it every day, it doesn’t really affect you. 

    That changed for me when a student in our high school was also killed by gunfire. In the first moments of learning about this incident, I realized that I’m in the center of an epidemic and I’ve been doing nothing about it. 

    Having no idea how to begin, I just asked questions. When cops came to talk about the incident, I asked how I could get involved. They asked for support publicizing a gun buy-back event. I worked on that as though every poster I put up was saving a life. I stayed connected on little tasks like this, and eventually, they put me in touch with an outreach worker at a nonprofit. He was on a mission to get new funding for afterschool youth centers, as a safe alternative for youth. 

    That led me to finally become an activist. I created the Youth Center activist club, and we rallied for funding, wrote op-eds, spoke at City Council meetings, and, after a year and many set-backs, secured funding for one center. The Club’s work remains as does mine on this issue, but at least I can say I faced it. 

    Notes:

    • Word count: 237
    • 5 Traits: This is a great essay for initiative and drive as well as contribution.
    • Note: even though this essay has a happy ending in that the rally received funding, it would still be powerful without a tangible success, as its the effort that the student put in that matters most. 

    Helpful info on all the “other” stuff you’ll consider as you apply to Dartmouth (and other schools)

    A few helpful resources for the non-supplement parts of your application:

    BTW, here’s our guidance for approaching any college supplement + here’s where you can find our guides for almost every college’s supplements

    Feeling inspired? A great place to start is at our College Essay Help Center

    More articles on Prompt.com’s admissions-boosting methods:

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