Who should read this post: Anybody applying to Yale or Dartmouth and anybody who needs to write about community or about a problem that needs solving. In my previous post, I discussed sorting prompts into categories in order to save time by creating reusable essays, or at least some reusable language. To summarize the basic point, many prompts have overlapping topics that allow you to reuse material, which saves time and suffering. In that spirit, this post will focus on connections between the Yale and Dartmouth prompts for 2018-2019. For a link to a discussion on how to write about a problem, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Background to This Year’s Yale and Dartmouth Prompts:
No doubt if you are reading this, you have already visited the Yale and perhaps the Dartmouth site, and seen this year’s application essay prompts. Yale and Dartmouth have both launched their essay prompts ahead of their Ivy League peers, as well as Stanford, a move that suggests they are interested in seeing the effects on their application numbers.
Yes, the others have essay prompts up, but they are last year’s prompts, and even though little change is expected for essay prompts this year, I advise that you wait until each school’s prompts are officially released for this year before you write an essay, so that you do not find that your topic has disappeared. It have seen this happen.
The reason for the early launch by two Ivies is easier to guess than, say, why Amazon is changing the prices of product x or y at Whole Foods: Yale and Dartmouth want a boost in applications this year, by getting the work-intensive part of their applications up early. Yale has often been a bit tardy in getting their essays out, so it is even more noticeable, at least to me (I do pay attention to this stuff, after all. It’s my job).
For more on last year’s Ivy League application data, as well as a bit on Stanford, have a look at my recent post on early versus late applications, here: Ivy League and Stanford Application Data for 2017-2018.
So why would Yale get out there to stir it up and boost numbers? In my opinion?
There have been identity issues in the Ivies, and there has been some discussion of Yale’s brand slightly declining against those of its immediate peers due to a perception that it is not “STEM-y” enough. Yale also sends a high percentage of grads into the financial industry in New York, which is a pure blessing for its alumni donations, but a mixed blessing reputationally. Or maybe those folks in Yale admissions have just been drinking a lot of double espressos (on ice, given the weather of late) and are operating at a hyper-caffeinated pace. There is further evidence of another intent within the Yale prompts that is perhaps related to reputation, however, as well as to the kind of student the most elite schools have been working with.
Yet it is not like Yale is the only school struggling with some identity issues. Harvard had a notorious cheating scandal–and you can see these institutions dealing with their own paradox: it is so hard to get into most Ivies that some people will do almost anything to get admitted, and some continue their anything-goes-to-get-my-grades habits during their college years. These things may explain why so many essays this year can be sorted into the “community involvement” or “do good for humanity” category.
Yale, for example, has three supplemental essay prompts, but two of them are really about being part of a community. Note, by the way, that this makes a total of three essays for one Yale application (the Common App 650 or the Coalition App essay, then two of the three supplementals).
And what does Dartmouth have as a supplemental prompt? Three of the five options are in some sense about being part of a larger community or purpose. Of course, Dartmouth had its own cheating scandal, in an ethics class, no less. Satirists take note. The messaging in the choice of prompts that the schools are choosing is clear. Have a look at the Boy Scout Oath if you have any further questions.
Yale and Dartmouth Essay Prompts for 2018-2019
To save you the effort of toggling between windows, here are the supplementals for Yale, followed by a brief analysis, then Dartmouth:
After a series of short responses with an emphasis on academics, Yale presents this:
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will select from the following topics:
- Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
- Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
- Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.
Applicants submitting the Common Application: Please choose two of the topics above and respond to each in 250 words or fewer. (The bold print here is mine). Coalition applications use 300 words or fewer.
Let me point out why I sort two of these essays into the same basic category: Both the community essay, which is the second option, and the significant issue essay, the third option are about engagement with the greater world.
Please notice as well that, when you begin to talk about being part of a community, it may involve things like food and music and family and geography, but it also tends to involve specific challenges–all communities have to be maintained and all communities face problems. A quick look at our politics shows you that, whether we are talking about decaying mining communities in the Appalachian region or immigrant communities in Oakland: place, music, food, all the elements of culture are there, but so are a specific set of problems that define the communities.
I do have something for you to consider as a counter-zeitgeist move, though–instead of talking about what it means to be part of some sub-group, is it possible to talk about what it means to be American? Is that a community anymore?
I am asking this seriously. I heard a teacher from a highly diverse high school interviewed recently, and he observed that his non-anglo students did not identify with the term “American,” seeing it as a code word for “white”. So one thing I might challenge you all to think about his what means to be “American” today. I qualify that as well, by pointing out that, in South America, people tend also to think about themselves as “Americans” in some sense, as this link will show you: “What Does American Actually Mean?”
I also point out that the question of community identity is behind many of the troubled headlines today–tied to the fear of the Other. (What else is the fear of migrants in, say, Bavaria, when you look at it? Well that and manipulation by fear-mongering demagogues, which might also be a topic for this year, if you have been paying close attention and can avoid writing a rant. For the record, for those of you who read the article linked here, I have been to Duisburg and Berlin and did not see the rampant crime claimed by certain Bayerisch politicians. Felt safer in both places, in fact, than I have in more than a few American cities).
This fear of others is a world-wide phenomenon now, not just an American problem. Just beware of preaching or going off as if this were a class discussion in Civics or history. And please note that this kind of problem or community essay needs to have a strongly personal foundation in you, your family, your sense of place within a community or within a term like “American,” and that none of these topics ask you to sermonize.
As an addendum to this short discussion I can also suggest that you listen to a short essay by the great linguist Geoffrey Nunberg–words and identity are inseparable, and Nunberg talks about tribalism as his word of the year for 2017 (which involves both a problem and deals with what community is) here.
Everything he said in 2017 seems totally relevant now. He has a lot to say about related topics if you keep clicking.
If you have an appealing or interesting personal and family history, that also has a place in this kind of essay, but of course you may have crossed that box off already for your Common App or Coalition main essay.
Dartmouth Supplemental Essays
Here they are:
1. Please respond in 100 words or less:
While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered 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 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?
2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:
A. “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.
B. 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.
C. “You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.
D. 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?
E. In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.
F. Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?
So let’s sort these as well: Prompt 1, the short response, is clearly of the “Why Us” variety which I discussed in my previous post. It is also really short, so look closely at a few programs/aspects of Dartmouth that appeal and good luck.
Prompt 2 has a clear “problem” essay in D, but this problem also implicitly demands a degree of awareness and engagement with the larger world. So, a community aspect, define that as you will by the problem you want to address (and those you therefore want to help). Again, watch the preaching.
As for community prompts here, that starts with B–history, legend, tradition are all community things. Sure, it is about you, but it is about what has been transmitted to you and what you are part of.
Prompt E is also in about connecting to somebody else, whether because they are an outsider, or as part of just connecting, to which I add that some sense of shared connection, some sense of empathy is always what underlies a community. (Warning for this essay: Beware of a Kumbaya overdose, for which the antidote is a good sense of humor).
And finally, Danny Glover in E. Maybe what Glover was thinking about that does not exist is just being a person in America, without all that other stuff he often talks about as a comedian, like always having a hyphen attached to his identity, or what one has to do while black in America. Think about what it would be like to have an America where that did not happen and Danny Glover was not an “African-American” comedian, but instead was just an American comedian. Or just a great comedian.
Before I leave, I have written about the Problem Essay long ago. Some topics not have changed much, which says a lot.
If time allows, I will discuss problem essays at more length in the coming weeks. But hey, when Yale gets its application prompts out this early, I may be busy pretty soon. Speaking of which, if you are seeking editing help, Contact Me sooner rather than later, as my book will start to fill up soon.