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What kind of student is Dartmouth looking for?

A: Selfie of Kennedy

If there's one question I get more than all the rest—at the reception desk, after info sessions, via email—it's this one. Is Dartmouth looking for students who love the outdoors / volunteered in high school / played a varsity sport? What does Dartmouth want my SAT score / essays / high school transcript to look like?

The admissions office is looking for specific traits, but they are broad. After all, if Dartmouth was full of people who were the same as each other, that would be boring. It would also reduce the amount we could learn from each other. As it says in our mission statement (and as I say in my info sessions), Dartmouth seeks out "promising students" who love learning. "Promising students" can mean YOU. The admissions office (and the student body) wants capable, engaged, high-achieving, and kind students. That's it. That's the post.

Okay, just kidding. I'll explain a bit more. Given the broad criteria above, how do admissions officers determine who is a good fit for Dartmouth?

They look for students who take challenging classes and succeed in them. There are no required high school courses to apply to Dartmouth (although we have suggestions for those in a normal American high school curriculum), but when the officers get your application, they can see what classes you took, your grades, and the classes your school offers (as well as any restrictions or requirements). So if your school offers APs and you took some, that's great! If your school does not offer APs, that's also okay! The admissions officer will see that, and they will never evaluate you based on something outside of your control, like your school's curriculum offerings. Take the classes you're interested in, take them at a high level if that's available to you, do well in them, and you'll demonstrate your intelligence, love of learning, and willingness to challenge yourself.

Our admissions officers also look at extracurriculars, as you may know. However, they are never looking for specific extracurriculars. It is far more valuable for you to do what you love outside of school than for you to try to guess what our office will find "impressive." Why? Because if you do what you love, you'll stick with it for several years, you may get leadership positions or awards while you do it, and those are things which can demonstrate your genuine investment in the activity. (Plus, you don't want to model your life around what you think a few people in Hanover or anywhere else want.) If you have responsibilities outside of school, like a job or caretaking for a family member, please include them on your application! Our admissions office wants to know how you spend your time outside of school, regardless of what those activities look like or why you're doing them.

Our admissions officers also look for "fit." Ah, that concerningly vague word. What does it mean? Dartmouth's not for everyone—that's just a fact. If you want to go to college in a city, or at a massive school, or you're not a big fan of the liberal arts, you probably won't love it here. You should be aware of what you want from a college and demonstrate your wants on your application (this is where the "Why Dartmouth" supplemental essay is super helpful). Admissions officers aim to admit students who will thrive in Dartmouth's unique atmosphere, and that means wanting what Dartmouth can provide.

There's no beating around the bush—the admissions process is competitive. Bearing that in mind, I highly encourage you to 1) challenge yourself in school and outside of it, and 2) do what interests you and what you love. This results in a win-win scenario. Firstly, it will make your application more competitive in our pool. Secondly, if you spend four years following both principles, you will not regret it, even if you don't get into Dartmouth.

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