Common App Essay 250-500 Words That Start With X

Quick Tips

Make sure your essays illustrate your personality! Everything you say should help us understand those intangibles that can't be easily reflected in a resume. Show qualities like sense of humor, passion, intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, and social-awareness. Your writing lets us get to know you and we read every word. Help us envision what you'll bring to Dartmouth.

The Application Essay

You may apply using the Common Application or the Coalition Application—Dartmouth has no preference of application platform and the essay prompts are identical. On either one, please choose one from the following essay prompts and respond. (250-word minimum, 650-word maximum.)

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

The Dartmouth Writing Supplement

Dartmouth’s writing supplement requires that applicants write brief responses to two supplemental essay prompts as follows:

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, 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?

2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

A. In Love Medicine, author Louise Erdrich ’76 writes, “Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.” Describe your “hand” and reflect on how you have played it.

B. From songs and film to formulae and computer code, human expression and discovery take many forms. How do you express your creativity? What ideas or values do you explore and celebrate when your imagination wanders?

C. During the 2016 Olympic Games, American runner Abbey D’Agostino ’14 collided with another athlete in the first round of the 5,000-meter event. Both fell to the track. Although injured, Abbey’s first instinct was to help the other fallen athlete so they could continue the race together. Their selflessness was widely praised as the embodiment of the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship. Share a moment when kindness guided your actions.

D. Twenty years ago, the world met Harry Potter and his companions. One of the more memorable lines from the J.K. Rowling series was spoken by Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” What ideas or experiences bring you joy?

E. “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your intellectual curiosity.

F. “Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams,” television producer Shonda Rhimes ’91 told graduating seniors during her 2014 Commencement address. “It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” What inspires your hard work? What matters to you and how do you “make things happen” to create change?

This post was written by Alex Melnik, a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was originally published on The Prospect, a student-run college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Twitter.

Supplements. You either love 'em or you hate 'em (probably the latter). In case you didn't know, supplemental essays are short essays, usually ranging from 250 to 500 words, that some colleges require in addition to the Common App essay. Questions vary for each school, and questions may vary from the most quirky, as is the case with the University of Chicago, to the more traditional, "Please describe a job or activity you have done." But the most common prompt is probably the dreaded "Why School X?"

In my opinion, these kinds of essays are the hardest for two reasons: Firstly, especially if you've found yourself truly enamored with a school, it can be difficult to articulate your love in 250 words. Secondly, it's hard to stand out. Chances are, many people have read the same glossy admissions brochure or U.S. News profile, so it's likely that there will be certain phrases and details about the school that appear commonly.

With that being said, here are my two golden rules when it comes to writing the "Why School X?" essay.

1. Be Personal

With that being said, it is perfectly acceptable to mention these details, as long as you make it personal. Here's an example: Let's say you're applying to a school in D.C. Rather than simply stating, "I want to go here because it's the capital and the monuments are pretty," talk about your ambitions. What will being in D.C. do for you specifically? Personalizing your essay reminds the reader that you are in fact a (hopefully interesting!) person. It also makes it easier for him or her to picture you at the school if you illustrate your personality in your writing.

2. Be Specific

So you want to go to this school in D.C. because you're interested in working in the capital or have an obsession with museums, but why do you want to go to this specific D.C. school over the several others in the area? This is a time to show off your research and genuine in the school by being specific. "I want to go to your school because it has an internship program with this company, and because it has this interdisciplinary major that no other school offers, and because this professor who teaches this class wrote my favorite book which I keep under my pillow." Okay, maybe not that specific, but you want to demonstrate that your reason for applying stems from more than just the prestige of the school.

Touring a school is one of the best ways to make your essays more personal and specific; however, there are some useful alternatives in case you can't make it to campus before applying. Looking at a school's online publication, talking to current students, viewing pictures of the school, and scrolling through a list of classes or a syllabus are some of the many useful methods to consider.

Here are some other specifics to think about and mention in your essays:


Is the school extremely small? Huge? In the middle? For me, I looked for a school that was large enough where I felt like I could continuously meet new people, but not so large that I'd feel lost in a sea of ants. If a school you are interested in is large but has small class sizes, or is small but allows you to take classes at other schools (like the Claremont Consortium or Five College Consortium), that is definitely something to note.


Is it a liberal arts college or a university? The main difference is that LACs don't have graduate schools. LACs also tend to be smaller and have a different "feel" than large-scale universities. This article breaks down the differences well.


Is the school rural, suburban, or urban? TP writer Priyanka Srinivasan describes, "I debated going to college in Ithaca and New York City, ultimately choosing the latter because of the school's interaction with the area (i.e. NYC has a huge lack of funding for public education so it's very interesting and educational for myself to be able to help out, and of course the internship/job selection is massive)." Ultimately, each environment has its perks. As mentioned in the D.C. example, if you're going to talk about location, be specific and personal!


Are there General Education requirements? A good selection of majors? If you're a prospective computer science major applying to a school with a prestigious computer science program, be specific about why you think the program is so good. Do students get more one-on-one time with professors? Are there any unique research opportunities?


This is a great time to be specific! Many schools have lists of all the official clubs at the school. Feel free to peruse the list; chances are, there'll be some clubs you're already involved with in high school, as well as some new ones that catch your eye.

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