How to Write the Notre Dame Supplemental Essays

“The University of Notre Dame Writing Supplement consists of one (1) essay response to a required question and two (2) essay responses to questions you select from the options provided. In total, you will write three (3) essay responses. The word count is a maximum of 200 words per essay.”

Before we even consider the essay prompts, it’s important to emphasize the word limit for each of the essays you’ll be writing: 200 words. 200 words makes for a short essay, so your writing will need to be intentional and concise.

Required question: The founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau, wrote, “We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” How do you hope a Notre Dame education and experience will transform your mind and heart?

Most colleges and universities will ask a variation of this question. Simply put; why do you want to attend this school?

The first trick to answering this question is specificity, the second trick is finding an answer that speaks to who you are.

Think of it this way: your admissions officer knows a great deal about Notre Dame already, so writing two hundred words describing the school’s great aspects won’t tell them anything they don’t already know. What they don’t know is why YOU belong at this great school. Chances are, you’ll be applying to other schools with similar qualities, so what they also need to know is, if they do admit you, what will make you say: “I’m stoked you admitted me, I’ll see you in the fall!”?

In order to answer this prompt in your essay, you’ll need to find one or two of Notre Dame’s great aspects and write about them in a way that highlights who you are. For example, maybe your tour guide spoke about an extracurricular that peaked your interest on your school visit, and it’s an opportunity you can see yourself becoming involved in once you get to campus. You can write about any prior experiences that make you want to become involved in this extracurricular. 

You can also write about academics. If you’re applying to Notre Dame’s reputed Mendoza College of Business, you might write about why you’re interested in studying marketing or finance at Mendoza specifically. Why Mendoza and not any of the other top 20 business schools in the country? Perhaps you studied ethics in high school and you are particularly interested in the ethical framework through which finance is taught at Notre Dame.

No matter the aspect of the school you decide to write about, remember to make sure it highlights one of your great qualities! 

Tip: This year Notre Dame has included an additional aspect to this essay that wants you to focus on how the experience will transform your heart and mind simultaneously. They want you to talk about not just about the resources that Notre Dame would offer you but also what you would make of the experience: for this it would be important to highlight the core values of Notre Dame and how that relates to your own personal mission and also talk about campus life and engagement beyond the classroom.

A Notre Dame education is not just for you, but also for those who will benefit from the impact you make. Who do you aspire to serve after you graduate?

One of Notre Dame’s core values is service; “It’s a way of life. Service to others is how we live out our faith. Notre Dame students bring a concern for those in need, a commitment to helping, and a desire to give more than take, to everything they do. So, whatever your passion, you’ll find a way to put it to use for the greater good.” 

Because service is a main aspect of student life at Notre Dame, you’ll want to explain how you intend to continue giving back to your new community once you begin your studies at Notre Dame. Find and write about a service based club or organization on campus that you can see yourself becoming involved with.

In response to the rising momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement during June 2020, G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean of the Notre Dame Law School, penned an open letter entitled, “I am George Floyd. Except I can breathe. And I can do something.” He issues a call to the Notre Dame community saying, “Each of us must do what we can, wherever we are.” What is one action you are taking “to change this world for the better?”

While the previous prompt is forward looking, this one specifically asks you to reflect on experiences you’ve had where you feel that you have contributed to changing this world for the better. Because this essay talks about service, this could also be an ideal space to show previous service engagements and reflect on how those have shaped who you have become today. If you’re actively committed to community service in your own life, then this might be a go. Because you only have 200 words, try to limit the literal description of your service project and devote the majority of your essay to your impact and to reflection. Why was your service meaningful to others, and why was it meaningful to you?

You should then connect that experience to how you will continue to engage in service based work on Notre Dame’s campus and beyond. This would be another great space to share any particular clubs or activities that you might want to pursue.

God and the Good Life is an interdisciplinary course created by the departments of Philosophy and Film, Television, and Theatre that asks students to consider moral questions about what they believe and how they want to live their lives. What do God and a good life mean to you?

Spiritual Identity is one of Notre Dame’s guiding principles. If you believe that faith and spirituality through religion, family, or tradition has shaped your personality in some way, this would be a great space to talk about that. If a place of worship, a Sunday school or maybe even a festival you celebrated had a significant impact on your upbringing, then reflecting on that experience and relating it to how Notre Dame’s mission statement resonates with you would be a great way to answer this question. 

The main idea here is to answer the question—what matters to you and why? You want to approach this question with as much candor as possible. Talk about specific experiences you’ve had with faith, like working as a volunteer at a faith-based organisation like a church or a mosque or a temple, maybe a ritual that you and your family partook in. You want to make sure that you’re telling the admissions committee about who you are and why being at a place that values faith as much as Notre Dame would be important to you.

Notre Dame has a rich history deeply rooted in tradition. Share how a favorite tradition from your life has impacted who you are today.

While this question may seem very specific, it is extremely broad and can have many answers. Traditions can include religious traditions or simple sunday routines that you and your family may have participated in as you were growing up.

You can grab your reader’s attention with a one or two sentence hook about your tradition. Think: what would lead up to it? What exactly would you do? How can you make your reader be an active participant? Then you’ll want to devote less of your 200 words to describing the tradition itself, and more to reflecting on its meaning to you.

You can pick one tradition and describe the ways it and its meaning have shifted over time. For example: your favorite pizza spot you visited with your teammates after every soccer game you participated in. Back then, your teammates taught you the importance of sticking together in victories and failures. That tradition has continued into high school and now it grounds you in what truly matters – finding a community.

Ideally, you’ll tie the meaning of your tradition back to Notre Dame’s values or your future ambitions.

What brings you joy?

This essay allows you to demonstrate how you think. Feel free to be as serious or as silly as you want. Small things like the burnt crust of a pizza or bigger things like success in a project or class can bring you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to be honest and candid in answering this question. 

You want to begin by setting the stage, the writing here needs to be powerful enough for the reader to feel joy with you. Regardless of what it is that brings you joy, your reader should be transported into feeling that sense of joy. Describing the event/moment/feeling well is necessary to evoke that reaction.

Finally, the point of this essay is to relate it to the overarching themes of service and faith-based community that are imperative to life at Notre Dame.