How to Write the University of Notre Dame Admissions Essays 2018 – 2019
The University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana, is a private Catholic research University ranked #18 on the U.S. News and World Report’s Best National Universities List.
Boasting a football team with 11 national championships, the nation’s top Italian program, world-renowned business and architecture schools, rich alumni connections, Notre Dame offers all the benefits of a small tight-knit college community in the context of a larger top-notch research institution.
Over 80% of the university’s undergraduate students live on campus in one of the 31 single-sex residence halls, each with its own traditions, legacies, events, and sports teams. There is no greek life on campus, but the majority of students live in the same residence hall for all four years. The university is affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross, with over 47 chapels on campus, however, religious affiliation is not a criterion for admission. The university boasts over 120,000 alumni, including noteworthy graduates like Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Sparks, and Joe Montana.
Notre Dame’s acceptance rate for the class of 2022 was roughly 17.6% with applications up 4% over the previous year. With three 150 word short responses, Notre Dame’s writing supplement allows you to set yourself apart from the 20,000+ applications that vie for the coveted spots.
To apply to Notre Dame, candidates may submit either the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. The college does not prefer one or the other. Candidates may apply through the Restrictive Early Action process (due November 1st), or the Regular Decision process (due January 1st).
In addition to the required essay in the Common Application or Coalition Application, Notre Dame requires three supplemental essays: applicants are all required to complete the first prompt, but may choose from 4 different options for the second and third prompts. Read on to find out how to tackle them!
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Prompt #1 (Please respond in about 150 words)
What excites you about the University of Notre Dame that makes it stand out from other institutions?
Like other schools, Notre Dame has a “Why X School?” prompt to understand why the applicant is passionate about applying to Notre Dame. While this type of essay will rarely be the reason why an applicant is accepted to a certain school, it can demonstrate commitment and understanding of that school. Simply put, Notre Dame wants to understand why you want to attend their institution over all the other schools you are applying to — what makes them unique in your list.
There are a few qualities that will make your essay stand out . Be as specific as possible — specificity is the key to writing a good, eye-catching essay. Try to include specific details about Notre Dame. Is it the non-existence of greek life, the religious dedication of the school, or the research-based curriculum that intrigues you? Is there a specific program that Notre Dame offers that other schools don’t or is it the rich alumni connections that provide you stronger internships and job prospects that you really care about?
These are the type of details that Notre Dame wants to hear from you — how do the programs, opportunities, and curriculum that they offer fit into what you are looking for in your college experience?
Generic statements like “Religion is important to me”, or “I enjoy the study abroad options available” are too broad and non-unique, they are cookie-cutter and can be used for many universities across the US (many colleges have a religious affiliation and most colleges offer opportunities to study abroad). Rather, turn this around to demonstrate how going to a strong Catholic institution will strengthen your spiritual roots or how a service trip that Notre Dame offers to Nicaragua can give you the chance to work with underserved communities and utilize your Spanish skills.
The more specific, the better your essay will be and the more you will stand out. Don’t be afraid to refer to specific professors, labs, internships, study abroad opportunities, and even classes that you are excited to take. This shows that you have done the research for Notre Dame and aren’t simply using another school’s essay and replacing the school name to Notre Dame.
Prompt #2: Please choose two of the following prompts and respond in about 150 words:
A quick note about choosing prompts. Before immediately setting your mind on two prompts, try brainstorming ideas for each of the four options provided. Start to draft mini paragraphs and sense which prompts you may be more passionate about. There is no right of wrong prompt, but some prompts will allow you to unleash more of your personality or tell more of your story — which will frame your application in a more positive light.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you choose your prompts, especially for Notre Dame:
- Which prompts will allow you to really showcase your personality (especially aspects of generosity and true character)?
- Which prompts are you more passionate about?
- Which prompts do you think will allow you to have a stronger, more confident voice?
- Which prompts will allow you to discuss something meaningful that cannot be found anywhere else in your application?
- Which prompts will allow you to further showcase your desire to attend Notre Dame?
Option 1: As a Catholic university, we strive to be a community in which the dignity of each person is respected and everyone can truly flourish. Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., challenged our community to reflect on the following statement: “Let us never do anything to make another member of our community feel unwelcome, and let us not stand by if we see others doing so. Either we walk together in mutual support, or we do not walk at all. Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are.” Tell us about a time when you walked with others.
Essentially, this prompt is asking, “How have you supported others?”
The stronger essays will be more personal about a time you helped out a family member, friend, neighbor, or community in need. You want to show how you specifically had an impact on someone else and were there to support them through a rough time. Avoid talking about raising money for an organization or 5Ks (or 10Ks) that you did for a certain cause. While those activities may mean a lot to you, they don’t show the direct impact your actions had to support someone.
Rather, something more powerful to write about would be the time your friend was really confused in math class and you sat down and helped him/her through the homework problems even though you had to skip tennis practice to do that. This shows your more humane, compassionate side — which is what Notre Dame wants to see.
Really try to focus on the small gestures that had an impact on someone else.
For example, you could write about the time you acted as a mentor to underclassmen, showing them around school on the first day when they were lost. While this may seem like a nonessential action that you took, it demonstrates how you supported freshmen and made them feel welcome in their new high school environment. The essay really wants you to show how you welcomed, supported, and helped a person (or group of people).
Another thing to note is that your action doesn’t need to have an earth-shattering impact on someone else. However, the more reflective you are, the stronger the essay will be. Talk about how you felt helping someone else(were you worried? Confident? Nervous?) — add a more humanizing element to the essay to show that you are more than your GPA and test scores.
Focus on a time you supported someone, be specific, provide details, and include how your actions impacted that person. This essay is straightforward, and with only 150 words, make sure to be concise, yet include specific details and reflections to make the essay stand out.
Option 2: What is one thing you will definitely bring to college with you?
This prompt is very open-ended, and allows you to be creative. You could write about anything from a pet, a lucky pencil, or even a stuffed animal that you will bring to college with you. The college admissions officers are not going to judge you for what you necessarily say as the one item (make sure to keep it appropriate of course), but what they care about is your explanation of why that certain item means a lot to you.
For example, if you are bringing your favorite stuffed animal that is a pig, they want to know why this stuffed animal is so important to you. Have you had this stuffed animal since you were a small child or was this the stuffed animal that you always went to when you were down and made soaking wet with your tears? This type of detail and personal touch will make your essay stand out from the more generic ones. Adding specific elements that are personal and showcase the reasons why that object is important to you will help the college admissions officers understand you as an applicant better.
You may also want to consider bringing something that is not tangible. Bringing certain emotions, memories, or ideas can be a spin on this essay. For example, bringing an inspiring phrase your grandmother always told you or your dedication to saving the environment, can take this essay in an interesting direction.
Whatever one thing you choose, make sure to include personal details explaining why it means a lot to you.
Option 3: What is your proudest accomplishment for which you did not receive recognition?
While this question may seem straightforward, it is definitely one of the harder of the 4 essay options. Rather than starting with how to answer this prompt, let’s start with how not to answer this question. Do not talk about the time that your parents didn’t say “good job” for your stellar grades, or how your teacher didn’t notice that you were the one that put together the entire presentation by yourself (even though it was a group presentation). Also, do not compare yourself with a sibling and comment how your sibling always gets praised and you don’t. These are all situations that come off as whiny, immature, and accusatory.
Instead, the way to go about this essay is talking about the personal accomplishments you made over the past four years. Talk about your own personal goal to run a mile everyday for a year or your new resolution to eat dessert only once a week. These may all seem like trivial aspects of your life — but they give insight into who you really are. Running a mile everyday for a year shows college admissions officers that you have the drive and hard-work necessary to continue something for an entire year while eating dessert only once a week demonstrates your self-control and discipline. You may not have received recognition for these actions (as many may not even know that you are doing them), but they mean something to you.
Another way to approach this essay is to talk about a personal challenge you had to overcome. Maybe it was a social problem you had to face in high school forcing you to stand up for a close friend, or a friend that passed away. These type of situations may not come off directly as proud accomplishments, but can be turned around to demonstrate how proud you are afterwards for sticking up for that friend or for being able to move on and be level-headed after that funeral.
These type of situations show college admissions officers that you are able to turn lemons into lemonade. Your proudest accomplishment doesn’t have to be about the good times, it can also be about the bad— but if your choose this route, make sure to clearly explain why you it was a proud moment.
Option 4: You have 150 words. Take a risk.
This option allows you to be completely creative and take a bold risk. You could write about a community service project you are part of, why you think McDonalds is better than the West Coast In-N-Out, or your passion for figure skating (even though you always fall). The best essays will be ones where you unleash your inner personality and give insight into who you really are.
You can take this in two ways. If you are funny, take a jab and write a humorous piece about the life of a high school AP Chemistry student. If you are very serious, maybe take time to reflect on how being serious your entire life has helped, or even hurt, you. Notre Dame wants you to take that risk with this essay and really express who you are (keep in mind you only have 150 words to do this though).
If you have taken a creative writing class, or done some personal writing that is on the more creative side, this is the prompt for you. Explore with different forms of writing — poetry, satire, comedy, or even an extremely short 150 word story. This will be sure to stand out from the other applicants.
If you feel uncomfortable with creative writing, you can go the more traditional route and talk freely about something you are passionate about. This more traditional essay pairs well if you have dedicated your past four years towards something you are really passionate about whether that be a certain political movement, club that you started, an organization you are on the board for, or research that you have done every summer. If you have something like that, this essay gives you the opportunity to expand on why those personal projects mean so much to you.
This essay could go incredibly well, or easily come off the wrong way to someone who doesn’t know you. So be sure to have other people read your essay (especially someone who might not know you well!).
Taking this option, while it may have a high risk, also has high rewards.
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