How to Write the University of Notre Dame Application Essays 2017-2018
The University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana, is a private Catholic research university ranked #15 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best National Universities list.
Boasting a football team that has accumulated 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners, 62 members in the College Football Hall of Fame, and 13 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the nation’s top Italian program, and a world-renowned school of architecture, Notre Dame offers all the benefits of a smaller college experience in the context of a larger research institution.
Over 80% of the university’s 8,000 undergraduates live on campus in one of 31 single-sex residence halls, each with its own traditions, legacies, events, and intramural sports teams. The university also has over 120,000 alumni, including noteworthy graduates such as Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Sparks.
Although Notre Dame’s acceptance rate isn’t as low as Stanford’s 4.9%, the acceptance rate for the class of 2021 is roughly 18.9% — not a small feat to achieve! With three 175-word short responses, Notre Dame’s required writing supplement allows you to set yourself apart from the 40,000+ applicants that vie for coveted spots each year. This post will help guide you through all of Notre Dame’s essay prompts.
Read on to understand how to tackle Notre Dame’s required writing supplement prompts for 2017-2018.
Notre Dame Application Essay Prompts
Like many other schools, Notre Dame utilizes the “Why X school?” prompt. What we like to call an “essay of elimination,” this essay rarely is the reason why an applicant gets accepted, and truthfully, is very hard to answer in a unique and meaningful way — as it should be. (Let’s face it, no one wants to read a philosophical essay on why you want to attend X school over the other. It isn’t that deep.)
The real reason why schools like Notre Dame use this prompt is because they want to see applicants that are truly passionate about attending the school. With the rising selectivity of many colleges and universities, many applicants apply to schools as if they are checking off grocery items on a list, therefore causing the applicant pool to be much larger than the available number of spots in the freshman class. That’s why writing a weak response has the ability to keep you from being admitted, even though a strong response may not be enough to get you in.
Truthfully, there isn’t much of a way to mess these types of essays up (barring major grammatical errors and saying offensive things); however, one thing that distinguishes a mediocre essay from an exceptional essay is the specificity of it. The more specific your response, the stronger your response will be.
Generic statements like “I heard the dining hall food was good,” “I want to study abroad,” and “the location is nice” are too broad and could apply to hundreds of universities all over the U.S. (And quite frankly, in the case of Notre Dame, unless you are seeking a suburban atmosphere with harsh winters, location is not a strong reason to want to attend Notre Dame.)
Be specific. Rather than reply, “I heard the food is good,” you could say, “I’m excited to eat at Recker’s at 2AM after cheering on Notre Dame’s nationally acclaimed football team.”
Instead of “I want to study abroad,” you can say, “Given Notre Dame’s strong past with supplying Boren and Fulbright scholars, I hope to study Arabic in Jordan through a Boren Scholarship as I pursue a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies.”
The more specific, the better. Notre Dame knows they are a great university. Rather than state the obvious, give them an idea of how you would make a unique addition to the campus. Think about it this way: How will I be able to write an essay that stands out from the 40,000+ other applicants that are writing similar things?
Additional Essay Questions: Choose Two
Essentially, this prompt is asking you, “What are you passionate about, and why?”
The five pillars (mind, heart, zeal, family, and hope) give a broad outline for five different directions your essay can take. This is a good prompt to choose if you would like a broad prompt to write about and are unsure if some of the other prompts are to your liking. You can basically write about whatever you want for this essay!
Mind: This essay could take the form of an anecdote of when you stood up for something you believe in, or an in-depth explanation of a subject that makes you tick, and why. The important thing to include here is something that has the underlying concept of being a force for good in the world. For example, did you think of a new way to improve your school’s recycling program? Did you invent a scientific tool and get it patented? The idea behind this “pillar” is to showcase the different talents and intellectual passions that applicants can bring to the campus, so if you think this is you, go ahead and use this pillar as the focus of your essay!
Heart and Zeal: This essay should be centered around a passion to which you have dedicated a lot of time and poured your heart and soul into. It could be about how you trained countless hours in the pool, on the track, on the field, in the gym, etc. to finally win that league title or state championship. It could detail the countless hours of research that you contributed to the science lab you interned at, with the pinnacle of the essay revealing the breakthrough that the lab discovered. The important thing here is to write about something you are passionate about, something you worked hard for to achieve.
Family: This is a very relatable approach to take while writing this essay. You could talk about how your immigrant parents taught you to always be humble and respect people’s differences. You could write about how your mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe inspired you to start your own food blog.
This pillar also applies to friends and other people you may consider family. You can be as creative as you want when defining “family!” Is it your literal family? Your best friend? A mentor? Your whole community? This should be about how someone in your life has affected you, and how that effect has shaped you into the person you are today.
Hope: This pillar is heavily calling for an essay about when you overcame an obstacle and prevailed. No, you didn’t have to beat cancer to write about this pillar, but writing about something that matters to you is key. Does your 5-year-old brother, who can list off all the U.S. states and their capitols, give you hope for the future generation? Did you overcome homelessness? A bad teacher? A bad school year?
The important thing to remember when writing this essay is to write about what you learned in addition to the thing you overcame. While sob stories can sometimes be seen as the icing on the cake, admissions officers often get tired of reading them if the writers don’t give any additional information on how they grew from that event. Remember to write about how that event has shaped you for the better, and what you learned from it.
A final piece of advice for this prompt is that even though you can choose as many pillars to write about as you want, you only have 175 words, so make sure you can effectively get your point across in those words — usually this means focusing on one pillar or passion to write about!
This essay prompt is also very open-ended. Are you responsible for yourself? Your family? Your community? Your world? The scope of your answer could take many different directions — choose the lens that best fits who you are as a person. Maybe you overcame anorexia and can chronicle the development from self-hatred to self-acceptance and love.
If you want to focus on how you are responsible for other people, you can write about how taking care of your siblings and holding them accountable for their actions allowed you to become more mature and open-minded. Whatever you write about should be specific to you, and should tell the admissions officers something about you that they don’t already know.
You can also take a more broad approach here and talk about how some of your individual actions affect others. For example, the choice for you to become vegan allows you to be responsible for animals, and in turn allows you to be responsible for spreading the education of animal treatment.
You can take on a wide variety of perspectives here, but make sure to write about something that allows you to reflect on values that are important to you, and why those are the underlying values that make you who you are today. The more reflective you get, the more personal you get, and that allows college admissions officers to see you in a humanizing light that isn’t visible to them by sifting through piles of GPAs and test scores.
As a student at Notre Dame, you will have a lot of responsibility. Give the admissions officers a reason for them to know that you are responsible enough to be accepted.
This option allows you to be completely creative or entirely practical. Essentially, the possibilities for this essay are endless — for example, you could literally write something about freshman-year biology class, or you could write about why you know that In-n-Out is better than McDonald’s. (It is.)
The point is that as long as you aren’t offensive and write about something you’re passionate about, you’ll be solid. The main thing that Notre Dame is looking for here is your intellectual vitality — what you think and why you think what you think.
As long as you are able to back up your claims and convey any modicum of passion towards what you’re writing about, this essay prompt is a fun way to show your creative side while also allowing you to be extremely academic and philosophical. You get the best of both worlds! If you think Android is better than Apple, write about it!
Again, this essay prompt is asking you about something that matters to you. The purpose of this essay is to get to know you better. Again, keep in mind that admissions officers only see a stack of papers to convey who you are as a person, so really use these essays to remind them that you are a real person, with a personality.
So, that being said, if you aren’t passionate about the women’s rights march that happened in your neighborhood a few weeks ago, don’t write about it. (If stuff like women’s rights matters to you, great — write away.) Colleges know when applicants try to finesse and sugarcoat pieces of their application, so if you aren’t passionate about something, don’t write about it. Capiche?
The whole background behind this question is that Notre Dame is a very diverse campus with students coming from all over the U.S., and all over the world for that matter. They want to see the different perspectives that their applicants are bringing to the table; admissions officers want to know where you are from, what the community you grew up in is like, and what matters to you.
You can choose to write about the recent riots in Charlottesville regarding the removal of major confederate statues, but you can also choose to write about the night after a football game when you decided to spill your whole life’s story to your friend over a plate of mediocre food at IHOP.
Write something that is unique to you. This prompt is not meant to fool or trick you — it’s just meant to serve as an extended introduction to who you are.
A final note on this prompt: please take note of the word “recently.” Please do not write about the civil rights movement that happened 50 years ago. The dictionary definition of recently is “not long ago,” so keep it relevant and keep it unique!
We wish you the best of luck with writing your University of Notre Dame essays!
For information on the application essays for other schools, check out CollegeVine’s database of essay guides.
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