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How to Write the University of Notre Dame Essays 2021-2022


The University of Notre Dame has two required short essay prompts for all applicants. The first prompt asks applicants to share what they want from a Notre Dame education, while the second prompt allows applicants to choose one prompt from an option of three.


At a competitive school like Notre Dame, where thousands of students apply with the same GPAs and test scores, admissions officers place a large weight on essays as a true gauge of the student’s talents, passions, and dreams. In this post, we’ll share how you can make your essays stand out to admissions officers at the University of Notre Dame.


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University of Notre Dame Supplemental Essays

Prompt 1: 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? (200 words)


Prompt 2: Please provide a response to ONE (1) of the following questions (200 words)


  • Option A: During the spring semester, Notre Dame faculty gave 3-Minute Lightning Talks on exciting topics within their fields of expertise. While you don’t have a Ph.D. yet, we bet you’re developing an expertise in something. If you were giving a Lightning Talk, what topic (academic or not) would you choose?


  • Option B: There is a story or meaning behind every name or nickname—both those we’re given and those that we choose. What is meaningful to you about your name?


  • Option C: What would you fight for?

Prompt 1

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?  (200 words)


This prompt is asking two questions ─ why do you want to study your chosen major at Notre Dame and which resources outside the classroom do you want to explore on campus? The admissions officers want to know specific details about your academic and personal passions so they can see you as a whole person. Your essay should let the readers see how you will fit into the Notre Dame’s community ─ they want to imagine exactly what you will do every day within the classroom and outside. 


The best way you can write this essay is by tying your passions into the unique programs and activities offered at Notre Dame. Rather than writing about generalities ─ for example, about how Notre Dame will help you be a better Catholic and get a job in finance after graduation ─ you should talk about how you want to discuss liturgy at Theology Club meetings every Tuesday and you would be thrilled to learn about Bolivian commodities in the Emerging Markets Investing program in London. The more details, the better.


A good format for this essay would be to divide it into 4 parts: 


1. An introduction which succinctly defines where your mind and heart are, e.g. “my mind is in finance and my heart is in my Catholic faith.”


2. One paragraph which explains which academic opportunities you want to take advantage of at Notre Dame. Mention the names of classes, programs, professors, majors, and minors. Explain why these opportunities appeal to you and how they relate to your background.


3. One paragraph which names the student organizations and campus activities you hope to explore. Which organizations would give you personal fulfillment ─ an education in the finer things that you don’t learn in the classroom ─ and how?


4. A conclusion which explains how you aspire to tie together your educational experiences inside and outside the classroom. Explain how you want to use this combined education after graduation, e.g. “I hope that my Notre Dame education will empower me to combine my passions for finance and my Catholic faith. I not only want to disrupt the world of emerging market investing ─ I want to disrupt it with a sense of Catholic social responsibility.”




Try to avoid making a laundry list of resources activities. When you name a resource, describe why it is important to you before naming another one. 


For example, instead of writing “I hope to join the BRAVE (Building Resilience After Violence Exposure) Research Lab,” you can say the following: 


Volunteering at a domestic abuse center showed me the detrimental effects of trauma on young children: they were often withdrawn and fearful, leading other kids to misunderstand and mischaracterize them as “weird” or “mean.” It was my volunteer work that led to my desire to study Psychology. I want to better understand how to support trauma survivors, especially young children. If accepted to Notre Dame, I hope to join the BRAVE (Building Resilience After Violence Exposure) Research Lab, where I can learn about the impact of trauma on childhood development. I’m especially interested in the lab’s international focus, as I know culture can greatly impact how trauma victims are perceived.

Prompt 2

Please provide responses to ONE (1) of the following questions (each 200 words)


A quick note about choosing prompts. Before immediately setting your mind on two prompts, try brainstorming ideas for each of the five options provided. Start to draft bullet points or mini paragraphs to get a sense for which prompts you may be more passionate about. There is no right or 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:


  • Which prompts will allow you to really showcase your personality (especially generosity and a commitment to service)?
  • 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?

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Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

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Prompt 2, Option A

During the spring semester, Notre Dame faculty gave 3-Minute Lightning Talks on exciting topics within their fields of expertise. While you don’t have a Ph.D. yet, we bet you’re developing an expertise in something. If you were giving a Lightning Talk, what topic (academic or not) would you choose? (200 words)


This prompt is a great way for you to showcase your academic interests, especially multifaceted or interdisciplinary interests that might not be expressed in your transcript. When answering this prompt, it is important to:


  1. choose a topic you are genuinely passionate about
  2. give a brief outline of the content you would share in your Lightning Talk
  3. explain why you think others would be interested in your talk. 


Before you begin writing, you need to choose a topic. In order to lead a successful Lightning Talk, you must be extremely knowledgeable and enthralled by the topic you are discussing.  Three minutes likely won’t be enough time to explain your love for this subject! 


Asking yourself these questions during the brainstorming process:


  • What could you talk about for hours and never get tired about?
  • What subjects genuinely excite you?
  • What do you independently research and learn more about for fun?
  • What was your favorite unit or concept you learned in a class?


You will want to pick a topic that is as specific as possible. While biology might be your favorite subject, you’ll need to hone in on a highly specific topic. For example, The Biology of Plants would be too broad, but Cacti’s Secret Survival Guide to Storing Water would be a perfect topic because of how specific and focused it is. Since the point of this prompt is to express your unique interests to admissions officers, choosing something that perfectly captures a niche interest of yours, which they wouldn’t know about from other parts of your application, will only impress them more! 


While you don’t necessarily have to go with an academic topic, there should still be a somewhat professional and educated approach to whatever topic you choose. If soccer is your ultimate passion and that’s what you want to talk about, you shouldn’t just talk about why soccer is the best sport for three minutes. Instead, you could focus your talk on 3 Lessons We Can Learn From Brazil’s Soccer Team. By presenting one of your hobbies in a more academic light, admissions officers will see just how passionate you are about your interests.


Once you know what you are writing about, your essay must reflect your interest and knowledge on this topic. How do you do that? Briefly describe your lesson plan. You don’t need a word-for-word script of what you want to say, but your essay should walk through the key points you want to get across in your talk. A student talking about fast fashion’s environmental impact might structure the body of her essay like this:


“‘It takes 2000 gallons of water just to make the pair of jeans you wear. 700 gallons for your shirt. For some perspective, it only takes 13 gallons to grow this orange.’ The shock of my opening line will instantly grab the attention of my audience. They won’t have time to recover before I mention how 35% of microplastics in the ocean come from the fashion industry. Now it’s time to remind them of how cute sea turtles are. ‘What’s more important: sea turtles or a $20 sweater?’ I don’t plan on guilting my audience, but I want them to hear my voice in their brain next time they go online shopping, and ask themselves if they are making the eco-friendly decision. Once I’ve explained how the effects of fast fashion will grow by 2030, I’ll end on a more hopeful note. ‘What can you do? Buy from sustainable brands or thrift stores.’”


This student paints a clear picture of the most important points she wants her audience to know about by interjecting quotes that she would say during her presentation. The inclusion of humor makes the essay more enjoyable to read. By incorporating her lesson plan for her talk, it is clear this student cares deeply and knows quite a bit about this topic.


The last part you should include in your response is why this topic is important to not just you, but everyone. This is the so what of your essay. What will others gain from hearing your three minute lecture? Maybe your interest in personal finance has helped you accumulate a large sum of money from interest and you want to help your fellow students manage their finances. Or, possibly you think that the benefits of being bilingual are so great that you are encouraging your audience to spend ten minutes a day practicing another language.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind while writing:


  • Come up with a catchy title. Historical Movements in Broadway Shows is not nearly as exciting as Dance Dance Revolution: How Broadway Glorifies Revolutionaries.
  • Give a fake talk. Give your Lightning Talk to your friends or family (or just to yourself) and see what points you include. This will help you figure out what to include in the lesson plan you write about.
  • Have fun! Show off your personality. Don’t be afraid to make a joke at your own expense.


Prompt 2, Option B

There is a story or meaning behind every name or nickname—both those we’re given and those that we choose. What is meaningful to you about your name? (200 words)


If you have a special connection with your name, this is the prompt for you! Even if you weren’t named for a great grandfather you never met who fought in a World War, you can still have a meaningful name and write a great essay. There are multiple archetypes and different ways to approach this prompt. There is no general structure you have to follow, since at the end of the day, your name is one of the most personal aspects of your life, so your essay should be just as personal and unique.


Here are just a few different archetypes that you can follow for this essay:


  • Named for a family member: Maybe you were named after your grandmother who died before you were born. Maybe every first son in your family is named Jonathon! Whatever the case is, writing about your name’s connection to your past is a great way to show the importance of family and history in your life. If you choose this archetype for your essay, you will want to include the family member you were named for (or family tradition your name is a part of), how you feel connected to and inspired by your namesake, and how you plan to keep their legacy alive and honor their name. For instance, a student who was named for his great grandfather might talk about the day he learned his great grandfather was the coach of a minor league baseball team, which happens to be this student’s favorite sport. He would then describe how he can feel his great grandfather cheering him on from the dugout whenever he is up to bat, and how he will share every victory with his great grandfather.


  • Meaning in another language: If your name has a special meaning in a language besides English, you could write your essay on what your name means and how you either exemplify or contradict that meaning. For example, a student’s whose name means fire might discuss the irony of her name when she has always been shy and quiet. However, when she was presented with a scary situation, she had to embrace her inner fire and be brave and bold. Another approach to this archetype might be if you feel a cultural connection to your name. Perhaps your Japanese name your American teachers always butchered used to fill you with shame, but now that you have started engaging with your Japanese culture and heritage, you feel a sense of pride and belonging. If you choose to write about your name’s meaning in another language, your essay should have strong anecdotes and emotional revelations to fully understand how you view the meaning of your name in a way others might not.



  • Nickname used by your family: Your full name might be Alexandra but your family has only ever referred to you as Alex. Or maybe you are the only one in your family who plays sports so everyone calls you “The Olympian”. For this essay archetype, you will want to talk about the origins of your nickname, what it means to you, and the importance of family in your life. Since this is a special nickname only your family (and maybe close friends) use, you need to show admissions officers what the context surrounding this name means to you. For example, you might write about how your family refers to you as the baby of the family since you’re the youngest. As you grew up though, you wanted more responsibility and hated being looked down upon for your age. With the inclusion of an anecdote or two to describe how you have shown your maturity to your family, you eventually realized that your nickname was a sign of affection that you will always cherish.


  • Nickname you earned for a notorious action: Does the whole school know you as Touchdown because you scored the winning touchdown at homecoming junior year? Are you referred to as Thomas Jefferson after you recited the entire Declaration of Independence in your APUSH class? The nicknames you earned at school can be funny, creative, and are bound to have a good story behind them. This is a great place to show your personality when you’re around your peers, which is important to colleges since you will be interacting with other students while on campus. For this essay, you should include the story of how you got your name, how you feel about your nickname, and the sense of identity or responsibility you associate with the name. For instance, a student might have been called The Whiz in his math class all year because he solved a problem the first month of school that none of his other classmates could figure out. His essay would talk about how he figured out the answer and then describe his original emotions of pride and excitement when his classmates came to him for help. However, as the year went on he felt a lot of pressure to live up to his name and know all the answers, which added stress to his life. He might end his essay reflecting on the nickname and how he learned to not let the expectations of others affect his performance in the future.


Regardless of what archetype you focus your essay on, a successful response will demonstrate a personal, often surprising, connection to your name and how that name has affected you emotionally and influenced your actions. The emotional connection and description of why your name is meaningful should be the main focus of your essay. Even if your name ties back to one of your accomplishments, like in the fourth archetype, don’t brag about your achievements admissions officers could find on a resume or transcript. If you can’t provide that deep emotional connection, this probably isn’t the prompt for you. 


Prompt 2, Option C

What would you fight for? (200 words)


The open-ended nature of this prompt gives you the opportunity to get creative with your response, or you can take a more grounded approach. Either way, you will want to be sure that you include what you are fighting for, why you feel compelled to fight, what the ideal outcome looks like to you, and how you plan to accomplish that outcome.


Let’s look at the structure of this essay from both a realistic and creative perspective. 


  1. What are you fighting for?


If you are taking a more realistic approach, this is a great place to discuss a political or global issue you are passionate about. Global warming, gender inequality, Black Lives Matter, refugee crises, animal abuse, etc. Any topic you are passionate about, and can establish a personal connection to, will make a great essay. It is important to remember that although you shouldn’t censor your topic, Notre Dame is a Catholic institution, and religious schools tend to be more conservative, so you should be aware of who your audience is.


For a creative approach, you can draw upon fictional fights. That being said, this is not 200 words of fanfiction. Whatever fictional cause you are fighting for should tie into a tangible issue. For example, you might be fighting with the Avengers against Thanos, but you are actually confronted with providing for an overcrowded planet. Or perhaps the spells you cast against Voldemort are actually fighting against extremist groups. An essay that focuses solely on a fictional fight will have little significance to you or the world, but an essay that finds parallels between this world and a fictional one has the potential to be great.


  1. Why are you fighting?


This is likely the most important part of your essay since this is where you will reveal what values matter most to you and what injustices or problems are closest to your heart.


In a realistic essay, this is a great place to include anecdotes that show your personal connection to the issue you’ve chosen. A student might write about the discrimination she faces as a POC and how she has seen the effects of an unjust system on her family. Another student might talk about his fascination with glaciers and the despair he felt learning they are all melting. Maybe a student who works in a local medical clinic will discuss some of the people he’s helped who can’t afford healthcare. For some topics this section might get uncomfortable and highly-personal. As long as you are comfortable sharing your story, the more vulnerable you get, the greater insight your essay will give to your true feelings.


A creative essay will be similar to the realistic essay in the sense that it should show why you care about the topic you choose. You should be able to connect why you are fighting a fictional battle to why you must fight the real battle. For instance, as the queen of your country you must stave off foreign invaders trying to break through the city gates to protect your citizens, just as the cells you observe in your biology lab fight off viruses that try to enter. A student who is able to weave two fights together and use the fictional one as a metaphor will have an entertaining and impressive essay.


  1. What outcome are you looking for?


This is more straightforward, but it shows that you think towards the future and have a bigger picture in mind. You might talk about how you will keep fighting for gender equality until every human has autonomy over their own body and is treated equally under the law. In the case of a fictional essay, you will keep fighting until you can drive your sword through the heart of your enemy and free those who are controlled by unjust regimes. Maybe the outcome you seek is so far away it seems unattainable. While you should steer clear of sounding defeatist and admitting there’s no point in fighting at all, there is no harm in being honest about the need for the fight to continue.


  1. How will you reach your outcome?


While this is not the most important part of your essay, including steps or a method to fight for your cause will prove to admissions officers that you are a problem-solver, a very attractive quality in candidates.


Maybe you are reading about conflicts around the globe and making social media posts to educate your peers and recruit more people to fight. Perhaps you volunteer at an animal shelter and take care of animals who were abused. Or maybe you make and sell clothing made from recycled material to cut down on the amount of garbage in landfills.


Your plan to achieve your goal can be a little more creative if you are writing about a fictional battle. Maybe you describe the different spells you cast on your opponents or the cavalry charge into the battlefield. In order to make your fictional battle serve as a metaphor for a real battle, you should be descriptive and exciting.


Where to Get Your Notre Dame Essays Edited for Free


If you’ve already written your Notre Dame supplemental essays, it is time to get them edited. Having peers read your essays will help you to identify areas for improvement and, ultimately, will help you maximize your chances of getting into Notre Dame. By creating a free CollegeVine account, you will have access to CollegeVine resources like our free peer-review service. We’re here to help you put your best foot forward and feel prepared throughout this application season—because we know how overwhelming it can get.

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