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How to Write the University of Notre Dame Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

The University of Notre Dame has two required short essay prompts for all applicants. The first prompt asks applicants to share what excites them most about attending Notre Dame, while the second prompt allows applicants to choose one prompt from an option of four.


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 Essay Prompts


All Applicants


Prompt 1: Notre Dame is a Catholic university, founded by members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, with a mission to educate the hearts and minds of students. What excites you about attending Notre Dame? (200 words)

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


Option A: People in the Notre Dame community come from many different places, backgrounds, and walks of life. How is where you’re from a part of who you are?


Option B: Tell us about a time when you advocated for something you believe in.


Option C: If you were given unlimited resources to help solve one problem in your community, what would it be and how would you accomplish it?


Option D: What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?


How to Write the University of Notre Dame Supplemental Essays


Prompt 1: Notre Dame is a Catholic university, founded by members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, with a mission to educate the hearts and minds of students. What excites you about attending Notre Dame? (200 words)


This first prompt is essentially asking you why you want to attend Notre Dame, similar to a “why this college” essay. Take this opportunity to expand upon the unique qualities of Notre Dame that initially drew you to apply to the university. The prompt goes a step further, however, to provide some context on the university’s Catholic background. When applying to a school that is religiously affiliated, it is important to address how the school’s religious foundation parallels your own beliefs or how its mission will impact your academic and social journey at the institution. 


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 Investment banking after graduation ─ you should talk about how your beliefs motivate you to discuss the value of business ethics in your finance courses and how you would be thrilled to learn how big businesses could use philanthropic efforts to teach financial literacy to underserved communities in your hometown. The more details, the better.


Even if you do not practice the same religion as the school you are applying to, try to find inspiration in the school’s values, traditions, and legacy to incorporate into your response. 


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


  1. The prompt mentions that part of Notre Dame’s mission is to “educate the hearts and minds of students.” Therefore, it would be a good idea to begin your response by concisely explaining where your heart and mind lie. For example, “My mind is focused on creating generational wealth for my community through investing in commercial real estate. Whereas my heart is bound to incorporating ethical values of my faith into the business world.”
  2. The next section should explain which academic opportunities you want to take advantage of at Notre Dame. Mention the specific names of classes, programs, professors, majors, and minors you hope to experience during your time on campus. Explain why these opportunities appeal to you and how they relate to your background.
  3. The third portion of your response details 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 financial real estate and my strong 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.


The prompt is essentially asking you two questions – Why do you want to attend Notre Dame? And how does Notre Dame’s Catholic background and mission differentiate itself from other colleges and universities? Ensure that you answer both parts of the prompt and use as specific examples as possible throughout your response. 


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


A quick note about choosing prompts: before immediately setting your mind on a prompt, try brainstorming ideas for each of the four 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?


Prompt 2, Option A: People in the Notre Dame community come from many different places, backgrounds, and walks of life. How is where you’re from a part of who you are?


Like your personal statement on the Common App, this question requires you to self-reflect and share parts of your identity or upbringing that make you unique from other applicants. Also known as a Diversity Essay, this kind of prompt is used by the admissions committee to illustrate the various backgrounds of the incoming students.


The Diversity Essay exists because colleges want a student body that represents a wide variety of races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, ideologies, and so on. 


To start brainstorming a response for this prompt, first consider writing a few bullet points that help shape your identity. 


For example:

  • Family structure
  • Languages
  • Interests, hobbies, and talents
  • Perspectives, values, and opinions
  • Experiences
  • Personality traits


Another useful tactic is to ask yourself probing questions about your background: Does your family have any interesting traditions or rituals? How has growing to understand your heritage impacted your outlook on society?


After you have a good list going, begin to dive a bit deeper into how your identity has impacted your personality and perspective of the world. Next begin to frame a narrative around the points you’ve highlighted:


It’s a Sunday morning. Our home in the suburbs of Chicago is bustling with four energetic sisters (and two exhausted parents) hurriedly putting on their Sunday best for Church service. Running late (again). It is my responsibility, as the oldest, to get us moving towards the door. Gospel music fills our shared bedroom as I quickly tie bows in curly brown hair and laces on shiny black shoes. As we all pile into our families’ silver 2008 Honda Odyssey we brace ourselves for what will surely be a lengthy but ultimately moving service. The light at the end of the tunnel, however, is the home cooked Jamaican meal of Oxtail, red beans & rice, and fried plantain, waiting for us at my grandmother’s house after church. Attending Greater Union Baptist Church every Sunday was not always the highlight of my week, but it was a fundamental part of my character development. Religion in my household is both a spiritual and cultural connection to my community. As the child of immigrants, I’m passionate about my cultural heritage, but I also seek to gain an enhanced global perspective through engaging with other diverse communities. 


Regardless of which aspect of your background you choose to focus your response on, a successful response will demonstrate how where you’re from contributes to your emotions and actions as a person. Elaborating on the emotional connection to your community (good or bad) is critical in effectively conveying your story to the admissions committee. 


Prompt 2, Option B: Tell us about a time when you advocated for something you believe in.


This prompt is not asking about a generic social topic that you are passionate about. This essay is asking applicants to narrate a specific time when they voiced their opinions for something that they believed in. The admissions committee is prompting students to explain a topic that they are passionate about and then illustrate a specific time when they have gone above and beyond to champion their beliefs. 


This is a great place to discuss a political or global issue you are passionate about. Global warming, gender inequality, Black Lives Matter, immigration, refugee crises, abortion rights, animal abuse, voting rights 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, so it’s important to be aware that your reader’s beliefs may not align exactly with your own. This should not prohibit you from writing about a topic that you are passionate about, however, it does make it imperative for you to create a compelling story no matter who is reading your response. 


A potentially different approach to this is to choose a topic that is slightly less serious and a little more relatable to the reader. Maybe it’s something as simple as advocating for a later curfew because you’re working on a short film with some friends. Or maybe you advocated for higher wages at your part-time job so that you could save up for a new computer. Although these topics are a bit more mundane they could still create a compelling story to readers if framed correctly.


Here are a few examples:

  1. A student advocates to his parents that he wants to spend the summer with his grandparents in Guatemala. The student fears that although he is bilingual, he feels as if he is losing his connection to his heritage and native language. His parents think his summer would be better spent attending a college prep summer camp or working a part time job, how can the student persuade them otherwise?
  2. As midterm elections loom, a student advocates for access to voting rights in her community. Even though she is not yet old enough to vote, she advocates by door knocking and volunteering on campaigns for local elections.
  3. Living in an Alaskan fishing village, a passionate student documents the real and visible impacts of global warming on his hometown. He sends pictures and videos to state and federal officials hoping to motivate them to pass more legislation to prevent irreversible effects of climate change.


When deciding which instance in your life to write about, first reflect on some key aspects of the scenario that lead you to feel the need to act. What first motivated you to act? Who was present in this memory? Was this an ongoing issue or a one-time conflict? How did you go about voicing your concerns? What was their response?


Even though you are telling a story about something that has happened in the past, think about how you can frame your narrative to compel the admission’s committee reader to want to advocate alongside you.


Prompt 2, Option C: If you were given unlimited resources to help solve one problem in your community, what would it be and how would you accomplish it?


This prompt is a great way for you to showcase your academic or personal 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. Provide a brief background on the issue and how it impacts your community
  3. Explain specific actions steps you would take to solve the problem
  4. Conclude by addressing how this problem could be tied to larger social and/or global issues


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


Why have you chosen to solve this problem?


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.


The prompt specifically asks for a problem that is directly impacting your community. Therefore, before you dive into your response, it may be helpful to first analyze how you define your community. Community can be defined in many ways, so don’t be afraid to get creative and reflect on different communities that you might be a part of. For example: racial & ethnic groups, religious groups, specific neighborhoods/regional demographics, unique sports or other hobbies, etc. Once you have identified your community and problem to be solved, then you can begin your response.


As you introduce your topic, 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 in a predominately white high school and how she has seen the effects of an unjust system impact her and her family. Another student might talk about her dreams for playing a professional sport, but fear that the wage gap between men’s and women’s sports may limit her prospects for success. 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.


How does this topic impact your community?


It should be obvious to the admissions committee why you are passionate about this issue, but the prompt also asks you to reflect on how this issue might impact others in your community. Analyzing the topic you have chosen on a macro scale will make the issue more relatable to a wider range of readers. A problem that impacts many people will catch the attention of more readers than a problem that solely affects a smaller group. 


Provide some context and background on how this issue has impacted your community. Is this a new problem facing your community? Or has it been an ongoing issue? Has anyone else attempted to solve this issue in the past? If so, how did people react? Is there any additional historical or cultural context that would be helpful for the reader to better understand the weight of the problem you are illustrating? Answering these questions in your response will help better frame the narrative for readers to follow and empathize with.


What outcome are you hoping to achieve from solving this issue? 


This portion of the essay is a bit more straightforward, but it shows that you have the ability to put your passions into specific attainable goals. 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. 


The outcome you seek may seem difficult to achieve in the near future, but it’s okay to set realistic expectations and gradual steps of progress. 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 your advocacy to continue.


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 problem you are hoping to solve, why you felt compelled to advocate for the topic, what the ideal outcome looks like to you, and how you plan to accomplish that outcome.


How will you reach your outcome?


Now that you’ve examined your cause for advocacy in your community, it’s important to include tangible action steps to show the admissions committee that you are not only passionate, but that you are also a problem solver. The prompt states that you should approach your proposed resolution for the issue at hand as if you have unlimited resources. Having unlimited resources should give you the flexibility to brainstorm some innovative and creative goals and tactics. 


Maybe your topic is about access to clean drinking water in your hometown and you hire celebrity influencers to create informative TikToks to educate your peers and recruit more people to help advocate for this issue. Perhaps you volunteer at a refugee center helping families learn English and you want to create a self-paced curriculum online for families to learn English more effectively. Or maybe you support voting rights by going door to door to every home in your county to get new voters registered.


The problem that you are attempting to solve should be something real that impacts the lives of many. However, your plan to solve this issue should be creative in your own way. Try thinking of a potential solution to the problem that maybe you haven’t seen expressed before. Whatever your plan of action might be, use the response to this prompt to uniquely reveal something about your personality to the admission’s committee.


Prompt 2, Option D: What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?


This prompt is asking you to tell a personal and vulnerable story. In this story you should illustrate how the words or actions of another lead you to realize something about personality that surprised yourself. 


First, set the scene. In a narrative essay it’s important to feature lots of vivid imagery and dialogue. Try to pull the reader into the moment with you by creating a personal connection through the telling of your thoughts and feelings in the moment. Think about the events or context leading up to the compliment that was given to you. How did the location of the event contribute to the heightened feelings the compliment might have invoked?


Next, recount the conversation with as much description and detail as possible. Consider different ways to approach the best narrative style for your story: a word for word dialogue of the encounter, a reflective telling of the event where you provide more of your own perspective, or maybe even consider telling the story through the lens of the person who complimented you or an onlooker to the interaction (parent, friend, sibling, teacher, etc).


Finally, conclude your response with a personal reflection on why those words or actions stuck with you. Maybe the person complimented you on something that you were previously deeply insecure about. Or maybe it was a compliment that caught you by surprise on a subject you weren’t expecting. Regardless of what compliment you choose to write about, the prompt overall should be less about the compliment itself and instead more focused on why it meant so much to you.


For example, instead of saying it was the last day of summer camp and you were saying bye to your director, you can say the following:


As the lights dimmed on our last performance of In the Heights at the Musical Theatre summer camp, I felt a mixture of relief and sadness. Our eccentric, but visionary director, Mr. Z, who was a man of many words but few of which were compliments, waited with his heavily annotated script in hand. I braced myself for his notes of my performance as Vanessa. It had been a grueling summer of constant critiques, exhausting rehearsals, and endless choreography – but I loved every minute of it. As I approached Mr. Z, I held my breath and waited for his critique to deflate me. Instead, what he said shocked me, “You poured your heart out on that stage tonight! You should be proud.” My heart absolutely soared! During the entire 3 months of preparation, the closest thing Mr. Z had uttered to me as a compliment to me was “Okay… now run it again from the top!” My family and friends had all assured me that I had earned my spot in that leading role, but it was Mr. Z’s glowing words that were the confidence I needed to finally believe it for myself – that I belonged on that stage.


Where to Get Your Notre Dame Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Notre Dame essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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