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Last updated April 14, 2023

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How to Write the Notre Dame Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

You've got two supplemental essays to write for Notre Dame. The first—a Why Us essay—will let you show your alignment with Notre Dame. The second prompt, which you'll have some choice with, will let you show a more personal side to the admissions committee.

If you’re applying to the University of Notre Dame, then you’ll be writing two supplemental essays, each of a maximum of 200 words. You’re required to answer the first essay prompt, but you have some strategic choice with the second one.

Let’s get into it.

Prompt #1 (required)

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?

This is a Why Us essay if ever I’ve seen one. But you’re not just starting from scratch. That first sentence of the prompt gives you a humongous hint about what you should be writing about.

See, Why Us essays can be tricky because there are so many topics you can focus on: academics, campus life, values, and more. You want to show that you understand the campus climate in a broad and deep way.

The first sentence is a hint because it gives you a few values with which to start: the fact that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution with “a mission to educate the hearts and minds of students.”

As you’re crafting your answer, you can think about why your values align with those of Notre Dame. What is exciting about how your heart and mind will be educated as a Notre Dame student? Be specific.

In your response, feel free to include particular details from the school’s website, interactions with people on campus, or information you gathered in an information session or campus tour. Your essay should make it clear that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re a natural fit for the Notre Dame community.

Now, the common question: do you have to be Catholic to apply to Notre Dame? Do I have to write about Catholicism? Notre Dame accepts students of all religious beliefs as well as no religious beliefs. That being said, the school skews heavily Catholic. You do not need to be or write about Catholicism or try to connect with the faith if it isn’t your own. If it is, great, this is a place to lean into that. If not, you can feel free to stick to the “educate the hearts and minds” bit.

Prompt #2 (choose ONE to respond to)

You’ve got a lot of options to choose from among these four. Each will add a particular kind of narrative to your application, so my advice for choosing which prompt to write about is this: a) find the area where you have the most compelling thing to say, and b) think about what parts of you are absent from the rest of your application.

1. 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?

If you have a particularly interesting backstory, or if there’s something about your background context that isn’t revealed anywhere else in your application, then this might be the best prompt for you to choose.

2. Tell us about a time when you advocated for something you believe in.

This second option is a good way to show value alignment with Notre Dame. By explicitly writing about something you believe in, you can demonstrate that your values match up with Notre Dame’s institutional values. When writing your response, also be sure to focus on action steps. Notre Dame admissions officers want to see how you can take action for something you believe in.

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

Again, we have another prompt that focuses on actions. But instead of writing about something you’ve already done, this prompt lets you dream a little. Notre Dame wants to see that you can identify a significant problem and plan for a solution. What you choose to write about will reveal a) what part of your community you value most and b) your critical thinking skills.

4. What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?

This prompt is kind of a quirky one. Should you write about the time someone complimented your new shoes? Probably not. You’ll want to choose a compliment that holds a lot of underlying meaning or significance. Maybe a teacher complimented your work ethic or a stranger complimented your kindness. What you write about should teach your Notre Dame admissions officer something about who you are.

And with that, you’re ready to get started on your Notre Dame supplemental essays! If you still need a little more guidance before jumping in, check out our How to Get into Notre Dame guide or sign up for the Essay Academy—our comprehensive digital college essay course. Happy writing! 👋

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