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How to Write the Notre Dame Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: A Captivating Guide

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The University of Notre Dame is a private Catholic research university located in South Bend, Indiana.

Becoming one of the Fighting Irish isn’t easy: The acceptance rate is about 18%.

There’s a lot to like about Notre Dame: It’s a nationally ranked college, has excellent sports programs, and boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation.

To help you tip the admissions scale in your favor, we’re supplying all the tips and info you need to successfully complete the Notre Dame Writing Supplement.

What Are The Notre Dame Supplemental Essay Requirements?

Notre Dame accepts either the Coalition Application or the Common Application. When you add Notre Dame to your college list on either application, you’ll gain access to the Notre Dame Writing Supplement.

This portion of the application is required, and you’ll write three essay responses in total. This is in addition to the essay required through the Coalition or Common apps.

First, you must answer the following question:

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?

You’ll then select two of the following five questions to answer:

A Notre Dame education is not just for you, but also for those who will benefit from the impact you make. Who do you aspire to serve after you graduate?

In response to the rising momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement during June 2020, G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean of the Notre Dame Law School, penned an open letter entitled, “I am George Floyd. Except I can breathe. And I can do something.” He issues a call to the Notre Dame community saying, “each of us must do what we can, wherever we are.” What is one action you are taking “to change this world for the better?”

God and the Good Life is an interdisciplinary course created by the departments of Philosophy and Film, Television, and Theatre that asks students to consider moral questions about what they believe and how they want to live their lives. What do God and a good life mean to you?

Notre Dame has a rich history deeply rooted in tradition. Share how a favorite tradition from your life has impacted who you are today.

What brings you joy?

Notre Dame recommends a response between 150-200 words.

But here’s the catch:

The maximum word count is 200 words per essay. Stick to a word count close to this number. That doesn’t give you many words to work with, but don’t worry! We’ll give you some tips for making the most of your 200 words in the next section.

General Tips for the Notre Dame Supplemental Essays

There are some general tips that apply to most application essays you’ll write:

  • Be yourself. As tempting as it is to try to impress admissions officers, you won’t stand out if you simply say what you think the admissions team wants to hear. If you want to write memorable, interesting essays, the key is to be yourself and write in your own voice.
  • Introduce new information. The essays are supposed to provide a glimpse into aspects of your personality and character that weren’t already covered in the application. As much as possible, try to incorporate meaningful information that hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere. Notre Dame says this is their favorite part of the application process because they get to know the person behind the transcript.
  • Be specific. With only 200 words to work with, specificity is essential. Use concrete details and avoid generalizations.
  • Polish your essays to a shine. While your essays aren’t a writing test, you want to show that you’re intelligent and that you take your application to Notre Dame seriously. For this reason, you want to avoid spelling or grammar errors—especially with such a limited word count! Revise and edit, and ask trusted teachers, family members, and friends to weigh in as well.

Now for some advice from the university itself:

Notre Dame admissions counselor Maria Finan writes, “When I’m reading applications, I find that the most interesting stories are the ones that leave me feeling like I really know the applicant. The topic is often less important than how the story is told. If a story reveals something about who you are, what you value, where you’re from, or an event or person who has shaped you, that’s often a story worth telling.” 

According to Zach Klonsinkski, “The most memorable (I think that’s a better adjective than “outstanding”) essays always help me get to know the applicant: what they believe, what interests them, and/or what they are super passionate about. Who is this person potentially coming to our campus and what can I imagine them doing here?”

He reminds students to keep the essay about them and their beliefs, values, or actions—not elaborate on a backstory. He suggests making an outline or bullet points for your essay to ensure you include all the important points. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of Notre Dame’s essay questions!

The Required Notre Dame Supplemental Essay

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?

This essay is about “how you fit in” at the university. Notre Dame wants to know what educational impact you foresee the university having on your life. You will need to cover two things:

  1. What you consider a Notre Dame education and experience to be
  2. How you will capitalize on that experience to transform your mind and your heart

And remember, you have a maximum of 200 words to do it!

For the first part, do your research

  • What attracted you to Notre Dame? 
  • What program are you interested in?
  • What classes do you plan to take?
  • What is campus life like?
  • If you visited campus, what kind of feeling did you get while you were there?
  • Did something stand out to you, like opportunities for study abroad, community service, leadership, or research?

Make a list of things that made you want to apply to Notre Dame. Look at the list and determine how these things fit with your goals and ambitions. Colleges want to ensure that applicants aren’t applying only because they recognize the name or want to attend a prestigious school.

Rather than listing a variety of reasons Notre Dame stands out to you, focus on one or two aspects of the school, then go into as much detail as possible. This will help maximize your word count.

Most importantly, talk about how these classes or opportunities relate to your future plans. Remember, thousands of students could write these exact same answers — and many probably will! 

If the study abroad program stood out to you, the two most important parts of the essay are to explain why do you want to study abroad through Notre Dame specifically, and how will that program impact your mind (educationally) and your heart (emotionally or compassionately).

This is about you taking a role as a responsible global citizen after college, not you landing a high-paying job in a corporate office. Tell Notre Dame how their experience will impact you holistically as you prepare for your future.

Remember, Notre Dame wants to learn more about you, so be personal, authentic, and specific as you develop your answer. This is your chance to show that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about Notre Dame.

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Notre Dame Supplemental Essay 2A: Aspiring to Serve

Now that we’ve discussed the required essay, we’ll take a look at the five additional essays.

Remember that you only need to answer two of the following five questions.

Get right to the point. Don’t give backstory or an extended anecdote.

We recommend answering the two questions that allow you to provide the most meaningful, important information about yourself. As with the required essay, you only have 200 words max for each question.

A Notre Dame education is not just for you, but also for those who will benefit from the impact you make. Who do you aspire to serve after you graduate?

The key to this question is considering how you will serve and positively impact your community through your Notre Dame education. How will the knowledge and skills you gain in college allow you to improve and/or give back to your greater community? 

Think about the program you plan to pursue. If you’re interested in something like public service, health, or education, it might be easier for you to make a direct connection to how your education will serve others. Choosing marketing, computer science, or architecture, though, might prove a little more challenging.

Consider the following:

  • Do you plan to volunteer for an organization or group using the background and skills you gained from your Notre Dame education?
  • How will you use empathy and compassion to serve others in your career?
  • Will you work pro bono or for a nonprofit to offer your services?
  • Will you use your skills and resources to help underserved communities?  

Whatever direction you choose, give specific examples, and make sure that it relates directly to you. Avoid spending too much time explaining the “what” or “who”  and focus on the “how.” Reserve two or three sentences making the connection between your education and who you will serve, and spend the rest of the essay telling the reader how you will serve.

You don’t need to have a final ending to your essay. As long as you explain your action steps, you can end the essay in whatever manner you like.

Notre Dame Essay Supplemental 2B: Change the World

In response to the rising momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement during June 2020, G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean of the Notre Dame Law School, penned an open letter entitled, “I am George Floyd. Except I can breathe. And I can do something.” He issues a call to the Notre Dame community saying, “each of us must do what we can, wherever we are.” What is one action you are taking “to change this world for the better?”

There is no shortage of polarizing topics in our country at the moment—from issues of social justice to politics to a global pandemic. When considering this essay, think about what it is truly asking. Although this question opens with the dean’s quote referring to the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, the essay does not ask you to comment on it. 

Instead, the question focuses on the dean’s passionate response to the movement to pose a question about how you would change the world for the better. He wants students to make a difference while they can. 

First, identify a problem or issue that is important to you. It might be something big like the BLM movement, disparities in health care, or the growing inequalities in education. Or, maybe it hits closer to home with your community’s response to homelessness, food insecurity, or injustice.

Once you identify that issue for which you are passionate, determine what you can do to improve that outcome. How can you, as one person living today, positively impact the world?

Avoid thinking too big and, instead, localize your impact. Think about how the topic or issue you chose can be addressed in your own community. Consider:

  • Starting conversations with friends, family, neighbors, etc. to educate and raise awareness about a topic
  • Mobilizing volunteers to tackle a problem as a group
  • Fundraising to provide donations or goods to underserved communities
  • Joining existing organizations that advocate for or take action on issues that are important to you

Only choose to write this essay if you are passionate about this topic. If it is a struggle to come up with an answer, then move on! The answer to this essay should be authentic and specific to you. 

And remember, be sure to answer with specific steps on the action you will take.

Notre Dame Essay Supplemental  2C: God and a Good Life

God and the Good Life is an interdisciplinary course created by the departments of Philosophy and Film, Television, and Theatre that asks students to consider moral questions about what they believe and how they want to live their lives. What do God and a good life mean to you?

This essay will require some research and personal reflection. 

First, it’s important to know the values and morals that Notre Dame holds high as a Catholic university. Spend some time understanding what the university stands for and hopes to develop in its students. 

Notre Dame states that it wants students “to learn not only how to think critically and creatively, but also how to live fully.” The university’s values lead back to its founder, Reverend Edward Sorin, C.S.C., who wanted Notre Dame to be a “powerful force for good in the world.” 

Next, think about how these values and morals are reflected in your own life. Understanding Notre Dame’s values is important, but ultimately, they want to hear what God means in your life. Consider:

  • What does God mean to you?
  • How is God present in your life?
  • How does your faith impact your life?
  • What values and morals are important to you?

Now, the essay wants to know what God and the good life means to you. You will need to define what the good life is to you. Of course, think about this with the lens of your relationship to God as well as the values that define your life and the university.

  • What makes it the good life?
  • Is this something you can live now?
  • How do you achieve the good life?
  • How do your feelings about God impact your vision of the good life?

Jot down your thoughts or make a list about what these things mean to you, then organize them into your 200-word essay. Remember to be sure you are passionate about this question and that your answer reflects your own thoughts and values.

Notre Dame Essay Supplemental 2D: Favorite Traditions

Notre Dame has a rich history deeply rooted in tradition. Share how a favorite tradition from your life has impacted who you are today.

Sharing traditions is a great opportunity to give admissions counselors a glimpse of who you are and what’s important to you. This can be fun and light, while still sharing a lot of information that helps counselors get to know you as a person.

Maybe there is one tradition with family or friends that has happened as long as you can remember and it’s clear this will be your subject. Or, there could be a tradition that you do solo that helps you to unwind, refresh, or reset.

This essay opens up a wide range of possibilities. Remember to show passion and personality in your answer. 

And don’t forget the last part! How has this tradition impacted who you have become? This essay is all about you!

Notre Dame Essay Supplemental 2E: Finding Joy

What brings you joy?

This is a very open essay! Surely, there are plenty of ways you find joy in your life. The essay is almost overwhelming with possibilities. 

It might be helpful to define joy, then use that to frame your answer. Thinking of the definition, make a list of things that bring you joy. Explain what joy means to you. Think about which things on your list will help you develop the strongest essay. 

Strategy 1: Pillars

Notre Dame espouses five pillars. If you’re finding some of your current ideas uninspiring, think about your experiences that fit in with one of the pillars.

These are the pillars:

Mind

  • Is there a certain subject that you absolutely love to study, even in your free time?
  • Have you used your mind to make a difference in your school or community, perhaps by inventing a solution to a problem? If so, you might have the perfect anecdote for the “mind” pillar.

Heart

You could take a couple of different approaches for the “heart” pillar.

  • Are you a compassionate person who volunteers at an animal shelter or a nursing home?
  • Is this an extremely significant part of your life and personality?
  • Maybe your work with intellectually disabled children in the Special Olympics has inspired your future career choice.
  • Alternatively, you could interpret “heart” as an opportunity to discuss something you’re passionate about, but this is true of the “zeal” pillar as well.

Zeal

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What’s something to which you’ve dedicated hours of time?
  • Perhaps you’re passionate about cooking, music, or scientific research.
  • Maybe you’re a voracious reader who can spend many happy hours browsing a bookstore
  • Or you’ve taken gymnastic classes for the last decade and still look forward to practice with enthusiasm.

Family

  • Do you have any important or special family traditions?
  • Is there something unique about your family that’s central to your identity?
  • Is there someone in your family who has majorly influenced you?

Anyone can write about how meaningful family is, so be sure to use specific, vivid details and explain exactly how your family has molded your identity.

Hope

  • The “hope” pillar gives you the perfect opportunity to write about an obstacle you’ve faced and conquered.
  • Although it doesn’t have to be some Herculean challenge, try not to write about something overused or cliché like overcoming a bad test grade.

Reflect on what you learned about life, hope, and yourself from this experience.

Of course, the examples above aren’t the only ways to address these five pillars; they’re simply meant to give you some inspiration.

Most importantly, use vivid details and explain why the pillar you’ve discussed is so meaningful. How has it shaped your identity or future goals?

Strategy 2: Responsibility

Think about the people in your life for whom you are responsible.

This is a fairly open-ended exercise that may inspire a variety of responses.

  • You can talk about a specific responsibility (task) you have, or your responsibility to a group of people, like a club at school, a team, or your family.
  • Do you work to help your parents pay the bills or buy groceries?
  • Do you pick your younger sibling up from school every day?

For example:

  • Maybe you feel you’re responsible for the environment, and you’ve taken action to improve it.
  • Or perhaps you’re responsible for yourself, and you understand that your actions have consequences that impact others.

Write about a responsibility that reflects your individual values and allows you to share something new with admissions officers.

Be sure to explain what you’ve learned from this responsibility and how it has helped you grow as a person.

Strategy 3: Fact

Ask yourself: What’s one thing I know for a fact?

Here’s an opportunity for you to be completely creative, even infusing your response with humor if that fits your personality.

Clearly, your answer to this question doesn’t need to be entirely serious. But it should show your thought process.

  • What’s something you think or believe and why?
  • The most important piece of this question is the “why.”
  • Make a claim, then back it up with facts and logical reasoning.

Convey passion for the subject you talk about, even if it’s a somewhat silly one.

And keep in mind that you don’t have to be silly—if there’s something you strongly believe in, you’re welcome to write about that too.

Make sure to avoid overly controversial issues, however. You never know who will be reading your essay or what they believe!

Strategy 4: Significance in Your Community

Ask yourself: What is something significant that happened in your community? Why does it matter to you?

Notre Dame is a geographically diverse university, and admissions officers are interested in learning about both you and your community.

Make sure you write about something that genuinely matters to you, and be prepared to explain why it’s significant in your eyes.

  • Perhaps a controversy or tragedy has happened in your community that taught you important lessons or inspired you to confront a particular issue.
  • Maybe your community has come together to do something great, or has recently achieved something important.
  • Whether it’s something big or small, be sure to choose an event that’s meaningful to you personally.

Conclusion: Writing the Notre Dame Supplemental Essays

In order to be admitted to Notre Dame, you’ll need to write three short essays. You’re required to explain how a Notre Dame education will impact your mind and heart, but you can choose the other two essay topics from five options.

Focus on providing specific details and helping admissions officers get to know you.

Your personality should shine through in each essay, and the admissions team should be able to picture you on Notre Dame’s campus—and the contributions you’ll make in the future.

If you start early, follow the tips here, and polish your essays carefully, you’ll increase your chances of joining the Fighting Irish in the fall!

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