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University of Notre Dame 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

University of Notre Dame 2020-21 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 3 essays of 200 words.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Oddball, Community

The University of Notre Dame Writing Section consists of one (1) essay response to a required question and two (2) essay responses to questions you select from the options provided. In total, you will write three (3) essay responses. The recommended word count is approximately 150 to 200 words per essay.
Please provide a response to 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? 

With this subtly-worded Why essay, admissions wants to know how you plan on using a Notre Dame education to not only accomplish your academic goals, but to enrich your emotional and cultural literacy as well. Beyond the typical reasons, why do you really want to join the Fighting Irish? What will you get out of this experience that you couldn’t possibly get at any other school? In order to give a cohesive, well-rounded response in under 200 words, we suggest you set aside a good portion of time to research the school and learn about what it’s actually like to attend. Will you transform your mind by signing up for the literature course called “#Wanderlust: Medieval Pilgrims, Instagram, Influencers, and Self-Love”? (Yes, this is a real class!) Will you transform your heart by taking advantage of the plethora of volunteer opportunities offered by the Office of Human Resources? Try to gather as much information as you can so that you can infuse your response with detail. The goal here is to demonstrate your commitment to the school, while also showcasing how this education and experience will propel you into adulthood!

Please provide responses to TWO (2) of the following questions in 200 words:

1. 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?

This prompt is giving you the opportunity to think ahead five or ten years. Once you’ve finished your academic studies, how will this education benefit not just you, but the lives of those around you as well? Will you be a top surgeon, helping to improve your patients’ quality of life? A go-to communications resource for your peers? Feel free to to think beyond your job here — what kind of contributions do you hope to make to society at large? Maybe the education you gain from Notre Dame will enable you to go back to your hometown and serve your community at the local level. Or perhaps your experience amongst some of this generation’s best and brightest student minds will set you up to effect change and expand research in your field, in a way that will benefit the world at large. Take some time to imagine how Notre Dame’s offerings will give you an advantage in the future when it comes to helping those in need.

2. 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?”

If you choose this prompt, then there is obviously an issue or problem in the world that you would like to see resolved. And rightfully so — there are so many issues at the forefront of our consciousness right now. Maybe you, too, are incredibly passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, or perhaps it’s global warming, domestic terrorism, or human trafficking that is on your mind. There’s no shortage of contemporary issues for you to address here, so the key is to pick the problem that you have taken the most steps to change or address. Are you organizing peaceful protests in your small Midwestern town? Do you use your social media platforms to educate and mobilize students in your area? Remember that Notre Dame is looking to accept passionate students who want to be a part of a solution.

3. 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 is a very personal question, so we recommend taking some time to reflect on your relationship to God and what “a good life” looks like to you. Did you grow up going to church and participating in youth group activities? What have these experiences meant to you? Maybe you were raised agnostic but have developed an innate curiosity surrounding religions across the four hemispheres. What have you taken away from your research? There’s really no way to answer this prompt incorrectly, as long as you are being authentic and have put some consideration into your response. A good life will look different to different people: winning a Pulitzer Prize, giving back to the community, travelling the world, spending quality time with family. Whatever your vision is, own it.

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

Admissions wants to know what consistent aspects of your life have made you into the person you are today. So, let them know! Where do you come from? What has shaped you as a person, and how has that made your perspective unique? What you focus on here can either be reflective of a larger construct like your entire family background, or specific to you and you alone.  Maybe every Halloween, your family sets up a spooky maze in your backyard for all the neighborhood kids to enjoy on Mischief Night. What has this spectacle meant to you? Has it made you feel more connected to your town? Perhaps every Chinese New Year, you and your folks walk in the parade in San Francisco. Has this tradition deepened your connection to your Chinese identity? Whatever your story may be, don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Notre Dame is looking to accept students who will not only bring diverse perspectives to their campus, but who value commitment and tradition as well. What can you teach your classmates about traditions within your culture, religion, or community?

5. What brings you joy?

Ah, you love to see it. Admissions has given you an incredibly straightforward prompt in hopes that you’ll take this opportunity to geek out. There’s no wrong way to answer this question, so long as you are being authentic and detailed, you can go wild. You can write about movie nights with your friends (you bring the snacks!), hitting the slopes with your cousins, writing poems on your front porch, acquiring new skills in robotics club, etc. Just be sure to use immersive details to make the admissions officer reading your essay feel like they’re there with you. Finally, be sure to explain why and how the activity, pastime, or experience you choose brings you joy.

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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