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What to Know about Notre Dame’s Supplemental Essay Prompts

Zaragoza Guerra

Written by Zaragoza Guerraon November 30th, 2016

Prior to joining College Coach, I spent part of my career as director of admissions for the Boston Conservatory, where I oversaw overall recruitment and auditions for students interested in music, theater, and dance. I spent most of my admissions career, however, as an admissions officer for two institutes of technology. As an associate director of admissions at MIT, I directed overall recruitment and yield activities as well as international, transfer, and special student admissions. I also served as an assistant director of admissions for Caltech, where I handled specialized student recruitment and reviewed domestic and international student files.
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You’ve imagined yourself in front of the golden dome; you’ve plotted out a prospective Social Concerns Seminar; you can even recite scenes from Rudy word for word. It’s now time to apply to Notre Dame, and drat, you realize their application requires written responses above and beyond a simple personal statement. But before you dramatically resign yourself to a hospital bed and plead with others to “win just one for the Gipper,” let’s try unpacking those supplemental essay prompts—a little clarity might just be the impetus you need to wrap up these little gems:
  • Notre Dame is an adventure that will develop more than just your intellect. Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, believed that to provide a true education “the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” What excites you about attending Notre Dame? To put it simply, this is a “Why this college?” essay. But Notre Dame is also dropping some explicit hints. An education, to them, is not only about growing one’s mind, it’s about growing one’s heart, too. How are you not only an academic fit, but a spiritual fit? Do you appreciate Notre Dame’s concern for the world, their concern for others, their “heart”? Specificity—classes, programs, professors, experiences—can go a long way here. And remember, they’re asking what about them excites you. So if you’re telling them you’re excited about a particular experience within the Center for Social Concerns, don’t forget to provide the evidence for that excitement. A short and simple allusion to your background, your experiences, will suffice—anything more than that belongs on your activities list.
  • Home is where your story begins. Tell us about your home and how it has influenced your story. Home is not defined in this prompt. It can mean anything: your physical home, your spiritual home, your academic home, your family, or your community. Choose the home that has had the greatest impact on your story—who you are, who you want to be. But don’t spend your entire response describing your home; dedicate a decent portion of your essay to how that home has shaped your story. Remember, home is not where your story ends, it’s “where your story begins.”
  • Think about when you first meet people. What is a common first impression they might have of you? Is it a perception you want to change or what else do you want them to know about you? For argument’s sake, let’s state that first impressions are like peepholes. While peepholes allow one to see what’s behind a door, they’re limited in scope, they don’t show the whole picture. Stand too close to the peephole, and the person looking through on the other side might only see an eye or a nose. Step back, and they might be able to see your smile. What do others see of you on the other side of their peephole, their first impression? Is it your back, a friendly smile, a frown, a blur, a t-shirt, a laugh, a calculator, a text book? Do they see what you want them to see? If not, what do you need to do to give them a better view of the whole you? Unless you have the ability to see what your friends are seeing on the other side of their respective peepholes, this prompt might require, not only a bit of honest self-reflection, but some feedback from friends.
  • The late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame's president from 1953 to 1987, served as a trusted adviser to U.S. presidents and popes. A champion for human rights, Fr. Hesburgh was one of the architects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Reflect on the current state of civil rights, the progress that has been made, or the problems still being faced today. Father Hesburgh gave a critical eye to the world of 1963 and successfully helped argue for and define the legal changes made in 1964. Using your own critical eye, how is 2016 different from 1964 with respect to civil rights? What have we accomplished thus far? Where do we go from here? Two things applicants should keep in mind when answering this prompt: 1) the “or” in the last sentence of the prompt means something, and 2) Notre Dame is not defining civil rights in this prompt as much as informing applicants how those rights were expressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • This is your chance to take a risk. Freebie alert! Have fun. And be creative. But remember, there are a few parameters: this needs to be a written response of less than two hundred words; and it needs to give Notre Dame insight into you—your mind, your heart, your character, your dreams.


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