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Here’s a look at the University of Notre Dame’s 2021-2022 supplemental essay prompts and how to best answer them.

The University of Notre Dame Writing Supplement consists of one (1) essay response to a required question and one (1) essay response to one of three questions you select from a list of options provided. In total, you will write two (2) essay responses. The word count is a maximum of 200 words per essay. 

Required 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?

This is Notre Dame’s version of “Why us?”. This is your chance to talk about what makes you interested in attending Notre Dame and what drew you to it in the first place. It’s important to address both aspects of the question: the mind and the heart. What do you hope to learn while you’re at Notre Dame? How do you hope your opinions and world views change? How do you hope to feel while you’re at Notre Dame? How will your heart expand throughout your years and how will you give more of your heart to your community?

Additional Prompts (You choose 1):

  • During the spring semester, Notre Dame faculty gave 3-Minute Lightning Talks on exciting topics within their fields of expertise. While you don’t have a Ph.D. yet, we bet you’re developing an expertise in something. If you were giving a Lightning Talk, what topic (academic or not) would you choose?

The essay prompt gives you a link to the 3-Minute Lightning Talks – you should watch a few so you can see what ND professors’ research looks like. But then bring it back to you when you’re writing this essay: What topic would you choose for your Lightning Talk? This can be a chance to stand out and write an essay that is interesting and memorable. 

Most applicants will write a standard essay on what they want to study and why. Note, however, that most versions of this essay won’t be interesting or unique. If you write about your intended major, explain why you want to study this field, and why it excites you, and perhaps what you hope to do with this major after you graduate from Notre Dame.

A more unique approach, though, will be one that shows you’re an expert – as the question asks! Maybe you are an expert in making the best mac and cheese. Write about how you make that meal different and special, and why you started making it in the first place, and for whom you make the meal. This essay will show you are independent because your parents work and you make dinner for younger siblings; it also reveals that you are resourceful and creative. Or maybe you’re an expert in playing the cello, even if you don’t want to be a music major. Dive into how often you play and practice, and the long hours of dedication, and star performances you’ve given. 

These types of responses are interesting and showcase your background and character.

  • There is a story or meaning behind every name or nickname—both those we’re given and those that we choose. What is meaningful to you about your name?

This is an interesting and unique question, so your essay can also be interesting and unique. Perhaps you can add some humor to your essay, if appropriate. The admissions officers want to learn more about you, not just what your nickname means. Maybe you can weave in some information about your family structure or dynamic; maybe you can reveal something about your heritage, culture or religion. Perhaps your nickname tells about your character – stubborn, strong, silly, athletic. Regardless, be sure to give some details not just about how you received that nickname, but what it means to you.

  • What would you fight for?

If you don’t believe you have a solid answer to this question, or it seems too big for you, skip it. However, if you’ve been engaged in social movements and demonstrations, then this is a great place to expand upon your involvement. Maybe you’ve helped organize protests, or gathered signatures for a legislative change. Whatever you’ve done, choose one action and go into detail. Additionally, mention how you plan on continuing this work throughout your time at Notre Dame.

About the author
Stephen Friedfeld

Stephen is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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