What Excites You About Attending Notre-Dame Essay

I love the movie Rudy.  Even a die hard Purdue fan must want to attend Notre Dame when Rudy finally runs onto the field with the crowd chanting his name.  But a love of Rudy alone is not a reason for you to apply, or a reason for Notre Dame to admit you.  Strong applicants share the university's values, and these students have already shown evidence that they fit with the Notre Dame's mission.

Here are a few tips before you dive into the Notre Dame application.

1.  Read Notre Dame's mission statement.

Before they even start Notre Dame's application, we tell our Collegewise students to read the school's mission statement here.   Really read it.  Carefully.  Notre Dame is coming right out and telling you what the university sees as its higher purpose (beyond beating USC on the football field).  They’re telling you what kind of students they’re seeking to help them fulfill that purpose.  And it should become clear to you fairly quickly that each of the essay questions posed on the Notre Dame supplement seeks evidence of your fit with one or more of the tenants described in the mission—teaching and research, scholarship and publication, and service/community. 

2.  Choose the right short essay prompt.

Now, Notre Dame asks you to give a 200 word response to one of the prompts below.  Which one you choose should be driven by your answer to the following question—which prompt allows you to share an example of a time when you not only exemplified one or more of the tenants in Notre Dame’s mission, but when you also were really enjoying what you were doing, so much so that you would love to repeat that kind of experience in your college environment?  You can’t just share something that happened to you in high school.  You have to share something in which you enthusiastically engaged yourself, something that shows real evidence that you will make similar contributions on the Notre Dame campus.  

Here are the prompts:  

1. The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President of the University of Notre Dame, said in his Inaugural Address that, “If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?” In what way do you feel you are different from your peers, and how will this shape your contribution to the Notre Dame community?

Compare, “One time my friends went to a movie but I worked on a blood drive instead”…


“My friends give me a hard time for never going out with them on Friday nights.  But I volunteer on the suicide prevention hotline, and when I explain to that the phone rings just as often on Friday as it does any other night, they usually ease up.” 

Which student do you think is more likely to continue making similar contributions in college?

2. Discovery may be the truest form of learning. Notre Dame is a place where your academic passions will be engaged and encouraged through undergraduate research. Describe an academic project that you have already pursued in high school, and tell us how this project inspires you to engage in further discovery.

“I did a Civil War project in AP US history and I found it very interesting” is acceptable. 

But it’s not the same as…

“If it weren’t for my AP US History teacher, I never would have considered taking a Civil War history class over the summer.  I never would have spent every night that summer researching Harriet Tubman’s work as a Union spy during the Civil War, and I almost certainly wouldn’t be applying today as a history major.”

That kid’s got gumption.  There’s a spark there, and it’s not going to burn out when he gets to Notre Dame.

3. In a homily during his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Today's celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.” How will a Notre Dame education enable you to answer the call to “use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope” for others in your own way?

A lot of people go to college with no idea what they want to do with their lives, which is fine.  But this question is probably best reserved for people who have some idea of what they want their life to look like after graduation, and more importantly, a sense of how they want to serve others and how Notre Dame will help them do so. 

It’s important to write from the heart for a question like this.  Think about the reasons why you would be excited about the opportunity to attend Notre Dame.  How many of those reasons have to do with serving others and making a difference outside of yourself?  More importantly, how many of the reasons involve continuing to serve others after you leave Notre Dame?  Students whose reasons fall under one or both of those categories will likely have strong answers to this question.    

And one more thing; if in the course of working on your essays, you struggle to find examples that match with Notre Dame's mission, don't be afraid to acknowledge that you might actually be happier someplace else.  Maybe you have different goals for your college experience than Notre Dame has for its students.  If that's the case, it's certainly not a tragedy.  You can watch Rudy anywhere. 

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here:  Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Filed Under: Advice for specific colleges

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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