How to Write the Notre Dame Supplement 2018-2019

The University of Notre Dame is an academic powerhouse with Catholic roots. Religion isn’t omnipresent at Notre Dame, but it does provide a notable backbone for how the school functions. It’s a school with history, with legacy, and it’s very proud of it. If you like sports take note that they love their athletics too.

We classify Notre Dame as a “highly selective” school. It’s easier to get into than, say, Harvard, but a 17.7% acceptance rate doesn’t scream “accessibility.” Fun fact: of the students that got in last year and ended up enrolling (a total of 2070), 38% were captains of a varsity sport and 33% lead a major student organization (aka a club) at their high school. They collect leaders like some people collect cookie jars and Notre Dame’s penchant for student leaders should be a crucial guide as you approach the supplement.

The University of Notre Dame Writing Supplement 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 words per essay.  

First off, while they say “approximately 150 words,” the actual limit in the Common App (as in, your essay will cut off at that point) is 200 words. Does this mean you should use 200 words? No. Does it mean that you can’t go a little above 150? No. But it’s better to keep close to their guideline than to stretch it to its limits.

Please provide a response to the following question: 

What excites you about the University of Notre Dame that makes it stand out from other institutions?

This is the question you have to answer. You don’t have a choice, but it shouldn’t be hard for you. Like many supplements, this is just a funky wording of a “Why us?” essay prompt. Since you only have 150-200 words, you should start by assembling what you NEED to include:

●      Prospective major

●      One professor you’d like to work with

●      One course you’d like to take

●      One club, sport, or student organization you’d like to take part in.

What you don’t need to include are comparisons to other schools. Asking for you to say what “makes it stand out” can lead students down the path of comparison, but that’s just a distraction from what you should be focused on: why you and Notre Dame are a perfect fit.

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

As a Catholic university, we strive to be a community in which the dignity of each person is respected and everyone can truly flourish. Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., challenged our community to reflect on the following statement: “Let us never do anything to make another member of our community feel unwelcome, and let us not stand by if we see others doing so. Either we walk together in mutual support, or we do not walk at all. Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are." Tell us about a time when you walked with others.

Now you get to pick two from the four options, and this is a great place to start! This prompt begs to be answered with a short story. Don’t aggrandize yourself. Don’t go big. Don’t write about a situation where you had all of the power and shared it, but about a time that you were genuinely equal with those around you, so sharing or giving or merely being present was indeed an act of solidarity. It’s ok to be vulnerable, so don’t be a hero. And remember, 150-200 words isn’t much.

If you don’t have an example from your life that you feel would fit this, skip it. Readers will be able to tell if you fished for something, so it’s better to stay authentic than to try to transform a turkey into a swan.

What is one thing you will definitely bring to college with you?

Bravery? No. Resilience? Absolutely not. An electric kettle so you can make that tea you’re obsessed with for your floormates? YES.

What we’re saying is that you shouldn’t see this question and immediately jump into the realm of intangibles. Rather, you should see this and start listing out physical objects that have humorous, poignant, or simply have strange stories attached to them.

Why can’t you list a trait? For one, everyone will be doing it. But it also takes itself too seriously. By using your worn out running shoes as the entry ramp into a story about yourself, you’ll be able to share the same sentiments as you would if you said “resilience,” but with the added benefit of story.

What is your proudest accomplishment for which you did not receive recognition?

This question is practically calling out for whiney and entitled people to express why the world is unfair to them. Even if you aren’t typically whiney or even remotely entitled, you can very easily appear to be so should you answer this question incorrectly. Because of this trap, we advise people to skip this question.  

You have 150 words. Take a risk.

We love this. It’s basically our dream prompt, but we also recognize that if you don’t have someone guiding you, this one could go downhill fast. If you would like to work with someone, we’ve got you covered, but if you’re going it alone and are set on answering this prompt here are some ideas for how you could play with it!

Share a favorite recipe or directions for something you love to do. Describe your workspace (desk, kitchen table, etc.), write a MadLib, build a top 10 list (we like “Top 10 Edible Fats”), or describe a trip you took to Ikea. Don’t write about illegal things (yes, we’ve seen people do it), or about your first kiss or how you lost your virginity (yes, we’ve gotten those too).  

Overall, the Notre Dame supplement is fun because it’s not long, but it does give you room to play. Because the word counts are tight, you may be tempted to try to bang this one out in one night. Please don’t do that. Remember that all good writing takes time, even if it’s only 150 words.


If you’re looking for a helping hand, we’re pretty good at helping great kids get into college if we must say so ourselves (*brushes shoulder off*).