Author: Courtney Kelly


It all began with a brainstorming meeting that resulted in nearly one hundred possible short answer prompts. Yikes! The committee then sought feedback, and proceeded to edit, cut, and imagine the breadth of responses these prompts might yield. We continuously asked ourselves: Are the prompts creative enough? Will applicants enjoy writing the essays? Will our staff be excited to read the essays? Will the essays tell us more about the heart, mind, and spirit of the applicant?

Writing short answer prompts can be a daunting task. We want the prompts to evoke thoughtful, creative, and honest responses. The essays should allow the applicant to jump off of the page and tell us who they are, what their hopes are, and what makes them tick. There is no correct or incorrect answer to any of the questions, and it is wonderful to see various interpretations of the prompts. My advice to all applicants, simple as it may be, is just “do you.”

On behalf of the admissions staff, we hope you are as excited about the prompts as we are. I am excited for the opportunity to share them with you, as well as provide some explanation for each prompt.

Required for all applicants: 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 expense of the heart.”  What excites you about attending Notre Dame?

Every year we require some variation of the “Why Notre Dame?” question. We want to know exactly why Notre Dame is the right fit for your college experience and why you want to be part of the Notre Dame community. Remember that every applicant will answer this question, so consider how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Essay Graphic

Choose two of the following four prompts to round out your application. Choose carefully. If a prompt will shed new light on you as an individual, it is a good prompt to answer. If an idea immediately comes to mind when you read one of the following prompts, go for it. There is no right or wrong prompt to choose—we are looking forward to reading answers from each!

1. Home is where your story begins. Tell us about your home and how it has influenced your story.

“Home” can mean a lot of different things. Consider what your “home” means to you and how it has influenced the person you are today. This essay will give the reader insight into how unique each applicant is. Stories have to begin somewhere (hello, “once upon a time!”) so tell us about the beginning of yours. How has that beginning shaped the following chapters?

2. 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?

Challenge alert! This prompt requires some self-reflection. It is a question that has the possibility to evoke thoughtful, telling responses. It might be wise to ask your friends or peers for advice as you need to see yourself through another’s eyes. (Hint: Don’t simply ask the magic mirror if you’re the fairest of them all.) Look at yourself at face value and below the surface. Is there a difference between the two? Write about it.

3. 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.

This question was used last year but the responses were so strong it is back for round two! Tell us what you see in the current state of society, what you don’t see, what you’d like to see. You have the opportunity to explore this answer very broadly, or narrow in on a specific societal topic. Some of our best responses last year showed how aware our applicants are of the world and issues surrounding them.

4. This is your chance to take a risk.

Yes, it is vague.  Yes, it is open ended.  Be creative and take a risk. This is broad for a reason and it is up to you to decide what to do with it. The range of answer possibilities is what makes this so intriguing. If I give you more guidance on how to answer, it is no longer a risk!

Just remember, there are no wrong answers! I cannot stress this enough. Don’t write what you think we want to hear. Write about what you are passionate about, excited about, concerned about, etc. This is your admissions counselor’s chance to get to know who you are and understand why you would enhance the Notre Dame community. You only have 150 words so be thoughtful, be unique, be “you.”  Ready, Set, GO!