Author: Courtney Kelly


Courtney KellyAdmissions Counselor Courtney Kelly

The Notre Dame short answer prompts are here and we’re looking forward to reading your answers. 

In honor of our 175th anniversary, we are recommending a word count of 175. For us, it is a way to celebrate how far Notre Dame has come; for you it is a challenge. It is much more difficult to have an impact in 175 words than it is in a five-page paper—show us your ability to wow in a paragraph. Be concise, be brief, but be purposeful.

While 175 words may seem short, inconsequential, or just another box to check off before your application is complete, as admissions counselors, the essays are often our favorite parts of the application.

As a University that does not offer interviews, the essays give us a deeper look at the applicant and allow us to get to know you in a more personal way outside of your stats and resume. Let your personality shine, take risks, and remember that there is no right answer.

Now, on to the questions.

Required for all applicants: What excites you about the University of Notre Dame that makes it stand out from other institutions?

We ask a version of this question every year because when we boil down the application evaluation process, ultimately we are looking for Notre Dame "fit." Have you taken the time to think about what you are looking for in a college experience? Is Notre Dame the best fit for you? Think carefully about why you would better the Notre Dame community. Don’t just consider what Notre Dame can do to help you grow, but how you as an individual can have an impact at Notre Dame. 

In addition, a somewhat silly piece of advice, but make sure you get the institution’s name correct. That is not something that will make or break an admissions decision, but it can be a pet peeve of mine (and I am sure my colleagues) to see “University of Notre Dame” spelled wrong.

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

Please show us first that you can follow directions. We are only asking for responses to TWO of the remaining FOUR options, so please only respond to two. It does not matter which you choose or how you interpret the prompts; there is a lot of room for gray area. Do not follow my advice like a recipe—add some spice.

The University of Notre Dame is a Holy Cross institution whose education philosophy has been formed around five core principles inspired by Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.  These principles, or pillars, of a Holy Cross education are Mind, Heart, Zeal, Family, and Hope, and they continue to shape our students today.  Which pillar or pillars resonate most with you? Why?

The pillars are an essential part of the Notre Dame education, and we rarely ask our applicants to explore them. All first-year students will take the Moreau First-Year Experience Course in which they will gain a deep understanding of the pillars and how they are integrated in the Notre Dame community.  Visit the Congregation of Holy Cross website for further explanation of each pillar.

This question is quite open-ended. You can spend all 175 words discussing one pillar, focus on two or three, or attempt to explore all five. I think the best responses will be thoughtful reflections of how one, two, or three pillars resonate. If you attempt to touch on all five, I am wary that it will turn into a one-sentence snippet about each. Sometimes, less is more.

For whom are you responsible?

This question is purposefully vague. We want to see how you interpret it. Are you responsible for a person/people, a place, a thing, a duty? For example, I am responsible for my puppy, Zuko. He literally cannot survive (eat, drink, go on walks, whatnot) without me.  However, I am also responsible for advocating for my applicants from my territory. I am also responsible for doing my own dishes and laundry (ugh, adulting). The list goes on, and on, and on. We all have something we are responsible for, so tell us what you are responsible for.

A lot of responsibility comes with being a Notre Dame student so show us that you are a responsible individual who can take on everything that comes with being a Notre Dame student.

What is one thing that you know for a fact?  Why are you certain?

This option gives you the opportunity to be outlandishly creative or entirely practical. It's your call. I envision a wide range of essays that can satisfy this prompt—from the logic behind an engineering or architectural solution, to why Hogwarts is real. The possibilities are endless. 

Those who know me know my obsession with Cinderella (24-year fandom going strong), so I would personally write that I know for a fact that Cinderella’s shoes could not be glass. Now that I have put that out there, none of you can steal it.

Tell us about something significant that recently occurred in your community. Why does it matter to you?

Since the purpose of asking these questions are for the application reader to get to know you better, why not ask about something that matters to you?

The University of Notre Dame is one of the most geographically diverse universities. As readers, we look forward to learning about where you are coming from, what your community is like, and what is significant to you. Different events will resonate with people for varying reasons so while this question may seem rather straight forward compared to the others, we are confident that it will be equally telling.

I also want to emphasize the word recently. Do not tell us about something that occurred ten, fifty, or one-hundred years ago—tell us about something that has happened recently (definition of recently: not long ago).


I hope that after reading this you are inspired to start brainstorming. While it is only July, our staff is already looking forward to reading your responses. 

The advice I like to give seniors who are getting ready to apply is that we know your stats—we have your transcript, GPA, and test scores—and we know your resume—we have your extracurricular activities and recommendation letters—so tell us something new!  Make sure that your application speaks to you as a whole individual and is an accurate representation of yourself.  What would you want your admissions counselor to know about you? 

Write it down…in 175 words.


Application Opens August 1 – Details available here.