Ask Admissions: How to Make Your Application Stand Out

Author: Hailey Oppenlander


Each year, one of the most common questions we get from prospective students is how to make your application stand out.

As a rising senior, I’m a bit more removed from the college admissions process than I’d like to admit (college goes fast, y’all), but I also feel a kinship to your position — ready to enjoy my senior year while somewhat worried about an uncertain future looming ahead, hoping that all the work I’ve put in over the past three years will pay off.

Sometimes, we try to curb the uncertainty inherent in taking the next step by comparing ourselves to others who have been in our position, whether it be on test scores, extracurriculars, essay topics, or something else. But no matter how much comparison we do, there’s no one who can tell you definitively that your application is “good” or “bad,” which I know does little to ease your worries.

I can reassure you that Notre Dame has a holistic application review process, meaning that they weigh all academic and non-academic components of your application evenly. Although this means that you can’t rely on one factor to determine your admissions status, it’s also comforting to know that the admissions counselors take every piece of your application into account. You can view the full evaluation criteria on our admissions website.

Although there’s no single thing that will make your application shine, from my perspective as a current student, I feel that Notre Dame really values passionate, dedicated individuals. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have your life mapped out already. It means you’re intellectually curious, you’ve dedicated your time to some academic and non-academic areas that interest you, and you’re ready to contribute to Notre Dame’s campus, whether it be through clubs, student government, research, service, etc. Any time that you’ve taken initiative to explore your interests — whether through seeking out a volunteer or work opportunity that wasn’t required of you, taking the highest-level courses at your school, or holding leadership positions — will also show that you’re someone who will take advantage of the resources that Notre Dame has to offer.

Outside of your course choices in high school and extracurricular activities, another place you can demonstrate your passion is the essay portion. Since Notre Dame doesn’t do interviews, we like to think of the essays as a “stand-in” of sorts for an interview process. The essays should allow the admissions counselors to get a glimpse of who you are: what you’re interested in, parts of your life story that have shaped you, quirky personality traits and even the hot takes that you have. Easier said than done, I know! If you’re stuck, don’t worry — I spent a few nights crying over my own essays back in high school, but I promise they’ll get to a point you’re satisfied with eventually. Check out these articles from our admissions counselors with more tips for writing great essays, and our blog breaking down each of our 2021 short answer prompts.

Wishing you all the best of luck!