College Bound: Activities and Recommendations on Your Application

Author: Matt Greene


College Bound is the Notre Dame admissions podcast. Episode 3: Non-academic Criteria & Essays offers a further look at the application and evaluation process. Listen to the episode or read a transcript.

Read the previous blog posts:

  1. Application Review and Deadlines
  2. Academic Criteria for Admission

In addition to the application essays where you express your own voice and experiences, the non-academic criteria on the application involve both your extracurricular activities and your recommendations.

These pieces of the application provide admissions staff with insight into your passions both inside and outside of the classroom. The activities section shows us your involvements, while the recommendations provide an opportunity for us to learn about who you are in your communities: school, local community, home, etc.

The Activities Section

The activities section of the application is a place where you tell us how you spend your time outside of the classroom. These activities can include sports, clubs, music, theater, a job, service of any kind, and any family responsibilities you might have. Obviously, activities are not limited to those types, but those are the ones we see often in applications.

A very important part of your activities is expressing your leadership roles in these activities and how you have grown in them over the years. 

Additionally, please remember that if there are day-to-day factors that impact your activities in any way, you should relay those to us. For example, if you have a long commute to and from school, that can affect your timing and overall involvement with any activities. 

A common misconception is that we are not looking for specific activities on your application. But that's simply not true. We want students to explore and express all of their passions.

If you are focused in your activities—e.g., you participate in mostly STEM activities— that's great. If you have a variety of activities that fall into different categories—theater, athletics, robotics, and quiz bowl, for example—that's just fine too!

We see many variations of both, so please truly let us know what your passions are in your activities. 

Your Recommendations

On the application, we are also looking to evaluate some recommendations. In the Notre Dame admissions process, we require a recommendation from a teacher of a core academic subject.

Core subjects include: 

  • Math
  • Science
  • English
  • Social science
  • Foreign language

We usually see this recommendation come from a teacher that you had in 11th grade or currently have in 12th grade. This is not required, but it is common since they have taught you recently and, more than likely, in a more rigorous course than teachers from your early high school years. 

We also recommend, but do not require, a recommendation from a school counselor. That can be from a guidance or college counselor at your school. This recommendation is not mandatory as we understand that sometimes a counselor letter is not completely pertinent to your application. But we offer that option because a counselor would know your accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom, so their context does help if available.

What About Additional Recommendations?

You can send an additional recommendation if you like, but we do not expect them in the application. If you do send one, please have it come from a person that will provide more context for your application. This can come from a pastor, supervisor, club moderator, or a coach, to name a few examples.

The context is important, so an extra recommendation must add to your application in some way. Personal statements/letters from people that know you do help us to know that many people support who you are, but those don’t necessarily add any needed context to your application.

We do not need you to send any more recommendations than these because we are looking for the quality of recommendations, not the quantity. 

Matt Greene is is an assistant director with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. He is the regional counselor for Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Read Matt's profile.