So you want to join the Fighting Irish: Tips for Notre Dame applicants

I love the movie Rudy.  Even a die hard Purdue fan must want to attend Notre Dame when Rudy finally runs onto the field with the crowd chanting his name.  But a love of Rudy alone is not a reason for you to apply, or a reason for Notre Dame to admit you.  Strong applicants share the university's values, and these students have already shown evidence that they fit with the Notre Dame's mission.

Here are a few tips before you dive into the Notre Dame application.

1.  Read Notre Dame's mission statement.

Before they even start Notre Dame's application, we tell our Collegewise students to read the school's mission statement here.   Really read it.  Carefully.  Notre Dame is coming right out and telling you what the university sees as its higher purpose (beyond beating USC on the football field).  They’re telling you what kind of students they’re seeking to help them fulfill that purpose.  And it should become clear to you fairly quickly that each of the essay questions posed on the Notre Dame supplement seeks evidence of your fit with one or more of the tenants described in the mission—teaching and research, scholarship and publication, and service/community. 

2.  Choose the right short essay prompt.

Now, Notre Dame asks you to give a 200 word response to one of the prompts below.  Which one you choose should be driven by your answer to the following question—which prompt allows you to share an example of a time when you not only exemplified one or more of the tenants in Notre Dame’s mission, but when you also were really enjoying what you were doing, so much so that you would love to repeat that kind of experience in your college environment?  You can’t just share something that happened to you in high school.  You have to share something in which you enthusiastically engaged yourself, something that shows real evidence that you will make similar contributions on the Notre Dame campus.  

Here are the prompts:  

1. The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President of the University of Notre Dame, said in his Inaugural Address that, “If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?” In what way do you feel you are different from your peers, and how will this shape your contribution to the Notre Dame community?

Compare, “One time my friends went to a movie but I worked on a blood drive instead”…


“My friends give me a hard time for never going out with them on Friday nights.  But I volunteer on the suicide prevention hotline, and when I explain to that the phone rings just as often on Friday as it does any other night, they usually ease up.” 

Which student do you think is more likely to continue making similar contributions in college?

2. Discovery may be the truest form of learning. Notre Dame is a place where your academic passions will be engaged and encouraged through undergraduate research. Describe an academic project that you have already pursued in high school, and tell us how this project inspires you to engage in further discovery.

“I did a Civil War project in AP US history and I found it very interesting” is acceptable. 

But it’s not the same as…

“If it weren’t for my AP US History teacher, I never would have considered taking a Civil War history class over the summer.  I never would have spent every night that summer researching Harriet Tubman’s work as a Union spy during the Civil War, and I almost certainly wouldn’t be applying today as a history major.”

That kid’s got gumption.  There’s a spark there, and it’s not going to burn out when he gets to Notre Dame.

3. In a homily during his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Today's celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.” How will a Notre Dame education enable you to answer the call to “use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope” for others in your own way?

A lot of people go to college with no idea what they want to do with their lives, which is fine.  But this question is probably best reserved for people who have some idea of what they want their life to look like after graduation, and more importantly, a sense of how they want to serve others and how Notre Dame will help them do so. 

It’s important to write from the heart for a question like this.  Think about the reasons why you would be excited about the opportunity to attend Notre Dame.  How many of those reasons have to do with serving others and making a difference outside of yourself?  More importantly, how many of the reasons involve continuing to serve others after you leave Notre Dame?  Students whose reasons fall under one or both of those categories will likely have strong answers to this question.    

And one more thing; if in the course of working on your essays, you struggle to find examples that match with Notre Dame's mission, don't be afraid to acknowledge that you might actually be happier someplace else.  Maybe you have different goals for your college experience than Notre Dame has for its students.  If that's the case, it's certainly not a tragedy.  You can watch Rudy anywhere. 

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here:  Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.