Notre Dame Emba Essays

Notre Dame / Mendoza Essay Topic Analysis 2016-2017

With the release of the 2016-2017  Notre Dame / MendozaMBA essay topics, we wanted to offer some guidance to applicants as they prepare to tackle a potentially challenging prompt. This year, Notre Dame / Mendoza has provided three essay options and applicants are asked to only answer one of them. In the application itself, there is an additional slide presentation and option to explain any areas of concern over one’s candidacy.

Before delving into specific approaches to individual prompts, candidates should first consider their greatest achievements or what evidence of leadership and impact they hope to share. This may even break down to something as simple as a list of one’s achievements—whether professionally, in one’s community or at school. Then, read through the three options and reflect on what would enable them to get the most mileage out of the strengths of their candidacy.

Let’s take a closer look at the essay topics for Notre Dame / Mendoza in the 2016-2017 admissions season.

Essay Option #1
At Mendoza, we encourage our students, faculty, and staff to Ask More of Business. We embrace a threefold commitment to achieve this goal:

Greater Good
Effective Organizations
Individual Integrity

Tell us about an experience in which you lived out one of those values. (Max two double-spaced pages)

The admissions committee is looking for students who have really synthesized and internalized the Mendoza program, and who have a good understanding of their fit with its values. While the core of this essay should be one’s past experience of demonstrating a related commitment, this is also a forward-looking prompt, as Mendoza notes that they encourage students to Ask More of Business.

With respect to structure, it will probably make the most narrative sense to open this response by identifying the most relevant value and one’s achievement in relation to it. The direct prompt is seeking evidence of one’s past commitment to “Asking More of Business.” With that in mind, an opening sentence or two defining the achievement in relation to a selected tenet followed by richer details about context and one’s role in the achievement would work well. Details would ideally convey one’s leadership, communication skills and teamwork abilities, as well as reflection on how these efforts connect to the selected theme. For instance, if Individual Integrity is the selected theme, then it would make sense, for example, to account for how a goal was achieved in the face of adversity.

This opening section about one’s relevant experience would provide a base for briefly introducing one’s career goals, as this would demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the selected tenet. Candidates can cover this content in either order: chronologically outlining their short- and long-term plans, or opening with the long-term and then explaining how their target short-term position is a logical first step along that trajectory. Either way, applicants should identify the specific position they hope to obtain after graduating from an MBA program, and may even want to identify 1-2 target organizations for which they would particularly like to work. In describing their long-term goals, meanwhile, candidates should aim to comment on what draws them to this role as well as the larger impact they hope to make on an organization, category, sector, or region. This long-term impact element of the response seems a particularly logical place to address fit with one of Mendoza’s guiding principles.

This opening section about one’s career goals will then provide some context for a discussion of the applicant’s relevant past experience and goals at Notre Dame / Mendoza. This should include comments about how specific courses and student clubs will help the applicant to bridge the gap between their current skill set and the demands of their post-MBA roles, as well as ways the applicant would enhance the experience of other students and contribute to the MBA community.

Again, applicants should attend to the prompt’s description of the Mendoza tenets as they develop this discussion, drawing out ways they would support the greater good, influence effective organizations or maintain individual integrity in the course of their engagement with the Mendoza MBA program.

Essay Option #2
The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, by Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C, with a mission to become “one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country”. In 1879, Father Sorin’s vision for Notre Dame appeared to be at a sudden, abrupt end. A massive fire destroyed the building that housed virtually the entire University. Instead of giving up, Father Sorin interpreted the fire as a sign that he had dreamed too small, and decided to rebuild, bigger and better than ever. That Main Building still stands today, topped by the gleaming Golden Dome, not only as an iconic campus building, but as an ongoing symbol of perseverance and vision.

Tell us the story of a time in your own life or career when you had to overcome an obstacle, start over, or rebuild. (Max two double-spaced pages)
This prompt is rather open ended, as candidates may choose from their personal or professional lives. While candidates are ultimately asked to account for overcoming a challenging experience, the situation should have some weight to it, as the preamble details a rather devastating loss—but also a powerful comeback—for one of the most important people in the school’s history. Hence, for example, this should not detail one’s struggles with time management or a minor setback in a project that was easily overcome, but rather a major hurdle that inspired an even greater change. Given the preamble, there is also a hint that the adcom will be looking for a sense of vision in executing one’s ultimate goal.

Overall, this essay is a good place to highlight instances of resourcefulness and persistence, and to provide insight into one’s personal and professional maturity over the course of a narrative. An effective approach might be to describe the initial obstacle and its broad implications in a few sentences, followed by a discussion of how you dealt with it – along with a brief illustrative example – before concluding with a reflection on the lessons you’ve learned and impact that you’ve had. Ultimately having a long lasting impact would also parallel the elements of the preamble anecdote. To conclude, it could work well to account for how you would bring the lessons forward as a student at Mendoza or even in one’s future career. Accounting for specific ways in which you would contribute to Mendoza based on this experience would not only support one’s sense of vision, but also understanding of one’s fit with the program.

Essay Option #3
We seek students who will become active, engaged members of our student body. Tell us about how you were able to make an impact at your alma mater, in your workplace, or in your community. (Max two double-spaced pages)

This question is a classic in terms of MBA essays; adcoms are interested to know about your leadership potential and ability to make a substantial positive impact.  Whether you choose to cull an example from your professional, community or academic life, it’s important to put the story in context before clearly outlining the actions you took and the results you achieved.  The more detail you’re able to provide about your role in achieving a positive outcome, the easier it will be for you to accurately demonstrate your leadership skills. Also, given the emphasis on engagement, it would make sense for the chosen anecdote to include some sense of teamwork or interpersonal interactions.

Given the opening of the prompt, it would make sense to then focus on your potential contributions in the classroom and around campus. Keep in mind that past academic performance may not be as important to one’s peers as one’s background, interests and hobbies, and overall perspective. Examples of possible material might include discussing your unique achievements, commenting that you are in a great position to share something interesting in the classroom, or shedding light on a particular passion that might translate into involvement in one of Mendoza’s clubs.

Only one of the above essays is required for the application. The remaining essays can be found in the online application itself.

Slide Presentation
Effective communication is a central skill for managers and visual presentations are an important and frequent method of communication. Demonstrate your ability to clearly, concisely and persuasively communicate by telling us about yourself, using a short slide presentation. Please consider the following guidelines when creating your presentation:

  • You are free to share anything about yourself that you think would be of value to the Admissions Committee.
  • You may create your slides in any software that works for you, but you must save and upload in the MS Powerpoint format (.ppt or .pptx).
  • Do not use audio or video files.
  • There is a strict maximum of four slides, but you may provide fewer than four if you choose.
  • Please be assured that the Admissions Committee will read your essay, your résumé, and your transcripts in detail. Your slides are an opportunity to go beyond your academic and work history and demonstrate your fit for the Notre Dame community.

Appearing again in the Mendoza application, this somewhat unusual and unstructured prompt speaks to Mendoza’s interest in the applicant’s interests, personality, and skills in self-expression. All of this “white space” in presentation format might be daunting to some, but an easy way to approach this process is to ask oneself a few simple questions. What new and important information about yourself can you introduce to the adcom? How does that information lend itself to the format? In terms of organization, are there separate topics to which you would like to devote a slide each or just a section? Or would you prefer to use the framework of your presentation to create a sense of progression through a current activity, past experience, “day in the life,” etc.?

We’re hesitant to provide too much guidance given the free-form nature of the task; the best advice we can offer is to think about who you are (and how this might be of interest to the Mendoza adcom in light of their stated values), consider how you could translate this into words and images, and then give it a try. Showing the initial result to someone who knows you well could be a great way to determine the effectiveness of a working draft. You might also wish to refresh yourself on how to present your “fit” with aspects of Mendoza’s culture, such that taking the time to learn more about the school’s MBA program – whether through a visit to campus or conversations with alumni.

Optional – Personal Statement / Additional Information
If there is information that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee that does not appear elsewhere in your application, you may choose to submit a personal statement. For example, if your undergraduate GPA does not represent your true capabilities, a personal statement is your opportunity to address any relevant circumstances that impacted your performance. Please limit your optional statement to one page, typed and double-spaced.

This optional essay should be reserved for addressing potential liabilities in one’s application, e.g. gaps in employment, a misrepresentative academic record, etc. Such discussions should be direct and to the point, providing an explanation and pointing to mitigating factors without being defensive or making excuses.

Before you start writing your responses to the Notre / Dame Mendoza essay topics, check out some of our Mendoza College of Business resources:

Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis, Essays

Schools: Notre Dame / Mendoza


This week, we’re sharing another interview in our “From the mouths of the Adcoms” series! Meet Neil Mangus, Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the prestigious Mendoza College of Business at University of Notre Dame. Enjoy his helpful tips and advice!


Q: What type of person do you think would really thrive at the Notre Dame School of Business?

A: We’ve found that individuals with strong academic aptitude, leadership potential and what we call “consideration of others” tend to be the strongest performers in Notre Dame’s MBA program.

Academic aptitude is important in a program where most of the classes are only seven weeks long. The aggressive pace means you need to be able to balance a lot of different things at once and integrate new concepts and learnings very quickly. GMAT/GRE, undergraduate GPA and a strong transcript are good indicators of academic aptitude.

Leadership potential is important because MBAs will be expected to be leaders in whatever organizations they join after graduation. Good career progression, a clear and logical career development plan, the ability to work well in teams and experience managing people and resources (i.e. – budgets) are typically good indicators of leadership potential.

The third component that we look for is really an outgrowth of the fact that the University of Notre Dame has a unique mission. Our founder, Father Edward Sorin, charged the graduates of this University to be what he called “a force for good in the world”. We believe this vision is especially crucial for our MBA graduates. We believe that MBAs must be qualified business people who possess all the skill necessary to drive performance in today’s complex business organizations. However, Notre Dame MBAs should also have an awareness of the importance of personal integrity, the needs of others and the wide impact of their decisions as managers – on their employees, their local communities and the environment. Candidates that can demonstrate a propensity for consideration of other people’s needs and the ability to contribute beyond just the “40 hour work week” will generally do well in an environment like the one at Notre Dame and so they will typically make a favorable impression on the Admissions Committee as well.

Q: How should a student decide if applying in round 1 or round 2 is a better option for him/her?

A: There are multiple considerations for applicants regarding the timing of application submission for our MBA program. We encourage applicants to submit the application when they feel comfortable that it represents their qualifications best. If an applicant rushes through their application, the Admissions Committee will definitely notice and that may hurt the applicant’s chances for admission, regardless of which round it was submitted.

Although there are more spots available to fill in Round 1 than in Round 2, we try to keep enough spots open during each round to give all applicants a fair chance at a spot in the class, regardless of the round in which they submitted. There are times, however, when the pool of candidates becomes highly competitive in the later stages and it may become more difficult to compete for a spot further on in the process. In that case, it will be better to have applied during Round 1 than waiting for Round 2. It truly depends on the situation of the applicant. In instances where it is unclear when to apply, we suggest reaching out to the Notre Dame MBA Admissions office at or toll-free at 800.631.8488.

Q: Is a low GMAT score a deal breaker when it comes to getting into Mendoza? Why or why not?

A: It’s important to know that there are no magic numbers in seeking admission to the Notre Dame MBA. We are ultimately looking for academic aptitude, not a specific GMAT/GRE or GPA number. A solid GPA is surely one way to compensate for any weakness in GMAT/GRE; however, it’s also important to note that we look not only at your GMAT/GRE number, but at many other aspects of your qualifications including essay(s), PowerPoint presentations, interview results, recommendations, transcript difficulty, work experience, etc. All these factors and more play a role in our evaluation of your academic aptitude.

Q: When it comes to choosing a school that’s the right fit, would you recommend that students choose schools based on how high low or high their GMAT scores are compared to the average score of that school? Why or why not?

A: Average standardized test scores listed for business schools can help applicants get an idea of the typical class’s academic aptitude as measured by the GMAT or GRE. This indicates the level of competition an applicant will face when applying for that program. Typically, high GMAT and GRE averages are indicators of more selective schools, but that rule is not steadfast and absolute 100% of the time. Because business schools review so much more than just the standardized test scores, we recommend applicants also consider their other qualifications as compared to the schools’ reported numbers when determining if they will fit in with the rest of the class at that particular school.

Q: When it comes to interviews, what else are you looking to learn about the student that wasn’t already communicated in the application?

We look for how applicants perform under pressure in an interview setting. An applicant’s ability to impress our interviewers is a strong indication to us of how well they will do in an interview for a job upon graduation from our program. We also look for supplemental information that has not been conveyed yet in the application process. Some applicants may run out of room to explain their experiences on paper or would prefer to expand in a face-to-face setting with our interviewers.

Interviews are also an opportunity for applicants to show the Admissions Committee what type of interpersonal skills they possess, giving many people an opportunity to shine, especially if they lack a very strong resume, GPA or test scores. Strong applicants will typically be respectful, professional and thoughtful before, during and after their interviews. Applicants should be aware that admissions committees will judge you based on how well you interact with not only the interviewer, but also with other students and staff of the program outside of the interview itself. A great interview with the Admissions Committee can go a long way towards admission to an MBA program.

Q: Is there any context in which you’d prefer the GRE over the GMAT in a student’s application? (i.e. based on the program the student is applying to or the strength of the rest of his/her application, etc.)

A: Because the GMAT is more geared towards assessing business acumen, we are more comfortable with this score. We do, however, accept both test scores at this time and pay no admissions preference towards either test over the other. 

Q: What would you say is the best way to determine if business school is the right next step in your future?

A: Determining your next steps in life is a very personal and individual circumstance. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses and desires in life will be very important in knowing whether or not business school is for you. We recommend weighing all options for yourself, your family and for your future before making any decision. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons against each other and then sleep on it. Once your mind is able to process all the costs and benefits next to each other, the decision typically becomes clear. However, if you are still torn, speak with others who have gone through the process. Many schools will provide you with direct contact to their alumni networks and may even match you with someone who was in a similar situation as you prior to business school. This is a great opportunity to gauge their success in life and satisfaction with their choice so you will have a better understanding of what might lie ahead for you if you choose the same path.

Q: What’s one final piece of advice you’d like to share with every Notre Dame MBA applicant?

A: Take the time to be aware of what your application says about yourself. Too often applicants rush through every step of the way, hoping a high test score, GPA, strong recommendation or superb interview is all they need to gain admission. Business schools are looking for not just one qualification that sets you apart, but all of the qualifications that set you apart. Make sure to own every last bit of what you are bringing to the table. Be meaningful in what you present to the schools you want to attend and even those that are your safety nets. The best candidates have meaning and purpose behind everything they do and it makes a big difference in our decision when we know an applicant is fully prepared for what they are getting into.


Let us know in the comments below if there are any questions you’d like us to ask the Adcoms on your behalf!

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