Jan 04 2008

Why Notre Dame? What’s it like?

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

These are my observations about the Notre Dame experience. Hopefully this will help you decide if ND is the right school for you and give you the details you need to demonstrate your commitment to the admissions staff (assuming ND is right for you).  If you’re into application strategies specifically, please see Getting into Notre Dame.


College is a monumentally large investment in your future. The sticker price for a four-year Notre Dame degree is something like $150,000. Most of the “top universities” on the US News and World list are similarly expensive. (For middle income students, it’s often cheaper to go to private schools because they actually have financial aid. Most public schools have FA only for the absolutely destitute).



I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana before transferring to Notre Dame. I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of ND’s programs in political science and English, my two favorite subjects. (To be a bit more specific, international relations and security/strategic studies in political science and creative writing in English).



  1. The curriculum is robust and flexible.

    1. I can name 5-10 ND students that are really serious about their field. By “serious,” I don’t mean grade junkies, students that get a 4.0 by taking Intro to Basket Weaving. No one remembers them and they won’t accomplish much. Really serious students might conduct meaningful research or creative work or devote themselves to their field through internships or other work experiences or just talk about whatever with similarly interested students. At Illinois, I knew zero such people.

    2. ND let me opt out of courses like Composition. I’m a semi-professional author and journalist. I kind of hope that eye meat they’re standurdz four righting!

    3. Notre Dame has many core requirements, including two philosophy and two religion courses for Arts and Letters majors. However, you have a lot of options as to how to complete these. For example, “Philosophy in Science Fiction” and “Ethics of Warfare.”

  2. Strongly prepared students can usually avoid intro classes.

    1. Notre Dame is pretty generous with Advanced Placement credits and other ways to escape intro classes.

    2. If you have to take something like Intro to Philosophy but you feel it’s too easy/boring, there’s often an Honors option.

  3. There are many opportunities for undergraduate students to distinguish themselves; there are few restrictions on individual effort.

    1. I’ll explain this more later, because it could be so useful on your application. For now: Notre Dame promotes student effort in a lot of ways. For example, I received a grant to write a novel, Superhero Nation. Similar opportunities are available for students interested in pursuing research in natural or social sciences. One of our business majors got a grant to start a publishing company.

    2. Other opportunities: taking graduate courses as an undergrad, having directed readings with faculty members as an undergrad, a really strong set of study-abroad programs (including sites in Ireland, London and Australia for English-speakers).

  4. Students are intelligent and sociable but not pretentious.

    1. It’s relatively easy to find driven-but-friendly people at ND. That’s particularly useful if you’re interested in establishing a professional network or want to work on something in college that requires more than one person. Many political science undergrads banded together to start a research journal this semester.

    2. The campus seems pretty laidback.

    3. I haven’t met any repulsive ND students so far.

  1. The facilities are excellent.

    1. I was astonished to discover that $20,000/year at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana bought a ticket to (Liberal Arts and Sciences) classrooms with broken windows, leaky roofs, dungeon-like offices, broken desks and exposed pipes.

    2. I’d really recommend actually looking at your prospective classrooms. Are they tolerable?

    3. Notre Dame’s buildings are really strong across the board (sciences, business, architecture, A+L). The art building is less satisfactory, but it’s still far better than UIUC’s.

    4. ND dorms are generally mediocre. Many lack elevators and/or air conditioning. I feel that they are relatively spacious.

    5. PARIETALS. This is not well-advertised, but in the dorms you can’t have members of the opposite sex in your building after 2 AM on Fridays/Saturdays and 12AM (?) on other days. The school enforces parietals pretty strongly. The plus side is that you are far less likely to be sexiled at Notre Dame (when your roommate kicks you out of your room for, well, take a guess).

  2. Financial aid is strong

    1. ND’s policy is that it will meet 100% of your “demonstrated financial need.” I think that ND has been pretty generous, especially compared to UIUC. State schools very rarely offer much. ND will probably end up being much cheaper than staying at UIUC.

    2. My impression is that students on campus are somewhat less pleased than I am, particularly other transfer students. I got kind of shafted the semester I transferred in, but I think that’s typical at virtually every school.

  3. Community

    1. People are friendly.

    2. A surprising amount of people elect to stay in the dorms all four years. Students are really attached to the dorm communities.

    3. Football fever!

    4. In case you’re into ROTC, the campus-ROTC relationship is really friendly. In my semester in AF-ROTC, a random stranger thanked me. Another time, a different stranger insisted on paying for my lunch, inadvertently firing the first salvo in the BMac-Professor Wars, me trying to return his $8.29 and him returning his money, repeatedly. I eventually won by secretly buying his book.

  1. Spirituality

    1. A lot of people on campus are very religious and that’s definitely a component of the sense of community.

    2. I’m not very religious, but I don’t feel that being secular detracts from the Notre Dame experience. On the other hand, I’ve met a few people that are essentially allergic to the expression of religious sentiment and I would recommend that they consider other schools. In Philosophy, religion-related concepts (souls, dualism, etc.) play more prominently than they would at more secular schools.

Are you coming to campus soon? Then you may find these strategies for grilling tour guides useful.

Sifting through University PR and Tour Guide BS

Universities often give useless and/or misleading information about what their experience is like. Let me give a few examples of information that is less meaningful than it appears.


  1. University X gives a list of its most popular majors. That says nothing about which of its majors are actually the best. Generally speaking, easy majors are the most popular. If you’re looking for a top program in a specific major or field, the best program might actually be in a school where the major is unpopular. Major popularity says more about major difficulty than major quality.

    1. There are a few ways to determine whether a program is serious. You could ask a student at University X whether he thinks his courses are interesting and worthwhile, etc. Caution: tour guides and other university-employed students will BS you. If you want an honest answer from them, ask something like “could you describe your favorite class (or professor) this year?” or “this semester, which books are you reading for your courses?” If a student can’t name at least one book he’s been assigned, he probably doesn’t find his coursework enjoyable or satisfying (if he’s an engineer or something, maybe). If the student describes his favorite class with a lot of generalities, that might also be a sign of BS. Probe into why it’s “interesting” or “fun” or “stimulating.”

  2. The faculty-to-student ratio could be useful. Most students don’t find classes with 300 people enjoyable. And getting to know your faculty can let you demonstrate your skills to professionals that are often well-connected to the business world. But a university could easily skew faculty-to-student ratio by using grad students and adjunct faculty to teach courses and/or employing “faculty” that are actually full-time researchers. (Harvard is notorious for these practices).

    1. To get a more contextually accurate answer, ask the admissions staff how many courses the school offers that have more than 100 students. How many such classes do students in your prospective major take?

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