College Spotlight: University of Notre Dame
Freshman Year Update
By Ben Huls
My Notre Dame story started off in a bad way. I was playing in a hockey tournament here my eighth-grade year when I broke my collarbone after getting hit. Despite this traumatic experience, I fell in love with the school. Prior to my injury, we went to the Grotto, the Basilica, the Dome, Touchdown Jesus, and all of your stereotypical Notre Dame highlights. Obviously, as an eighth grader, I figured college was something I wouldn’t have to worry about for a long time.
Now, four short years later, I find myself in South Bend loving every moment of it. I could talk all day about the various different aspects of Notre Dame, but I will focus on three that are probably of the biggest concern to prospective students: Academics, social life, and the campus.
Notre Dame is considered one of the top universities in the United States for a reason. You will have to put in a lot of work and the classes will be hard. This is no longer high school. You cannot get away with studying for exams the night before and you will be up late doing work. I usually spend close to four or five hours doing homework or studying every night during a normal week with no exams or papers. The weeks with exams and papers are the ones that will take their toll. One week I had two exams, a research paper, and a six-page paper all happening on either Thursday and Friday. I did work the week before and I was still up until three in the morning twice that week despite starting my work the moment I finished class. Despite all of this, I survived because I had the ability to sit down and work, and if you have that, you will be able to handle the work load. I am not trying to scare you off and make this sound impossible, but you need to be willing to put in the effort to succeed or else all the work will pile up.
As far as the classes themselves, the class sizes vary depending on the type of class you are taking. My theology class, seminar (classes of a wide variety that focus on developing writing skills), and topical science class (non-lab science classes) are all smaller classes because they are more specific subjects. However, my microeconomics class and my statistics class, both university requirements for business, are in large lecture halls with around 100-150 students in each. The classes are interesting and the professors are very good. The professors try to incorporate discussion in the smaller classes or group activities in the larger ones, so you are not stuck listening to lectures every day.
There are several different variations of class formats as well. For classes that meet three times a week, classes are fifty minutes and an hour and fifteen minutes for those that meet twice a week. Outside of the normal class meetings, some classes have tutorials which are small group meetings where you work on worksheets or ask questions. For science majors, you will have to take a lab which last three hours outside of the normal class period.
At Notre Dame, your dorm is the center of your social life. I have visited friends at a few other schools and the dorm life doesn’t even compare to that of Notre Dame. Rather than having Greek life, Notre Dame has its dorms. You’ll learn over the course of Welcome Weekend that your closest friends, and those you spend the most time with, will be from your dorm. When you’re just hanging out at night, or during the weekend, everyone’s doors are open, and you’re expected to just sit and talk, play video games, or watch tv. On Fridays, a big group from our dorm goes and plays basketball, and on weekends, we all sit in the lobby and watch football, and on any other day of the week, you can find a group somewhere hanging out when they’re not doing homework. You may not want to stay on campus for three years now, but you will become like family with others in your dorm and you won’t want to move away.
Another thing that worries students about Notre Dame is the random assignment of roommates. I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but you should not be deterred from coming to school here because of it. I was nervous at first, but you just need to keep reminding yourself that everyone else is in the same situation as you. While there are some roommates who have clashing personalities, the majority of students get along with their roommate, and in my situation, become best friends with theirs. It will be an adjustment living with someone in a small room, but you’ll get used to it and quickly realize that having a roommate gives you someone to go to dinner with or talk to late at night when you don’t feel like going to bed.
As far as the athletic side of the social life here, football is the heartbeat of this school. You can’t turn a corner without seeing Touchdown Jesus, First Down Moses, or some other statue or mural that has adopted a football themed name. Gamedays are an exciting time on an otherwise quiet campus. There are thousands of people walking around, the band is playing, and there is a buzz in the air. While the team isn’t always great, gamedays are exciting and a fun time to be on campus. There are several other sporting events you can find all over campus as well. I have yet to attend a basketball game, but have been told they are really fun to go to, hockey games are always fun, and the soccer games are also well attended (until the weather turns cold). This school loves its sports, and if you are a sports fan, you won’t be disappointed.
If you are not a sports fan, there is plenty of opportunity to find fun things to do on campus too. While you may be out of luck on Saturdays in the fall, you’ll never fail to find a concert, play, or talk that may interest you. As part of my seminar I am taking, we are required to attend at least three talks on foreign policy. One of the most memorable talks I went to was a debate between President Bush’s first Chief of Staff and President Obama’s second Chief of Staff. People of that stature are on campus almost every week sharing their experiences and knowledge with students and staff. There are also hundreds of clubs you can join. These clubs are a great way to find something to do, as well as, find a friend group outside of your dorm.
The campus of Notre Dame is one of the most beautiful college campuses I have been on. Whether it’s the Golden Dome, the Grotto, the Lakes, or the limestone buildings, you’ll find yourself amazed by it all. The campus is easy to walk as it takes no more than ten minutes to get to all of my classes, the dining hall, or wherever I need to go. There are several students who have bikes, however, I think it is easier to not have one. Starting this year, Notre Dame has rentable bikes across campus that are cheap and easy to use if you need to get somewhere quickly. Since it gets very cold and snowy in the winter, having a bike can be a hassle and you may not be able to use it. Using the Limebikes gives you the option to use a bike without having to take care of your own.
The dining halls on campus are not awful but not amazing either. There are two on campus, North and South, and where you live depends on where you eat. I live near North Dining Hall, so I eat there. There is a pretty good variety, and if you want to eat healthy, you will be able to do so. North is much smaller and has a much cozier feel to it. You’re able to find your friends easily and you don’t have to walk a mile to refill your drink. As far as South Dining Hall goes, the building is much older and has a Harry Potter feel to it. The long wooden tables and high ceilings create a cool atmosphere, but the building is huge. It may take you awhile to find your friends, and if you need to refill your drink, you’ll have to walk quite a bit. While I’m partial to North, both dining halls serve good food and you’ll be well taken care of no matter which one you’re near.
The one thing that has bothered me about Notre Dame’s campus so far has been the lack of a big, central student recreation center or student union. However, this should not be a problem for incoming students, and current students, in the future. The Duncan Student Center is opening in January of 2018 and it should take care of that problem. Right now, we have Lafortune Student Center (Which will stay around), Rolf’s Athletic Complex (Which is becoming the basketball team’s facility), and The Rock (Which is also staying). You can read more about it online, but it will provide a place for students to hang out, eat, and the new student athletic facilities will be there.
One very important thing you need to remember if you want to go to Notre Dame is that we are in South Bend, Indiana, not Miami, Florida. Once November hits, it’ll rain a lot and there will be plenty of days where you may not see the sun. The winters will be cold and there will be a lot of snow. If you want to go to a college where you can go to the beach and sit in the warm sun, this is not your place. However, even if the weather can be miserable some days, everything that is so amazing about this school makes it all worth it. On the days when it is warm and sunny outside, you’ll find students playing spikeball or football out on the quads, or students just laying in the grass studying.
As far as the city of South Bend, it has a bad reputation, but if you’re smart, you’ll be safe. I have not experienced any issues when I go into the city, but I stay with a group at all times and make sure I have my phone charged in case I need it for whatever reason. But honestly, you’ll rarely find yourself in the city to begin with. I would say 95% of my time here has been spent on campus. Since there isn’t much to do in South Bend, you spend most of your time on campus either hanging out in your dorm or one of the recreation centers. There is another city, Mishawaka, just north of campus that has a Target, Meijer, Costco, and other stores if you’re really in need of something.
While Notre Dame is not the perfect school for everyone, it was the perfect fit for me. I wanted the tough academics, the business school, the sports, the tradition, and everything this school has to offer. The reason I am so happy here is because it was where I fit in and where I wanted to be. Remember that while rankings and other statistical parts of a school are important, if you aren’t going to be happy there, then that’s not the place to go. Choosing your college is probably the most stressful and important decision you’ll have to make up until this point in your life, but when it’s all over, you’ll look back at it with a sense of accomplishment. All of the stress is worth it in the end. College is already the favorite part of my life and I’m just beginning this journey. The freedom of living on your own is liberating, even if it may seem scary now. You will also have opportunities you never dreamed could be possible. I’m a manager for the hockey team, hope to go to Salt Lake City for eight weeks next summer as part of a Summer service program, and may even spend a week in Ireland in August. If you would have told me two years ago that’s what I would be doing as a nineteen-year-old, I never would’ve believed you. College is where you’ll become the person you’ll be the rest of your life and where you go can greatly impact that result.