A Parent's Guide to Notre Dame

The campus of the University of Notre Dame
The Golden Dome of the University of Notre Dame. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Paris may have its legendary cathedral, but when it comes to famous Catholic universities, there is only one Notre Dame - and it's in South Bend, Indiana. Here's the scoop: everything a parent should know about the Golden Dome and the Fighting Irish.

  • The College: This venerable university with its glowing Golden Dome and breathtaking gothic architecture dates back to 1842. Its founder, a 28-year-old French priest, named it after Our Lady of the Lake, Notre Dame du Lac. The school is known for its top-notch academics - it regularly appears on the U.S. News & World Report's "top 25" - as well as its famous athletic programs and a 1,250-acre campus that belongs on any "most beautiful" list. It's stunning.
    Your child does not have to be Catholic to go here, but you should know that mass is held daily, the campus has 47 chapels and its prayer grotto is modeled after the one at Lourdes. Spirituality is important here and community service part of the school's ethos. Notre Dame's 12,000 students - a figure that includes 8,400 undergrads - attend classes on the semester system. But the single most important thing parents should know is that Notre Dame students are so very happy here, both academically and personally, that 95% of the freshmen return sophomore year. And 95% of those students end up graduating from Notre Dame. Only Harvard and Princeton boast better stats.
  • The Tab: Of course, all that glory - and all those small class sizes - comes at a hefty price. Tuition at the University of Notre Dame was $41,417 in 2011-12. Some 80% of the university's students live in the college's 29 single-sex dormitories. Add room and board - $11,388 - to the tab for a grand total of $52,805 per year. There is no Greek system here, but students remain in the same residence hall for all four years, which creates a tight-knit sense of community.
  • The College Town: Technically, Notre Dame is in its own small town of Notre Dame, just outside South Bend. But from a parent perspective, that's mere envelope addressing. South Bend is the college town, and it's a very nice one indeed with all the benefits of cosmopolitan life and small-town charm. In addition to visiting your college kid, you can also hike the winding riverbank trails, go white water rafting on the East Race Waterway or head for the recreational possibilities of Lake Michigan.
    Notre Dame is a two-hour drive (90 miles or so) from Chicago, so you'll likely fly into O'Hare - although South Bend has its own small airport too. Just be aware that Notre Dame is on Eastern time, Chicago on Central. Chicago makes a great hub for any college tour. There are scores of terrific universities - Purdue, Northwestern, Loyola and more - all within a few hours drive. But if your interest lies in Notre Dame and Notre Dame alone, stay in South Bend, where there are plenty of hotels, including the much-beloved, 60-year-old Morris Inn, which is located right on campus. The Morris closed its doors in late 2012 for major renovations; it is expected to re-open in August 2013. (Tip: some hotels will give college visitors discounts, so be sure to call and ask - it's not usually advertised online. Check with the Morris directly, when it reopens, to see if they plan to resume their "parents club" offers.)
    If you're visiting in the winter months, pack for snow. It's not as cold here as in Minnesota, but South Bend gets 81 inches of snow per year and January temperatures drop down to the 20s and 30s Fahrenheit. One last thing: When it's time for junior to fly home for the holidays, there's a bus service that runs between campus and O'Hare for about $35 one-way.
  • More Important Details: This is a highly competitive school, but it produces some pretty incredible results. That high retention rate comes from the university's "first year of studies" program, which teaches college study skills, helps students explore interests and offers support and guidance. Got a a possible pre-med? The Notre Dame acceptance rate into med school runs around 80% - the national average is closer to 40%. Community service is part of the culture here. Some 80% of the college's students volunteer; more than 10% go on to join the Peace Corps.
    Got a musician with a penchant for sports? Notre Dame's famous marching band dates back to 1843. Got a bel canto soprano, a bassoonist or jazz pianist? Notre Dame has an opera program, as well as jazz and classical performance and music education majors, and its performing arts center boasts five stages. But music majors here don’t declare until sophomore year, it's possible to double major in music and another field, and auditions are for ensemble placement and scholarship consideration, not university admission. (Translation: It's a very fine program, but if your kid is considering Juilliard or Curtis, he probably wouldn't apply here. And if that's where you are in the decision-making process, this article on College Admissions for Music Majors may help.)
  • Notre Dame is famous for its Division I athletics, and especially its Fighting Irish football team, which has notched 11 national championships and seven Heisman Trophy winners. More than 60 former players are in the College Football Hall of Fame. But Notre Dame also fields 25 other men's and women's varsity teams, as well as more than 80 intramural and club sports. Broom ball, anyone?
  • Incoming Frosh Stats: Notre Dame is considered one of the nation's 20 most selective universities, with a 29% acceptance rate. The average incoming freshman is in the top 4% of his high school class, with a SAT score of 1,390-1,490 out of 1,600 or an ACT of 32-34.
  • The Law School: Notre Dame's law school dates back to 1869 and its programs include the standard 3-year Juris doctor degree, as well as programs in international human rights and an LL.M. (Masters of Law) program in international law from Notre Dame's London Law Centre. Admissions are extremely competitive, with more than 3,000 applicants vying for 183 places per year. The average accepted law student had a 3.64 college GPA and a 166 out of 180 on the LSAT.
  • More? Visit the University of Notre Dame's campus website for details on admissions for undergraduate study, law school, and grad school. This link will take you straight to information on scheduling a campus visit. If you're headed to the campus itself, visitor parking is at the corner of Eddy and Holy Cross Drive in Notre Dame, Indiana.