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Incoming freshmen shine in more than academics

John Cameron | Thursday, August 16, 2012

While Notre Dame’s incoming Class of 2016 promises to be the most accomplished ever based on numbers alone, Don Bishop, associate vice president for enrollment, said the new freshman class brings more to campus than top test scores and GPAs.

“This year, 55 percent of enrolling students were ranked in the top one percent of their class, or by national test scores,” Bishop said. “But just having the high numbers wasn’t enough. We have a holistic admissions selection process.”

Bishop said the University’s broader admissions evaluation process looks beyond the raw numbers, and focuses on determining whether applicants fit Notre Dame.

“We look at high school performance, national test results, essays, letters – that’s the holistic process,” he said. “In the end, we feel we’ve shaped the best class possible for what the Notre Dame mission is.”

This year’s admission rate was 23 percent, with a record 16,957 applicants, 3,947 admitted applicants and 2,015 estimated enrollees. The transfer class also faced tough competition, with the University admitting 167 of 509 applicants, and an estimated 140 enrolling.

Bishop attributed the influx of applications to Notre Dame’s academic prominence and the University’s unique identity.

“I think Notre Dame’s reputation continues to rise,” he said. “The beauty of the campus, especially with all of the construction in the last 5 to 10 years – when people see it, it really is one of the great American campuses. Notre Dame is iconic, it’s the leading Catholic university, and students who value that identity are highly attracted.”

Despite the University’s rising reputation and admission standards, Bishop stressed its mission is more central than ever in the admissions process.

“In the last five years, Notre Dame has gotten significantly more selective, but we’re more on mission,” he said. “We look more today at the other things we value [besides academics] … It’s not just a numbers game.”

Numbers game or not, the Class of 2016’s test scores reached a new high for the University. The middle 50 percent scoring range for the SAT and ACT were 1380-1510 and 31-34, respectively. Although the incoming class boasts higher numbers than preceding classes, Bishop said scores are not the sole distinguishing factor.

“The academic profile is similar to the last year or two. What’s different this year is that the class is more global as well as more diverse within the U.S., which we view as probably one of the great success points,” Bishop said.

This year’s class body boasts five percent international students and 27 percent students of color from within the U.S. Bishop doesn’t attribute the greater diversity to a larger pool of diverse applicants or admits, but rather at the increasing likelihood that ethnically diverse or international students will choose to enroll at Notre Dame.

While the overall class profile continues to become more varied, Bishop said a number of noteworthy individual students make the incoming class even more unique.

“In this class we have a student who participated in the U.S. Women’s Open, we have an Olympian, we have a student who started up an Internet business, a student who founded a fundraising organization at age 12 and raised $50,000 for [Hurricane] Katrina,” Bishop said. “There are some individuals who’ve already distinguished themselves on the outside [of the University].”

Bishop said it is crucial for the University to continue to pursue an increasingly diverse student body.

“You’re going to see that American top universities are broadening access, and Notre Dame needs to be on the forefront,” he said. “We are ambitiously seeking the top students from every background. That’s why we meet full need.”

Bishop said the generosity of alumni and the successful management of the University’s growing endowment have made it possible to expand accessibility for applicants with limited financial resources.

“About half of our [incoming] students are on Notre Dame Scholarships,” Bishop said. “Notre Dame will invest $110 million of University funds in scholarships for their education over the next four years.”

Bishop said his office’s long-term plans for the future center on the further expansion of its outreach to a more diverse and global pool of potential applicants.

“We’re going to be doing even more in the future, more recruitment, more contact and follow-up with students,” he said.

While the talent and academic profile of incoming classes are likely to continue along this upward trajectory, Bishop said he believes his team has found the ideal class for the University at this point in time.

“I wouldn’t trade this class for any other university’s,” he said. “The [academic] profile puts them in the top-15, maybe top-10, but I wouldn’t trade them for any of the others because of all their attributes. They have attributes the other top universities would envy, so we’re fortunate those students view Notre Dame as a special place.”