Notre Dame class of 2020 brings ‘a unique balance’
Courtney Becker | Friday, August 19, 2016
While college admissions have largely been considered a numbers game in recent years, to Don Bishop, associate vice president of undergraduate enrollment, the members of Notre Dame’s incoming class of 2020 represent more than just high test scores and perfect grades; thanks to their unique and valuable personal attributes, he considers them perfect matches with Notre Dame.
Bishop said the 2,050 incoming first-year students distinguished themselves from the record 19,505 applicants because of a very specific set of qualifications unique to Notre Dame.
“The University has a very distinctive mission, and probably our most audacious statement is that Notre Dame will be a force for good in the world,” Bishop said. “We’re not just looking for the students who have the highest academic credentials. … It’s our job in admissions to find the students that will make the most use of all the resources that are at Notre Dame: the academic side of Notre Dame, the social development side of Notre Dame and, in the external sense, the service and leadership that we expect Notre Dame graduates to provide throughout their lives.”
The pool of applicants, over 7,000 of which were in the top one percent of the nation, allowed the University to apply what Bishop describes as a “thoughtful holistic selection process that is focused on the nuanced attributes revealed through essays, letters of recommendations and extensive discussions of activities and the student’s motivation for their success” when selecting the class of 2020.
“SATs and ACTs are helpful, but they just shouldn’t dominate the entire decision,” Bishop said. “Part of the reason for that is 10 years ago for the students that were in the top 1 percent of the nation in national testing, now we have a much larger group in that cohort. So once numbers get so high, the variation within that high range becomes less important. … I don’t think that matters enough for that to be the determining factor on saying ‘yes’ to one student and ‘no’ to another. So you look for other attributes.”
Bishop said the University developed this evaluation process through extensive research about what determines a student’s success at Notre Dame, and is confident the incoming first-year students’ success will continue beyond college.
“I often use numbers to evaluate whether we should the use the numbers as much as we have used them, and sometimes the research on numbers show that you should use numbers less,” he said. “We’ve talked to some of the top corporations in the world about how they evaluate people for projecting success after college. We’re trying to predict not only your success as an applicant at Notre Dame, we’re now increasingly trying to think through your potential success throughout your career in life.”
Bishop said Notre Dame’s lack of interest in driving up its University ranking encourages him to admit a “unique kind of student with a unique balance” rather than an applicant who simply aims to check boxes.
“Notre Dame is not interested in being a generic top-15 school and being rated highly within those 15. We are interested in becoming a better version of Notre Dame every year,” Bishop said. “We feel we’re No. 1 at who we are [and] we want to get better at who that is each year. We’re really acting out of a sense of, ‘We’re comfortable in our own skin, but we want to get better every year.’ We have a sense of purpose and mission, and we believe that we’re unique and we’re trying each year to become better at that.”
The class of 2020 not only “sets another record for achievement by the incoming students” with the average student in the top 1 percent of the nation in either high school performance or national testing, Bishop said in an email, but also stands out for their service and leadership.
“The admitted students are truly remarkable in their motivation for learning and commitment to service and leadership,” he said. “The enrolling class is comprised of students with compelling achievements and special talents with the potential to become tremendous servant leaders, scholars, researchers, creative artists and entrepreneurs.”
Bishop said he is looking for these students to use their talents to seek a greater understanding of themselves and others.
“There’s the intellectual ability, but we’re really trying to push our students toward a greater sense of wisdom, and we’re looking for students that want to seek out wisdom, not just accomplishment,” said Bishop. “My understanding of wisdom is not only being very bright, but then integrating it with a sense of knowing who you are, knowing who others are and developing a sense of purpose and fulfillment from that. And I don’t think the majority of other colleges talk like that.”
Bishop said Notre Dame has also managed to remain faithful to the University’s Catholic identity while admitting increasingly high numbers of top students because “the top Catholics are attracted to Notre Dame.”
“In the last six years we have doubled the number of Catholic applicants that are in the top 1 percent of the nation,” he said. “We’ve been intentional about identifying the unique nature of Notre Dame and we’ve gone out intentionally and found the top Catholics and engaged them in that conversation. … About 80 percent of our freshman class is Catholic. If you look at the other top-10 Catholic universities in America by top 10 most selective — and there are over 200 Catholic colleges and universities in America — they average only around 45 to 70 percent Catholic.”
This continued admission of Catholic students, as well as students who buy into Notre Dame’s faith-based values, has also resulted in an increase in diversity, Bishop said. This year’s incoming class includes students from 1,362 high schools from 47 countries; 32 percent of the class is made up of U.S. students of color and international students.
“One thing we know is that the top Catholic students insist on an increasingly diverse institution,” he said. “So they would not have come if Notre Dame had not proven itself to be open to all students and to provide a socioeconomic and a cultural diversity. So you have to do both at the same time: remain uniquely Catholic but also highly diverse.”
Additionally, Bishop said he is optimistic that students of the class of 2020 are good matches with Notre Dame due to its record-setting yield rate, which indicates students have embraced the University’s mission.
“Notre Dame is one of the most sought after universities. This year 56.2 percent of the admitted students enrolled — one of the top 10 yield rates in the nation,” he said. “Increasingly what we’re finding are students who can go to other top-15 schools, but view Notre Dame as not just a top-15 school, but No. 1 at who we are. And once you embrace who we are and you feel we’re No. 1, you don’t go anywhere else.”