Your first year at Notre Dame is hard. It can be exciting, life-changing, terrifying, revelatory, unforgettable and probably every other adjective you can think to ascribe to it, but at the end of the day, it is still hard. When you first arrive on campus, it’s easy to feel somewhat adrift. You’re separated from your parents, you’re thrust into a dorm beyond your choosing and you’re paired with a total stranger as a roommate. Then you’re hit with assignments, anxieties, due dates, social pressures and a flurry of new experiences, some of which you’ll love and some of which you won’t. And what’s more, you begin this journey under the golden dome of one of the last bastions of western Catholicism: The University of Notre Dame (aka Catholic Disneyland). It’s a lot. Every upperclassmen who’s been through it knows it’s a lot. And every first-year going through it alongside you knows it’s a lot. Still, that doesn’t make your first year any less stressful. So, in an attempt to quell some of the expected terror of one’s first year in college, I have decided to compile a set of frequently asked questions, and to answer each of them to the best of my ability––even if that ability is decidedly on the low side.
I’ve heard Notre Dame is extremely rigorous academically, and I’m a little intimidated. What can I do to prepare?
This question is frighteningly common, and I think it’s important to dispel the prevailing idea that academics at Notre Dame are overwhelmingly strenuous, or that first-years may not be ready for the challenge. Prepared students should find the workload manageable, and, more importantly, if you have been admitted here, you deserve to be here. There is no reason to panic if you suddenly receive an assignment or challenge you haven’t encountered before. You can do this! But, in case you do find yourself struggling, here are some tips from my experience to help you along the way:
First, get a planner to help organize your day. Start by marking off each assignment’s due date, each essay’s due date, the dates of each exam, the dates of each lab, the times for office hours, every group project meeting, writing center meeting, advisor meeting, internship interview, Rector meeting, social events, dorm party, call to your parents, intervention for your friend’s roommate, stress-induced headache, unexpected panic attack, OCS meeting and OCS sentencing and then organize your free time in case you find it prudent to occasionally take a stroll around the lakes or scream interminably into your pillow.
Second, do not underestimate the positive impact of a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, due to academic pressures, mounting workloads and the urge to excite one’s social calendar, sleep can be difficult to come by for many first-year students. Fortunately, there is a handy technique that we Fighting Irish have been using for decades. While doctors generally suggest you sleep eight hours a night (56 hours a week), it is not always practical to spread your sleeping hours evenly across each night of the seven-day cycle. As such, one tried and true method suggests that a weary college student sleeps a little under four hours each night, before subjecting themselves to a party-induced coma for 29 hours from Saturday night at 3 am to Monday morning at 8 a.m. Ta Da! 56 hours a week, and you wake feeling fresh as a daisy!
Third, take a deep breath now and again. Weirdly enough, it really will be okay.
I’m not particularly religious. Will I feel as welcomed here as my Catholic peers?
While Notre Dame’s reputation has been infallibly built on its academic excellence, moral rectitude and epic football program, some eagle-eyed students might also notice that Notre Dame is actually a Catholic institution. In fact, Our Lady’s campus is home to 57 different chapels, as well as being littered with countless statues of notable Catholic figures such as Mary, Jesus and Lou Holtz. Still, can’t we all feel accepted at this institution regardless of our personal beliefs?
Mostly! Ultimately, Notre Dame is a respectful, open-minded community for learning. The Catholic roots serve as a guide in all of the University’s actions, but they are not what define the school––rather, it is we, the student body, who define Notre Dame. That said, if you have an aversion to Catholic imagery, you’ve made a catastrophic error in school selection.
How important are the dorms really? Does it matter which one I’m placed in?
I suppose this varies by person, but personally, my dorm will one day be the centerpiece of my obituary.
I’m nervous about getting a random roommate. What do I do if we don’t get along?
Ah, the randomized roommates. Notre Dame’s most confusing source of pride. While the process is inherently a gamble, many Domers past and present report finding lifelong friends in their first year roommates, often rooming together again in the years that follow. But then, of course, there are the odd mismatched roommates here and there. No doubt, in your first year at Notre Dame, you’ll hear a number of completely baffling roommate horror stories: the kid who can’t sleep unless Motley Crue is playing at the unhinged volume of a space launch, the kid whose rejection of private property extends to your personal belongings or the kid whose once youthful rebellion has accidentally made them permanently nocturnal. Unfortunately, you can only hope you’re not forced to room with your soon-to-be worst enemy.
Still, if you and your roommate aren’t best buds, that’s fine too. You don’t need a lifelong bond to cohabitate effectively, and if worse comes to worst, you only really need to be in your dorm room when you’re sleeping. There are so many friends to be found at Notre Dame. Don’t be discouraged if the kid on the other bunk doesn’t happen to be one of them.
What are Parietals?
A cataclysmic bummer.
Is there anything else I should know before I start my freshman year?
Don’t freak out! College can be stressful, but it can also be the absolute time of your life. Put yourself out there, and get involved in as many things as possible. You only get four years here (actually I’m on track for five and a half, but that’s beside the point). Make the best of it, and don’t forget to have fun! I think I speak for all upperclassmen when I say we are so excited to welcome you to Notre Dame!