Title; it was disappointing (I guess it was clickbait). But we’ll get to that part later.
Your first question may be: How? My thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Remember that box you checked on the Common App when you submitted your letters of rec? You were waiving your FERPA right to “inspect” those letters — then or later. So, mine were not included with this request.
Additionally, FERPA doesn’t let you see it all. While an Observer alum who previously requested her admissions file was able to review a few vague, cryptic comments from the admissions staff, she also had to view her documents in-person and could only take notes with pen and paper. While it’s unclear if the pandemic (or the fact that I requested my file when we were on break) resulted in mine simply getting emailed, my documents were nonetheless clear of any trace of my reviewer. So if you’re reading this as a prospective student, itching to find out how you can game the system… I’m afraid this column is not for you.
Or is it?
Your second question may be: Why? I had my reasons. For one, I seem to like cringing at myself, and the comedic potential of what I wrote as an entitled, ambitious, 17-year-old “burnt-out gifted kid” was too good. (Sidenote: If you unironically call yourself a “burnt-out gifted kid” in my presence, you will soon become a deceased one.)
I also thought there was a kind of, I don’t know, poetry, to requesting it now. As I hunker down this week for the start of my last semester in South Bend, I am suddenly faced with a host of other “lasts.” Someday soon, I will take my last final. Someday soon, I will eat my last southwest salad. Someday soon, I will drink my last Guinness at the Backer… as a student. And today, I am writing my last inside column as Managing Editor of The Observer — in truth, my last inside column, ever.
So let’s do like the Cha-Cha Slide and “reverse, reverse!” to before I even knew that I would (or could) get into Notre Dame.
The biggest file I received is a transcript of my Common Application. Most of it is pretty standard stuff: details about my parents, details about me. I forgot there was a “future plans” section, which I marked with “writer or journalist.” Aw.
The first part I cringe at, though, are my high school activities. For one, the activities in and of themselves are cringe (my top performer was the speech team at an appalling 33 hours per week for 22 weeks per year). But I also cringe because of just how obviously I’m selling myself. LinkedIn-ese has always made me want to crawl out of my skin and straight into the ocean, and my verbs here sound like they’re trying to prove themselves. For example, in describing my high school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, I wrote I was “inducted for academic achievement and extracurricular leadership,” which like, isn’t wrong. But my induction class also included the requisite SoundCloud rapper of my grade, so take the prestige I afforded this activity with a Grammy-sized grain of salt.
There are also some questions specific to Notre Dame. I was asked about my local parish, which is hilarious, because even though I gladly provided it, I don’t think I’d been to mass since I was pubescent. I was asked if any siblings or relatives attended Notre Dame; at the time, this question confused me, and today I’m still confused, only for a different reason. My intended major was English — also hilarious, since I can count on literally one hand every book I read in its entirety in four years of high school (if for some reason any former English teachers of mine are reading this: it’s not your fault). I was also asked about any activities I’d like to join if I went to Notre Dame, to which I checked “student newspaper.” Aw again.
But then, there were my essays. Jesus, take the wheel.
My general Common App essay, all things considered, wasn’t that bad. In fact, I used it as the blueprint for a speech I gave at my graduation later that year. But Notre Dame’s supplemental essays were different.
One of the prompts that year was, “What is one thing you will definitely bring to college with you?” I said… a blanket. Boi, what the hell, boi. Who do you think you are? I then proceeded to sleep all of first semester with no blanket on my bed.
But another prompt simply said, “You have 150 words. Take a risk.” I told Notre Dame, in short, that I didn’t care if I was rejected. “I know just as well I don’t need you,” I wrote. “I’ll be happy wherever I go, because where you go is not who you are.”
Four years later, I’m struck by the candor of my 17-year-old self. In retrospect, I’m not sure I actually believed what I wrote, or if I only wrote it to persuade myself. It is also a well-documented fact that I did not expect to get in, afford or attend Notre Dame, so I guess the stakes of “taking a risk” were lower for me.
But for any prospective student reading this — no, I haven’t forgotten about you — I hope you take those words to heart, even if I didn’t when I wrote them. Like many elite American universities, Notre Dame’s acceptance rate is pretentiously low; early applicants to the class of 2027 faced a 15 percent acceptance rate this December, and the overall acceptance rate for the class of 2026 couldn’t even crack 13 percent. Those are institutional lows, and I know if I were faced with applying again, I would not have gotten in. I probably wouldn’t try.
So take it from someone in your shoes just four years ago — who’s now nearly four years through with their college degree, staring down grad school in the not-so-distant future. I’ve loved my time here, but I would have loved it anywhere. And you, too, can love where you go, and not because of anything you wrote in your “why x” essay or anything a school can promise you in a promotional pamphlet. You’ll love where you go, because you go there. You.
Where you go is not who you are, but you’ll love where you go because of who you are.
You can contact Aidan at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.