A More Qualified Pool than Ever Before

Author: Lesley Stevenson, The Observer

A record number of high-achieving applicants fought for admission to the University this year, illustrating Notre Dame’s increasing selectivity and marking this particular class as “a more qualified pool than ever before,” Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, said.

“We had 17,897 [applications], and what was more interesting than just that number was there was about a 15 percent increase in the highest ability applicants, and by highest ability they would rate in the top two percent of the nation in accomplishment by national testing standards, by class performance,” Bishop said.

Bob Mundy, director of admissions, said the number of highly qualified applicants rose independently of the total number of applications.

“That increase in the applicant pool was only about one and a half percent,” Mundy said. “So it’s a disproportionate jump.”

Bishop said the Office of Undergraduate Admissions strives to fulfill a freshmen enrollment goal of 1,985 to 2,000 freshmen. He said the dramatic increase in highly qualified applicants allows for the Office of Admissions’ to have increasing selectivity in choosing among the nation’s brightest high school seniors.

“We were about 20 percent more selective this year,” Bishop said. “… We had 6,300 applicants out of that 17,897 … that were in the top one percent in the nation in either their high school class performance and/or their national testing, many of them both.

“Less than half of those students gained admission. So when you have that sort of talent, you have to look at other factors.”

The “higher profile” of the applicant pool not only permitted but also forced admissions counselors to consider factors beyond a student’s test scores to create the most “well-rounded” class, Bishop said.

“We are using the test scores less,” he said. “If you look at four years ago compared to today, there’s a significant increase in our willingness to look beyond, and the reason being is we’re getting so many high numbers that they’re now so high … to distinguish between this score and that score is not very meaningful.”

The expanding applicant pool and its strong qualifications also offers the Office of Undergraduate Admissions a “growing opportunity” to partner with faculty and administrators to recruit a class of students that will serve the University and ultimately the world, Bishop said.

“With our selection process, with this elevated pool, we’re able to make those distinctions more directly as we review the applicants,” he said.

Bishop said admissions counselors focused on four main goals throughout the process: to increase socioeconomic, cultural, racial and intellectual diversity, to expand outreach to international students, to enhance the quality of the application pool and to foster creative selections by considering an “EQ,” or “emotional quotient.”

“The emotional quotient, the potential for leadership and service to others, maintains Notre Dame’s focus on what sort of students will have the most impact in the world if they use their Notre Dame degree properly for impactful values that Notre Dame believes in,” Bishop said. “This desire for Notre Dame to be one of the major forces for good in the world is what we want.”

Bishop said Notre Dame’s “core mission value” of selecting students who will be impacted by the University and then in turn impact the world makes Notre Dame unique among the nation’s top 20 private institutions.

“At other universities, there are a lot of students that believe in those things, but there’s not necessarily considered core to that university experience,” he said. “It’s not a transformational goal of the other universities, whereas here, we’re looking to transform students to be highly energetic, not only towards the intellectual but what impact are they going to have?”

Factors admissions counselors might consider beyond test scores include extraordinary talents, dedication to extracurricular activities and motivation to succeed in a particular field or with challenging coursework, Mundy said. He said more than 40 application readers try to project how a student would enhance the Notre Dame community and continue to further the University’s mission after graduation.

“I think what the staff’s been able to do is find the students [about] who they say, ‘The way this student is currently living [his or her] life really seems to mesh well with the values that we feel make this place so special,’” he said.

Mundy said the staff members in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions look forward to welcoming admitted students to campus this month.

“This time of year we literally come off this real grinding selection period or evaluation period, and there’s always just this immediate burst of excitement as you start to meet some of these admitted students,” he said. “These are the students who are going to shape this place for the coming years.

“You just meet one or two of these students, and you just feel good again. I’m really excited about this class in so many ways.”