Emily - University of Notre Dame - Class of 2019

Emily - Class of 2019
Don't be afraid to reveal your true self during the application process. If you don't, you will be creating a fantasy person who is not the real you.

I didn't want to attend a school that chose me only on the basis of my resume and not on me as a person. So, I wrote my essays with brutal honesty.

  • Hometown: Lafayette, LA
  • High School: Private
  • GPA: 4.0/4.73 (weighted)
  • ACT: 34
  • Major: Neuroscience and Art History
  • Goal: Study the neuroscience of art

Freshman Year Update

The academics here are fantastic. Every day I learn something new and interesting. My honors classes have engaged professors and only 8–15 students in each class.

The only downside is that I don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do! My studies (plus eating, laundry, and sleeping) take up most of my time, so it has been hard to even think about joining any of the hundreds of clubs here. Fortunately, my dorm has wonderful charity projects, activities, and dances, and my dormmates are like my family.

Managing my budget is much easier than I thought it would be. I have few expenses and there are many free activities on campus, as well as travel grants. Through two different grants, I was able to attend a Shakespeare festival in Canada and the Nobel Prize Lectures in Stockholm!

Sophomore Year Update

I had my mind set on completing a double major in neuroscience and art history, plus my honors program, in four years. Each semester, I took eight classes and two labs, and it was stressful and hard to keep up. Still, I was determined to maintain this pace, so when I only got into five classes and one lab second semester, I was down. But now, I realize it was the best thing to ever happen to me, and I have decided to take my time. With fewer classes, I can study, sleep, be more active in my dorm's projects, and have a little time for myself.

Notre Dame is a perfect fit for me. I'm so glad I spent time on campus and lived with a host student. I think this is the best way to learn about campus living conditions, student's study habits and priorities, and how students interact with each other. I wish my dorm had air conditioning and a bathtub, but otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing.

Introducing the real me

I want to study why people are drawn neurologically to the arts and how to present art in meaningful ways to different viewers. My top three choices—Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke, and Washington University in St. Louis—were all highly ranked colleges with opportunities for undergraduate research. I was positive that I would be rejected from every one of them. I have profound dyslexia and dysgraphia, and my school counselor warned me that my learning differences would be a major handicap. She advised me not to mention them in my essays or applications.

But, I disagreed. If I withheld this information, the schools I applied to would not be accepting or rejecting the real me. So instead, I was totally honest. I explained my joys and sorrows and my accomplishments and failures with equal enthusiasm.

Falling out of love with Duke

Sure enough, I was rejected by MIT, but I was accepted to Duke, Washington University in St. Louis, and several other colleges—some with scholarships! Notre Dame had also admitted me to its Reilly Scholars program, an honors program offered only to the top 100 applicants to their freshman class! I was ecstatic, but I was still madly in love with Duke.

My mom told me to keep an open mind and explore all my opportunities before I committed to any university. So I decided to revisit Duke (at my own expense), and Wash-U and Notre Dame at their invitation and expense. When I got to Duke, the admissions officers were wonderful, and so were the biology students I attended classes with. But, the students were not as excited by their classes or as passionate about their majors as I wanted my fellow students to be. It was disappointing, and I was heartbroken.

Finding comrades at Notre Dame

Next, I flew from Duke to Notre Dame. Due to flight delays, I spent the night in the Atlanta airport. I arrived at Notre Dame without luggage, and with only an airline toothbrush and a Duke T-shirt. I was completely unenthused about my visit. But the students were immediately welcoming. The entire dorm pulled together to lend me clothes and take me shopping for necessities. Best of all, they were excited and passionate about their studies. Their chosen majors were their first priority, yet there was also always something fun and exciting to do in the downtime.

It was great to learn that as a Riley Scholar, most of my freshman classes would have less than 20 students, and that Notre Dame has the Glynn Family Scholars program just for undergraduate research. I was also assured my learning differences would be accommodated, which was extremely important to me. After spending a day doing community service at the University-sponsored homeless shelter, I was convinced that this was the school for me. My visit to Wash-U was very nice, but I couldn't stop thinking about the warmth and acceptance I experienced at Notre Dame. I had made my decision. Go Irish!

My ups and downs

When I received my denial from MIT, I was sad, but I was also relieved. By then, I had realized that I did not want to focus solely on the hard sciences at the expense of the humanities. Later I realized how lucky I was not to have been accepted early to MIT. I would have felt compelled to attend and would have lost the opportunity to investigate all of my options.

It was exciting being accepted at Duke. My Duke admissions counselor told me she was eager to meet me because she had become emotionally invested in the struggles I had described in my essays.

What I learned

I did not need to feel ashamed or disadvantaged because of my learning differences. A professor I met at Notre Dame confided that he, too, had dyslexia and said I should not worry about it at all. This allayed my fears and made me feel like part of the family. By being honest about my learning differences, I was able to find a college community that truly accepted me for who I am.

I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed my interviews and how many wonderful people I met that way. I did not expect my interviewers to befriend me, make me promise to tell them which University I decided to attend, or expect me to keep in touch with them. It was amazing.

The money factor

I am paying for college with the insurance money I inherited when my father died. He died when I was five years old, and my mother put every penny aside for this purpose.

My advice

Do not be afraid to reveal your true self during the application process. Otherwise, you will be creating a fantasy person who is not the real you—and that fantasy person will not be happy in the real world.