First-Year Journey: Katherine Hill '24 on Majoring in ACMS, Research, and Starting College During COVID

Author: Grace McDermott

Katherine Hill '24 was deferred in the early action admissions round and when regular decision letters were sent out, she was assigned a spot on the waiting list. “It taught me a lot about grit, so it was good in the end, but it was really tough. My senior year of high school wasn’t really happening, and I wasn’t in my dream school, which I thought I would have been by December of 2020.”

Katherine Hill '24 outside Flaherty Hall, her home on campus

She had fallen in love with Notre Dame during a Summer Scholars’ Program in 2018, where she had met professors and fellow students who inspired her.

Hill kept asking herself what her application could be missing, and late one night, she spontaneously wrote a long email to her admissions counselor explaining why she wanted to go to Notre Dame.

“I had never really been emotional about it...” says Hill. “But then I realized I just had to tell ND why I wanted them, and the next day, I got a call from admissions saying, ‘You’re off the waitlist, welcome home.’”

Hill began doing research with Notre Dame physics professors after her Summer Scholars’ Program, during which she studied astronomy for the first time—never even having taken a physics class—and became interested in astrophysics.

She was the primary author on a published paper with one professor before she even graduated high school, and after restarting her research in November of her first year, she is the author on another soon to be published paper.

“Summer Scholars was it for me,” says Hill. “I met the greatest kids in the entire world there—kids who had passion for learning and what they wanted to do with their lives. The professors saw something in me there that I never expected and that created the thing I’m most passionate about. They let us get hands-on experience and realize what we’re capable of outside the classroom.”

However, Hill ultimately decided not to major in physics. Instead she chose to study applied mathematics and computational statistics, or ACMS, which allows her to continue pursuing her astrophysics research on cataclysmic variable stars while opening up even more possible career paths. Her favorite class of her first year was, unexpectedly, chemistry. Though it is admittedly not Hill’s favorite subject, she says that her professor’s contagious passion for the material and attention to the students made it fascinating. 

Hill with Army ROTC friends

All of Hill’s classes have taken place in person, and she says that being on campus has allowed her to meet “incredible friends” from her residence hall, extracurriculars, and classes. She is on the club tennis team, is part of the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, and is the Flaherty Hall representative for the Right to Life club.

It has been an unusual year to start her college education, but Hill has had the best possible experience in spite of the challenges.

“Instead of tailgating and doing normal dorm or outside of school activities, we’ve had to get creative,” says Hill. “But that’s also allowed for experiences [I wouldn't otherwise have had]. We spend a lot of time outdoors, we've hung sheets over the soccer goals to project movies..."

Fun like that has made all the difference, she says. "This year has lived up to and, honestly, even surpassed my expectations.”


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