The Holy Grail of Questions: Notre Dame

Author: Meaghan Northup

Meaghan Northrup poses with a group of friends at Notre Dame stadium.
Me with some of my best friends at the first game of the year!

Starting freshman year of college is a strange experience. The profound sense of unknown is incredibly exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. I remember hearing so many wonderful things about Notre Dame, yet I knew almost nothing. I asked myself many questions:

“Will I make friends?”

“How will I like my classes, my major, and my dorm?”

“Will I be able to succeed academically?”

“Is my dorm serious about their mascot being a purple weasel?”

“How will I survive the cold, snowy, South Bend winter?”

“Will I study abroad?”

“Will I get a job on campus? What about in the summers?”

“How is the dining hall food?”

In time, I certainly found answers. If I was speaking to myself from the summer before college, I would reply with something like this:

“Yes, you will make many wonderful friends. You will love your classes but transfer into the business school, changing your major four times in the process. You will like your dorm well enough to run for Vice-President and help your community win women’s hall of the year. You actually now see the purple weasel as one of your top 5 personality traits. The South Bend winters are cold, but you get a nice coat for Christmas and learn to rock with cute scarves; furthermore, the snow is gorgeous, and spring actually becomes your favorite semester. You will spend your junior spring living with a host family in France. You will also work as a Notre Dame Admissions intern after your first year. During the summers you will do amazing things such as work as a camp counselor, travel, and move to Chicago for a consulting job. Finally, the dining hall food is pretty great, and a Chick-Fil-A will come to campus so don’t worry.”

If I had known all those answers coming into a school, I would have been a lot less nervous. However, I also would have missed out on much of the fun. Notre Dame takes me by surprise every day. It challenges me to push myself, inspired by other people and the many opportunities constantly thrown onto my path here.

My point here is not to encourage students to drop all their questions. In fact, I encourage students to write them down. Personally, I send myself an email that arrives on the same day each April where I answer my questions from the previous year and ask future me to answer them the next. But more importantly, I advise incoming college students to strategically prepare themselves to ask as many questions as possible. The beautiful part about universities like Notre Dame is that for every unknown, there is a far greater number of answers waiting to be found. Wisdom, compassion, and creativity accumulates here even faster than the snow in January; my best advice is thus to lace up your snow boots, get out there, and seek answers.

Here is a list of some of the most important questions I have asked:

1. What’s your name?

Arriving for your first semester always requires the most work. You start out almost completely at ground zero. I knew very few people coming in. Consequently, I am very grateful that I made a very strong effort to meet as many people as I could. I also tried my absolute hardest to remember every name. And, when I didn’t remember, I asked the person to remind me again. Everyone is struggling to take in the onslaught of new names, faces, and facts. Capitalize off this time to set of foundation of friends, acquaintances, and people to wave to on the quad. Maybe you will never see them again… or they’ll become a future lab partner, coworker, date to an SYR, or even best friend. All I am saying is that you can’t learn too many new names.

2. North or South Dining Hall?

This question is infamous at Notre Dame. On campus there are two dining halls. They both feature extremely similar foods but the aesthetic, table setup, and minor details are completely unique. North comes across as more modern with a greater variety in places to sit. South on the other hand is classic. The one open large dining room reminds me of Hogwarts. Personally, I lived in Pasquerilla West across the street from North. Therefore, I must swear that the food there is better. This is an epic question to ask because people have very strong opinions. AND it’s a great way to suggest getting lunch with new friends.

3. What are you involved in on campus?

Coming into freshmen year, most students will not know what they plan to do outside of class for the next four years. However, upperclassmen are an amazing resource to learn about various activities, jobs, clubs, and sports. Try to learn about as many opportunities as possible from the start. Additionally, go to events such as the club fair and social concerns fair. Get on lots of email lists and then narrow down what you like after going to meetings and talking to involved students. You can find clubs for all sorts of purposes such as staying active, furthering your career, exploring different cultures, just for fun and so much more.

4. How do I get involved with…?

Take getting involved a step further. If you are interested in an activity, club, event, etc. on campus, ask questions. Never assume it is too late to join or that you aren’t qualified.

5. Are you hiring?

I have had two jobs on campus since my freshmen year. In the early fall of my freshman year, I emailed my rector to ask if I could work in the mailroom in my dorm. There were no postings for the job but since I reached out, I was hired. I had also emailed the director of the Notre Dame admissions interns right before my freshman year. Although I did not receive a job offer right away, I was invited to interview the following January and was hired. My point here is that if you want to work for someone, ask! The worst they can say is no.

6. Can we get coffee/ set up a phone call/ get lunch?

If you are interested in getting to know someone, don’t be afraid to ask them to chat. For instance, I asked a girl my freshman year to get lunch and from that day ended up winning a case competition that sent us to Dallas, Texas for the Deloitte National Case Competition.

7. How was studying abroad?

Upperclassmen on campus have great advice and experience. This experience is especially important when making big decisions. I received a lot of really great advice about my upcoming trip to France by reaching out to other students who studied in France.

8. What classes should I take?

This is another great question for upperclassmen or students in your major. Notre Dame students are always happy to give advice on the most fun and interesting classes. Pay attention to class times and professors. Additionally, think about if you prefer classes with more homework, exams, essays, activities, or readings. Set yourself up for success by choosing the best class structure to maximize your learning experience.

9. Can you tell me about your perspective on…?

I love that the Notre Dame community hosts such diverse perspectives, goals, and passions. I’ve really enjoyed all the amazing conversations I’ve had since my freshmen year. Some of the most memorable conversations have focused on the arts, travel, justice, business and religion. Don’t be afraid to ask others about what they believe.

10. Why is your religion important to you? How do you practice?

This question has helped me explore and deepen my Catholic faith at Notre Dame. There are certainly many Catholic students here but talking to students of many different religions and Christian denominations has really helped me better understand how and why to practice. Some of my very best friends are not Catholic but I always get so much from our conversations about religion. I also feel that there are the best religious resources here in the world. When I needed some explanations about Catholicism, it was easy for me to reach out to the chaplain of my honors program for advice.

My goal with highlighting these questions is to encourage prospective students to utilize all opportunities and resources while at Notre Dame. The most valuable aspect of my Notre Dame education has been the relationships I have formed as a student here. I have met my best friends on campus, deepened my faith, advanced my career, and made memories that will last me a lifetime.