Founded in 1842, The University of Notre Dame du Lac is the premier private Catholic university in the United States. Its midwestern setting in South Bend, Indiana belies a truly cosmopolitan campus, which includes such landmarks as the Golden Dome, the historic Basilica of the Sacred Heart church, and the Word of Life mural (better known as “touchdown Jesus”).
Some of the most influential figures in politics, science, and the arts have graduated from Notre Dame, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nobel Laureate Eric F. Wieschaus, and bestselling author Nicholas Sparks. The University looms large in popular culture, playing an important role in television shows such as The West Wing and Parks and Recreation, as well as films such as Knute Rockne, All American and Rudy. Those two films focus on Notre Dame’s famed football program, which has won 13 national championships and produced seven Heisman Trophy winners.
But even more impressive than its famous alumni and successful football program are Notre Dame’s many achievements in research. Professor Joseph Green was the first American to send a wireless message, while Professor Julius Nieuwland contributed to the invention of neoprene. The school houses one of the country’s first nuclear accelerators and leads the world in nuclear physics. Standout faculty in the Humanities include novelist Richard T. Sullivan, pioneering Christian literary critic Frank O’Malley, and philosopher Kenneth Sayre.
Even today, the University remains a leader in several research fields, with programs such as the Medieval Institute, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and the Center for Social Concerns. The school leads the nation in fellows from the National Endowment for the Humanities with 65.
No one will dispute Notre Dame’s credentials. But is it an Ivy League school?
Is Notre Dame an Ivy League School?
The University of Notre Dame is not an Ivy League school.
Let’s make sure we’re clear on the terms. Rather than an academic designation, the Ivy League is a Division I NCAA athletic conference. Founded in 1958, the Ivy League consists of eight private research schools, including Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.
That said, because it includes some of the oldest and most respected schools in the country, the “Ivy League” has become shorthand for “good school.” When people ask if a particular college or university is in the Ivy League, they’re not inquiring about its upcoming football schedule; they’re asking if the school has impressive teachers and if it graduates exceptional students.
Except for Cornell University (formed in 1865) all of the Ivy League schools were established before the founding of the United States. More importantly, the Ivy League schools boast the highest academic standards, a devotion to research, and a long line of distinguished alumni. It’s no wonder that the Ivies have some of the most selective admissions standards in the world.
In many ways, Notre Dame matches the schools listed here. As we’ve already seen, the University has produced remarkable alumni and remains at the forefront of academic research. It has high selection standards and enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the country.
However, Notre Dame is an independent school that belongs to no athletic conference. For that reason, the answer is ‘no.’ Notre Dame does not belong to the Ivy League.
Why Notre Dame Is Often Confused As an Ivy League School
Because people use Ivy League as a shorthand description of good colleges, many assume that Notre Dame is an Ivy League School. And they’re not wrong, at least in connotation. Notre Dame is easily one of the best schools in the country.
That said, Notre Dame tends to be less selective than most Ivy League schools. Where Harvard accepts only 4.9% of its applicants and Brown takes a mere 6.9%, Notre Dame accepted 4,055 of the 21,273 who applied in 2020. While a 19% acceptance rate may be higher than the Ivies, that is still a remarkably low acceptance rate, making Notre Dame harder to enter than the large majority of American schools.
More important than the acceptance rate, Notre Dame stands alongside the Ivy League schools due to its impressive endowment. In 2020, the University boasted a $12 billion endowment to operate its $1.7 billion budget for the year. According to bestschools.com, that sum makes Notre Dame the 13th richest school in the country, ahead of Ivies Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown. With such great resources, it’s no wonder that the school can devote itself to some of the most important scientific research globally, spending over $240 million in these pursuits in 2019.
So, if we’re being technical, Notre Dame is not an Ivy League school because it does not belong to any athletic conference. But as these statistics demonstrate, the University has all of the prestige, history, and spending power of the Ivy League. It deserves to belong on any list of the best schools in the world.
Notre Dame University: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
Although Notre Dame’s 19% acceptance rate may be higher than that of the Ivies, it is still among the most selective schools in the country. And it has to be selective, given its impressive rankings. Niche.com gives the University an A+ grade, citing its Academics, Value, and its Athletics. The site lists the school #4 on its list of Best Colleges for Student Athletes in America, #2 in Best Colleges in Accounting and Finance in America, and #1 in Best Catholic Colleges in America.
Coming in at #19 nationwide on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, Notre Dame stands alongside the Ivy League schools. The site also places the University at #7 for Accounting Degrees and #5 in Service Learning. Forbes.com concurs, putting Notre Dame #18 on its list of best American Colleges, and giving it special commendation as the third best school in the Midwest and #17 on the lists of Private Colleges and Research Universities.
The Washington Monthly, which ranks schools not according to money but by service, research, and social mobility, places Notre Dame at an impressive #23, noting the school’s strong graduation rate and high earnings for alumni.
While these numbers might be awe-inspiring, it’s essential to put them in context. The various scales that these publications use to come up with their rankings cover everything a college does, and not all of that will be important to you. As you consider Notre Dame as a possible choice, look at the special commendations these publications identify, such as the high earnings and its Catholic education. If you desire these aspects in your higher education, Notre Dame may rank even higher for you than Ivy League schools.
How to Get Into Notre Dame
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t easy to get into the University of Notre Dame. The school demands the most from its students and therefore accepts only the best of its thousands of applicants.
Students accepted into Notre Dame have an average GPA of 4.06, which means that they prefer straight-A students, many of whom take difficult AP and college-level courses in high school. Furthermore, while the ACT and SAT are now optional, admission councilors like to see high scores on both tests. The University expects SAT scores between 1400-1550, with reading scores between 680-760 and Math scores between 720-790. On the ACT, you must earn between 32-35 for the best chance at acceptance.
While those numbers are important, admission counselors at Notre Dame take a holistic approach to choosing students. According to their admissions website, the University wants to see applicants who are “involved—in the classroom, in the community, and in the relentless pursuit of truth.” Students can demonstrate this involvement with plenty of extracurricular activities to show their passions, as well as strong letters of recommendation from respected individuals.
While recommendations and extracurriculars are not a replacement for bad grades, they can make the difference for those falling a bit short on their GPAs and standardized test scores. These elements allow applicants to put their studies into perspective and to give the school a chance to see the whole person beyond mere numbers.
For that reason, students should pay special attention to the essay portion of their application. In the essay, you’ll answer the following question: “How do you hope a Notre Dame education and experience will transform your mind and heart?” Your answer will let the school understand your values and dreams. By looking at your success and failures, your hopes and dreams, admissions counselors will have their best criteria to decide if you’ll benefit from an education at Notre Dame, and if you’ll help the school further its already sterling reputation.
Recap: Notre Dame is Not an Ivy League School
If you have your heart set on an Ivy League school because you like the title, then Notre Dame is not the school for you. It does not belong to the Ivy League athletic conference and therefore is not an Ivie.
However, if you prioritize a rich learning experience, the best available facilities, and storied history, then you should undoubtedly consider Notre Dame. Not only does the school rank alongside the Ivies on nearly every academic metric, but it also has attributes that not even Harvard or Yale can offer.
As a highly selective school, the University of Notre Dame features an elite student body, taught by some of the most decorated teachers in the nation. Its unique landmarks and important research facilities, in everything from science to the humanities, give ambitious students everything they need to meet their goals.
And if athletics are significant to you, then Notre Dame won’t disappoint in that regard. Their football program is the stuff of legend, memorialized on television and the silver screen. Their athletic record even outshines those of most of the Ivy League schools.
So, while the University of Notre Dame is not an Ivy League school, it competes with those institutions in nearly every regard, and even besting them in some categories. Those who want a top-notch education in a school with a storied pedigree can do no better than Notre Dame. The University stands proudly alongside any school in the country, including every institution in the Ivy League.