College is partly about connections, especially for students who attend a larger research university. This is one of the reasons that the most selective research universities are so popular with the best and brightest college-bound high school students.

But if someone were to choose a research university for the undergraduate educational experience as well as the possible connections they could make, especially in a pre-professional major, what would be the “best connected” school?

A large state university, especially one that appears high in rankings such as the University of Michigan or the University of California-Berkeley? Perhaps, especially for a student who lives in Michigan or California. But those schools are very large. The classroom experience is very large, too. Maybe larger than an excellent student might like.

An Ivy League school, or a similar school such as Stanford or the University of Chicago? Perhaps, depending on the school. An engineering degree from Stanford, especially one backed by excellent grades, will be an excellent ticket to a job after graduation or a very fine graduate degree program. However, most of these schools are not as large as some would think. Harvard, for example, has around 7,000 undergraduates.The University of Chicago has fewer than 3,000. Rice has slightly more than that. Harvard and Chicago are also mainly liberal arts schools for undergraduates. The more career-oriented education for their graduates happens on the job or in graduate school.

If not a famous state university or a mid-sized Ivy or Ivy-like school, than which research university is the best connected for its undergraduates?

It’s the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is a truly national university with approximately 8,500 undergraduates, about the same as Stanford. Among the Ivy League schools, only Cornell and Penn have larger undergraduate student bodies. Only seven percent of its undergraduate student body comes from Indiana. While the largest cohort of Notre Dame alumni are based in Chicago, according to LinkedIn, and nearly 6,000 have stuck around South Bend, nearly 7,000 are based in and around New York City. There are no fewer than 2,200 Notre Dame alumni based in each one of these metropolitan areas: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC and just under 1,900 in and around Philadelphia.

Notre Dame also has:

  • The nation’s 22nd ranked career center, based on a 2010 survey of entry-level recruiters by the Wall Street Journal. Among private research universities, only the career centers at Carnegie Mellon, Brigham Young and Cornell ranked higher. Notre Dame ranked ahead of football rival Southern Cal, a larger undergraduate school, among others.
  • Participate in national virtual job fairs with schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten. Notre Dame is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference for all sports, excluding football. But its location less than two hours from Chicago, and the desirability of its graduates, put the university into Hire Big Ten Plus, an event that also includes DePaul University and the University of Chicago. Notre Dame is the only university in the US that enjoys this benefit.
  • An average alumni giving rate of 42 percent over the past two years, according to US News. For the sake of comparison,  Harvard’s alumni giving rate was 35 percent. Only Princeton alumni are more loyal than Notre Dame alumni. But Princeton has over 3,000 fewer undergraduates and therefore smaller graduating classes than Notre Dame. In addition to real alumni who earned degrees from Notre Dame, there is probably no other college in the US that has as many “subway alumni” who wish they could have gone to Notre Dame and/or cheer vigorously for their football team.
  • The base helped to raise over $2 billion in the university’s last capital campaign which ended in 2014. This was the most successful capital campaign ever concluded not only by a national Catholic university, but also any university, public or private, that does not have a medical school. According to the National Association of College and U nievrsity Business Officers, only 43 US colleges had total endowments of over $2 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2015, and 34 of them have medical schools.  Notre Dame’s endowment of $8.6 billion ranked 12th in the country, the largest of any religiously-affiliated school in the US. Among schools that do not have a medical school, it ranked second only to MIT.
  • A four-year graduation rate of 91 percent, better than Harvard, Princeton or Yale, among many others. Notre Dame does a slightly better job of graduating its students although it is a larger and slightly less selective university. However, the student who would consider Notre Dame versus an Ivy League university would never dare to apply to Notre Dame as a safe school.
  • One of the strongest college brand names in the world. Watch the Irish play football on TV and you can see some reasons why. However, the university has been very cautious about being featured in cinema. Only two movies: Knute Rockne, All American, featuring Pat O’Brien and Ronald Reagan and Rudy featuring Ned Beatty and Sean Astin, have been filmed on campus and shown publicly. A third movie, titled Two Miles from Home, a story of Haley Scott, a former Notre Dame swimmer who was paralyzed in a bus accident while returning from a meet at Northwestern University, was approved for filming by the university’s administration in 2011.

The best measures of a research university for an undergraduate are not those that talk about a freshman class that has not yet completed a semester of classes, or about the awards earned by faculty, many of whom teach only small numbers of undergraduates outside of lecture classes. The best measures are those that tell you what a school will do for its students and alumni. There are great research universities in the US that will direct their students to greatness. But none leave as powerful a mark as Notre Dame.

For more insights on colleges and college connections, please contact me at or call me at 609-406-0062.

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