To begin the comparison, I’ll start off with a discussion of campus life. Both have their advantages and drawbacks.
Notre Dame is a school that is regulated by a huge book of rules called DuLac. These rules govern a student’s personal life as well as academic career. Many describe their experience at Notre Dame as being in a bubble separated from the rest of the world. One visit to the campus shows why. It is its own city, it has its own rules, and it has the image of being perfect. The food at Notre Dame has been among the top ranked in U.S. colleges for several years. On the negative side, there is little diversity on campus. Most of the students are upper-class Caucasians. In addition, many of the rules are very prohibitive. Sexual relationships are not allowed, even when students move off campus or leave campus to go home for the summer. After midnight on weeknights, any members of the opposite sex are required to leave the dorm.
Life at Notre Dame feels regulated sometimes, and there is constant pressure to obey the rules. In general, Notre Dame’s campus is much more compact and restricted. For some, this may give a sense of security while others may feel boxed in. If you go to Notre Dame, you will find an immediate group of friends when you move into your dorm. The dorms at Notre Dame are much like fraternities and sororities at other universities. Many students stay in their dorms all four years because of the close ties they form with the people who they live with.
Student life at Indiana is less focused on a university-defined set of rules, and more based on law, as is typical at many public universities. The dorms are co-ed, and you are free to do what you want for the most part. There is a much more open feel to the campus, and you will meet people from all walks of life. As with Notre Dame, Indiana seems to lack racial diversity. There are a good number of African American and international students, but they are overshadowed by the huge majority of Caucasians. Surprisingly, IU has stricter alcohol policies than Notre Dame. At IU, if you are caught drinking in the dorms, there could be serious consequences. At Notre Dame, even officials with the highest authority are likely to turn the other way when they see drinking. They would rather have the students in a controlled environment than partying elsewhere.
While Notre Dame seems to want to keep you inside its own community, IU encourages you to explore opportunities around the city. On-campus housing is not as attractive at IU. By the end of the year in my dorm, I only knew the names of four people on my floor. There wasn’t the “family” feeling as you would likely encounter at ND. Almost everyone moves off-campus by their sophomore year. There is a strong Greek presence in Bloomington. Living in a fraternity or sorority isn’t necessary to have a social life, but it definitely helps. IU gives you the true experience of being free and on your own. If you’re looking for freedom after escaping from mom and dad, IU might be the better experience.
Next, I’ll talk about the academic structures of the two schools. While the sheer intelligence of Notre Dame’s students cannot be denied, Indiana has some very potent academic departments.
Obviously, at Notre Dame you are surrounded by people with good SAT scores and high school GPAs of around 4.0. I would say that the core classes at Notre Dame encourage you to think outside the box much more than the courses at IU. Everyone is required to take philosophy and theology. The projects, assignments, and tests given at Notre Dame are much more open ended. Notre Dame is world-renowned for their philosophy and theology departments, and the university places a lot of emphasis on these courses. It is evident just by looking at the buildings that the university prides these studies, while other areas, such as psychology and biology, fall by the wayside. I feel that Notre Dame gives you a less practical education, but prepares you very well to be a critical thinker in any situation that you face. Unless you are a genius, if you don’t work hard at ND, you won’t succeed. Although I never pulled an all-nighter at Notre Dame, I know plenty of people who did.
The three major groups of required classes at IU are English, Arts & Humanities, and Social & Historical. Due to the huge number of people, there are a huge number of courses available and you will likely find a class that interests you. The work at IU is less open ended. Instead of asking you to create a scenario, projects and homework will ask you direct questions from the book or lecture. The most highly regarded departments at IU are the business school and the school of music. The business school is one of the top ranked in the nation. If you were to ask a business recruiter whether they would prefer a student from IU or Notre Dame, they would probably either choose the IU candidate or have no preference. The diploma from Notre Dame looks more impressive and there are stronger alumni ties, but the Indiana degree is still very competitive. From personal experience, I know that the recruiters like IU students. I am in the second year of the business school curriculum and I was recently offered an internship position paying $17/hour. At IU, the work week is much more relaxed, and you can get by with some procrastination.
Personally, I prefer IU because there is a better play to work ratio, and the environment is more enjoyable. I found more people who were similar to me at IU. The education at IU seems like it’s the slimmed down version of what you would encounter at Notre Dame. There are challenging courses, but there are also easy courses to balance them out. I also enjoy the increased freedom at IU. From my perspective, the philosophy and theology courses at Notre Dame are basically useless, and you don’t have a choice; you have to take them. The one thing that I truly miss about Notre Dame is the football team. Indiana sports have seen a decline in recent years and there isn’t much to cheer about. When it comes down to it, both are great universities. If you want to be a priest or philosopher, go to Notre Dame. If you want a well-rounded and practical education, save yourself some money and give IU a try. These are supposed to be the best days of our lives, so I figured I should enjoy myself while I can, and IU allows me to do that.