A Reassuring Perspective on Private School Admissions: An Interview with Alec Moss, Director of Admissions at Notre Dame High School

  • November 2, 2017

We recently had the chance to sit down with Alec Moss, Director of Admissions at Notre Dame High School, and were happy to find that there are a lot more ways than one to success when it comes to private school admissions.

A Notre Dame graduate, Moss headed east to attend Xavier University in Ohio. However, like so many people, the pull of friends and family eventually brought Alec back home where he’s happily been the Director of Admission at Notre Dame for over eight years.

Alec’s love for the school is obvious, and it’s easy to see that his passionate commitment to Notre Dame will continue to push the school in a positive direction. Moss is always on the look out for student who share a passion for life, education and extracurricular activities that will enrich the individual as well as the school for years to come.

More than anything Alec points out that admissions should really be about finding the right fit. “There’s a lot of great schools in the valley and you just have to find the right fit for your family.”  The goal is to bring in as much good information about the student and the school. “My goal is to give as much information to these families as I can, so they know this is a place they want to be. When kids come here, we want them to stay, we want them to be active and enjoy their four years of high school and then be prepared for college, but always have a place to come back to.” Moss wants students to be proud of the time they spend with Notre Dame.

The admissions process.

The admissions process is about finding that perfect fit and Moss looks for certain attributes from students. “They have to be okay with being in a competitive environment, and when I say competitive, I mean there’s a lot of people who are very talented in a lot of different ways and they are all striving to be at the top of their game.” Alec also admits that while a competitive edge is crucial, there’s room for many different types of talent and that attitude makes all the difference. “It’s not like you can’t have multiple people who strive for greatness. We want our students to be active—we want them to come every day, ready to learn, ready to participate and have a smile on their face… those are the types of students that I feel do the best.” Keeping busy and taking on challenges with a positive enthusiasm is crucial. Ultimately, it’s less about the resume and more about the way students take on challenges.

There is a reality of competitiveness in the application process, which is why students are encouraged to apply to multiple schools and Alec pointed out that there are some really good charter and magnet programs being developed that can be a great alternative to private school. When it comes to two applicants with equal qualifications, the admissions department might get more granular in their requirements. Notre Dame keeps their eye out for students that scored between 80 and 90 on the HSPT and puts a lot of weight in recommendations from teachers and principals. He also notes that students who take the HSPT test at Notre Dame get into the first batch of applicants, increasing their chance of receiving an open spot. However, Alec says that ultimately if the school thinks two equal students would be a great fit, they try and make room for both rather than fixating on number scores. Over the last three years, they’ve had roughly 1,000 applications each year for approximately 340 openings—which is pretty stiff competition. Despite the appearance of a tough application process, Alec stresses again that if a student is the right fit and has the right attitude, there’s a good chance the school can make room for them.

Moss encourages students and parents to become saturated in the school culture as much as possible as part of their decision process. “The best advice I can give to students is to get on campus, be familiar with our programs, identify what they want to pursue while they are here and be ready to share that during the application and interview process.” He encourages students to dive into the culture of the school and not focus solely on the paper application. “Go to a school event on a weekend, talk to your neighbors that went to the school here and learn what worked for their kid and what didn’t work for them.” Moss also understands that parents often want to get a head start on the process and some people are thinking about high school admission as early as kindergarten. While he recognizes the value of starting early, he also points out that a lot can change at a school over a period of time that long. “Things are going to change, your administration might change, the classes offered might change, there might be more or less offered. So you have to stay current, but don’t jump in too early and don’t worry about it when you’re in the third grade.”

Misconceptions you can forget about when it comes to Notre Dame.

We asked Alec to dispel some of the most popular misconceptions he feels people have when it comes to applying to Notre Dame. One major misconception is that student think they need to be Catholic to be considered. Alec says that this isn’t the case at all, “The truth is we’re about 65% Catholic, 35% non-Catholic and when you step onto our campus, we have students from all different races and religions who are really happy here, and feel really comfortable.”

Another major misconception that comes from Notre Dame’s great reputation as a competitive sports school is that students must be athletes. A notion which Alec is quick to dispel. “I think if you look around the valley at high schools in the area, every one of them for the most part offers athletics and they all want to be successful and put a lot of money into that. We obviously are passionate about our sports program but without the academic success of our students, there wouldn’t be a sports program.” Alec points out that Notre Dame stands on its academics first and foremost, and while they love and support the sports programs, academics remains the most important focus.

Another misconception people have about the school is that they function with large class sizes when in fact the opposite is true. “It’s important for us to have small classes so our students know who our teachers are and so our teachers know our students. We keep our class sizes at 15-25 students. Our teachers are involved with them and pride themselves on knowing them individually – they know their strengths and weaknesses and focus on helping them succeed!” Just because Notre Dame is a larger school, people automatically assume that their children won’t receive one on one attention and Moss is quick to point out that there is value in the larger overall size of the student body. “I would say students definitely get that personal attention but at the same time, they’re learning valuable skills of speaking up for themselves, going and talking to a teacher if they have a problem or you have a question about an assignment.” In some ways, the large student body provides students with real world coping skills they might not develop otherwise. He says, “Parents need to allow their student to maybe fall down a few times and not have controlled help in every piece of their education during these four years. Notre Dame is a school where we provide a ton of support but we’re not going to spoon feed our students.“

The Interview Process.

The interview process can make a lot of students—especially introverted or shy individuals—nervous. However, going along with the notion of genuinely getting to know prospective students and sculpting the perfect fit, Notre Dame takes great care in the process and involves everyone in the faculty. Moss says, “It could be anyone—from a dean to a vice-principal to a science department chair or the people in my admissions office—who conducts the interview. The interview process for us, is about putting a face to a name, it’s hearing about what the student wants to be involved in, it’s learning about their favorite subject, what they know about the school, and why they want to be here.” Alec says that the most important thing that students can strive for in the interview process is being true to themselves. “I want honesty. I want to see that they’re genuine, and I want to see that it’s not rehearsed. I want to know they actually know about our school and see they’ve actually done their homework. Because those are the kids who stay, those are the kids who do the best. It’s great when I hear they’ve been to two or three shows or say their neighbor went to school here and the family loved it. Those type of things make you feel like they really know what they’re jumping into and they know what they’re getting into by attending Notre Dame.”

It’s refreshing to hear from an admissions director at a prestigious school like Notre Dame that parents and students shouldn’t spend their time stressing about the admissions process, but rather focus on cultivating and nurturing students passions. Because there isn’t one single or “right” path to admission, it’s ultimately better for students to find their happy place. And while some parents supplement their student’s application with lots of additional material, others don’t, and while that supplemental information can be helpful, it’s not necessary for acceptance. Alec says “You know, you got time. Worry about finding what your kid’s interest are and how you can support those things in a realistic way. Those are the types of things that are important as opposed to worrying about the next step. That attitude can put tremendous pressure on the student”

A last note on tuition and financial aid.

When it comes to paying for school, Alec said it shouldn’t be cause for stress. Students who score on the HSPT in the 95th percentile or better receive an academic grant worth $2500 off tuition for four years which is basically a ten thousand dollar discount. And it’s not uncommon to receive that. Over 25% of the students in their current freshman class qualify for this. If a family doesn’t have the resources to pay the tuition even with the grant, Notre Dame offers financial aid as well. Moreover, Alec points out that the admissions department doesn’t use financial status to make admission decisions. “We don’t look at that, we do the yes’s and the no’s before we look at who is applying for financial aid. I don’t even have the list of who’s applied for financial aid until after the fact.”

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