St. Columb’s College Student Earns Place at University of Notre Dame

Conal Fagan, Head Boy Emeritus, will be studying at the home of the ‘Fighting Irish’ for the next 4 years. Over the past year he has been supported in the application process by the Sutton Trust’s US Programme, which is run in partnership with the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

The aim of the Sutton Trust’s US Programme is to encourage academically talented, low and middle income UK students to consider studying at American universities. The 2016 - 2017 programme cohort comes from across the UK and 76% of the students admitted early will be the first in their family to go to university. Of the accepted students, 60% of participants are from households that earn less than £25,000 a year.

Last summer, Conal was one of 150 UK students who were selected to attend a summer school at Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After seeing off competition from over 1,600 applicants, Conal’s was rewarded with an intensive programme of support, delivered by the US-UK Fulbright Commission over a number of months before and after the US visit. This included admission tests, college choices and the application process. Conal is a keen advocate of how influential the Sutton Trust Programme was in his journey to reaching his decision.

“I was surrounded by the most intellectual students in the UK, all of whom were so nice. It’s pretty scary that a year has passed already since our first residential together. Some of these students will be attending Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and University of Chicago just to name a few.  If it weren’t for the Sutton Trust we would’ve got lost along the way a long time ago. The amount of time and resources which have been invested into the cohort has been pretty overwhelming.”

Support for the US Programme is provided by various sponsors including: Robertson Foundation; Bank of America Merrill Lynch; Peter Baldwin; Lisbet Rausing; Jerry del Missier; Neuberger Berman Foundation; EducationUSA; London Stock Exchange Group Foundation; and Big Change.

Penny Egan CBE, Executive Director of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, said:

“The consistent success of this programme demonstrates the enduring appeal of transatlantic student mobility; not just to the students themselves, but also to the universities who actively seek undergraduates from very diverse backgrounds across the pond. Initiatives supported by Fulbright and EducationUSA widen access to prestigious international opportunities.”

Conal is excited to see what lies ahead for him at this ‘Top 15 University’ in America.

“I have always been aware of the Notre Dame’s prestigious reputation. It’s the pinnacle of higher education for any Catholic in Ireland yet I was sceptical I would gain admittance. It is such a competitive university but they must have seen something special in my application which they liked.”

What made the decision even harder was the fact that Conal was also awarded the highly selective Morehead-Cain Scholarship at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

“The Morehead-Cain is an incredible programme which opens so many doors particularly with the global Alumni network and the chance to spend 4 summers anywhere in the world doing service projects and testing yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. I didn’t apply until two days before the deadline as I felt it wasn’t the right fit for me. However, as the process moved forward via various interview processes, I grew in love with it, and finalist weekend on campus was honestly one of the best weekends of my life- I met so many amazing people and created lifelong memories.”

Conal’s decision was certainly a tough one, with his decision only arriving the day preceding the deadline,

“The deadline for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship was April 11th so I knew that I would always be under pressure to make my decision after I returned from visiting Notre Dame on the Hesburgh International Scholars Experience, where admitted international students had the chance to experience life on campus.”

However, after being as a Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar (a spin-off of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship), while also advancing to the final stages of the AnBryce Scholars Initiative, this was the real deciding factor.

“The decision wasn’t an easy one but it really came down to what was best for me and my family in terms of financial aid, and also where I felt I would be able to challenged most academically. The opportunities which I will be afforded are endless. 98% of its graduates have a full-time job within their first 6 months after graduating so in terms of career prospects after my four years, it is very promising.”

In the academic year 2015-2016 more than 11,600 UK students were studying full-time at US institutions. Conal felt that the US system was much more beneficial to his academic journey than staying in the UK.

“I received all 5 offers from UK universities yet I had my heart set on the US route the first time that the possibility arose. The US Liberal Arts system allows for the development of the whole person rather than just limiting someone to the one area of study. Although the thought of doing another two semesters of maths isn’t the most appealing, I believe it will have great benefits in the long-term for me. I have ambitions of establishing my own Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) at some point in the future therefore I will need to be able to understand many concepts in various fields of study.”

“I cannot wait to begin my new adventure in America and I really would encourage as many young students to go abroad and experience a new culture. One of the things which I’m looking forward to most is going to the American football games where 84,000 fans will be packed in to cheer on the boys in blue and gold. The spirit at college sporting events is difficult to put into words.”

Of course one downside will be the weather, which can drop to as low as -25°C in the winter, but Conal remains upbeat despite this.

“The climate will be pretty similar to our own here but it’s not something that I’m worrying about too much. I’ll be able to spend my holidays on a sunny beach somewhere on the coast so it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

We wish Conal every success in his future endeavours.