South Bend bound: Williams works through pandemic admissions process

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Hey, best laid plans, meet the pandemic.

Cotter senior Aubrey Williams had long set her sights on attending a highly competitive college. To put herself in a position to achieve this goal she put in hard work throughout high school, boasting an impressive academic record and excelling in many activities.

The payoff for these efforts was threatened, however, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, throwing a wrench in the college selection and application process for all high school seniors. Williams persevered through this challenge, just as she has all the other challenges her high school career has brought her.

Aubrey’s grades are matched by her extracurricular success. She participates in cross country, speech, basketball, track, band, marching band, piano lessons, and yearbook.  She has served as a captain on the cross country, speech, and track teams and had the leadership role of drum major in the marching band. She has seen success in each of these activities, qualifying for the state tournament in cross country and speech, and earning first chair in band. This heavy involvement  comes with its challenges, however, and time management has become an essential skills for Aubrey.

“I have to focus on what I’m doing in the moment to keep me from getting overwhelmed. If I’m at cross country practice, I focus on running. If I’m studying for math, I focus on math,” Williams said.

After putting in tremendous effort into her goal for her first two and a half years of high school, Aubrey came across an unprecedented obstacle, a global pandemic. 

“Covid made it difficult to find an ACT date, forced you to communicate with your school counselors completely virtually, and made most campus tours unavailable. I was fortunate enough to get to take the ACT in July in Rochester, but the process was very stressful,” Williams said.

Williams difficulties navigating the admissions process during the pandemic were not unique, her classmates faced the same obstacles.

“Covid made us lose access to resources, I felt like I was flying solo,” Ellie Macal said.

“I struggled visiting colleges. I felt very on my own and I had no idea what to do,” Trinity Schmidtknecht said.

Do what you’re passionate about; get involved in the activities you really care about”

— Aubrey WIlliams

With her top tier test scores, grades, and extracurricular resume, Williams had to wade through the deluge of choices and eventually decided that the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, was her top choice. Notre Dame, a school with an acceptance rate of only 17.7 percent, is looking for exceptional applicants, and there is no better word to describe Aubrey than exceptional.

“Before my sophomore year I used to talk about going to schools like Harvard, but as I grew older I realized that the factors of faith and location were very important to me. At Notre Dame, I will be able to be closely connected with my Catholic faith and stay in the Midwest,” said Williams. 

Her tour of the college also drew her in.

“When I visited Notre Dame, there was a unique sense of community. I didn’t feel that community anywhere else I toured.”

Williams overcame the problems posed by the pandemic  through thorough research. Spending lots of time on the “Applying to College” subreddit, she found advice on how to effectively present your strengths on your college application. The forum even provided her Notre Dame specific advice, which was invaluable. 

Williams work ethic and drive made an impression on her teachers, like Emily Shriver.  Shriver taught Williams in English for two years and has been one of her speech coaches and yearbook club adviser.

“She has a tenacious work ethic, is a deep thinker, and will do whatever it takes to excel,”  Shriver said about Williams. “She is also a kind and warm-spirited leader in all the activities, clubs, and sports she is involved in.”  

In addition to Aubrey’s teachers, her friends have noticed her efforts.

“Aubrey gets things done way before they are due. She puts in her best effort into all of her assignments, even the ones that do not require her to go so in-depth,”  Schmidtknecht said.

Her parents, naturally,  are also proud of their daughter’s work ethic.

“As parents, we see just how much work she puts into everything she does and how she approaches everything, from academics, to athletics, to music,” said her father, Winona Chief of Police, Tom Williams.

Now that she has overcome these challenges, Williams is looking towards the future. She is deciding between attending Notre Dame and Drake University, but is leaning towards Notre Dame. For her major, she is debating between English and Political Science, which she would follow up with law school. She is also considering an actuarial science or a math major, but is leaning towards the humanities. 

Having navigated the difficult admissions process this year, Aubrey has some advice for younger students.

“Do what you’re passionate about; get involved in the activities you really care about and that will shine through on your application. College admissions officers want people who care and act on what they care about. People will tell you to have a peak in your application, being really good at one thing instead of mediocre at a lot of things. You should do what makes you happy, not just what you think will get you into college,” Williams said.

William’s acceptance to Notre Dame is well-deserved and was achieved through her intelligence, hard work and perseverance through obstacles.  The reward came from Notre Dame  in the message she received when she opened her student portal, “Welcome Home!”