Five Reasons to Explore Notre Dame’s Washington Program

Author: Patrick Smart

For the past three months, I have been living and working in Washington, D.C., through Notre Dame’s Washington Program. The Washington Program is a semester-long “study-abroad” experience where students take classes, work part-time jobs, and live in Washington, D.C. The program attracts students with various academic interests, from American studies and political science to sociology and economics.

The Washington Program is a highly unique off-campus semester experience. In this blog, I will give prospective students five reasons why they should consider exploring a semester in Washington, D.C., during their time at Notre Dame.

Patrick Smart spends a semester abroad in Washington D.C.

Professional Development

The mot evident change from a semester on Notre Dame’s campus to the Washington Program is your schedule. You will be working a 9 - 5 job four days a week. Students in the program work in many fields, from interning on the hill or researching for a think tank to working in finance or with a healthcare practitioner. This internship can give you practical professional experience in a field you have not yet ventured into or will allow you to explore an area of your academic interest more in-depth. Moreover, especially in Washington D.C., internships, especially government internships, can be incredibly competitive and challenging to come by during the summer. However, while fall and spring internships will still be competitive because of a generally smaller applicant pool, the Washington program can give you an edge when exploring more competitive programs. Additionally, in a networking-heavy city like Washington, D.C., the Washington program can give you ample time to network with professionals in a wide variety of fields. Chatting with Notre Dame alumni and professionals can help you find interest in career fields you might not have considered or not even known existed. These networking opportunities will move your career forward and further your ability to secure a future internship or job.

Change of Scenery

Notre Dame’s campus is easily one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country and definitely makes it hard to say goodbye for four months. However, spending an extended period of time in an entirely new environment can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of your college experience. I have loved exploring D.C.’s vibrant food scene and nightlife, visiting some of the U.S.’s most prominent museums and exhibits, and finding a new daily routine in an environment very different from that of campus. While at first, the change to Washington can be daunting, over time, finding your favorite spots to eat, study, or just relax can be an incredibly fulfilling and maturing experience. Even more, Notre Dame’s student housing is in the lovely Penn Quarter, a mere few meters from the National Mall and down the street from the Capitol and White House. This unique proximity to the city's center allows students to take full advantage of all D.C. has to offer easily.

A view in Washington D.C. during the beginning of cherry blossom season.


While taking classes at night after a long day at work might seem daunting at first, the incredible professors in the Washington program make the adjustment to this new schedule incredibly easy. The program offers classes on the foundations of public policy, U.S. foreign policy, Legislative politics, and the Monuments of Washington, D.C. These classes can help you fulfill your second philosophy requirement, your art requirement, or some of your political science major/minor requirements. Additionally, part of the Foundations of Public Policy class is public policy visits where Notre Dame alumni living and working in D.C. speak to your cohort about their work experiences and offer advice for your academic and professional careers. This unique access to some of the University’s leading Washington alumni has provided me with both clarity about my interests and also confidence about my capability to pursue a career in Washington in the future.

The People, in and outside of Notre Dame

An added benefit of the Washington Program is that your cohort will likely be a group of Notre Dame students from across campus whom you may not have met otherwise. This relatively small but diverse group of Notre Dame students can expose you to new perspectives, ideas, and people, some of whom will end up becoming your closest confidants in the city. Additionally, many internships in Washington will have interns from various schools and backgrounds. In my intern cohort, I work with individuals from Wake Forest, Baylor, Yale, Butler, Georgetown, and George Washington. Learning from and working with people outside Notre Dame will expand your network and give you a better understanding of the world outside of Notre Dame’s campus. These connections have become some of your closest friends in the city, and if you ever head back to the city after graduation, you will have a group of friends outside of Notre Dame to surround yourself with.

Experience History…firsthand

Washington D.C.’s role as the seat of the U.S. government gives you an incredibly unique firsthand look into U.S. politics and allows you to experience history firsthand. Over the course of my semester, I’ve been able to tour the Pentagon and Capitol, witness contentious Congressional hearings, and had my work directly apply to current political issues being debated. Never before have I felt so up-to-date and knowledgeable about the problems being discussed on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. This has provided me with a new love for the American political system and helped solidify areas of academic interest I hope to pursue during my career after Notre Dame.

Ultimately, Notre Dame’s Washington program is an incredibly unique offering at the University of Notre Dame. Your time in Washington will expand your knowledge of the American political process and reveal your skills and capabilities. Regardless of your academic background and interests, I highly recommend the Washington Program to any Notre Dame student!

Originally published by Patrick Smart at on April 01, 2024.