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March 31, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Junior is the latest from Notre Dame Prep to get a rare 36 on the ACT exam.

Notre Dame Prep junior Maria VanDieren is looking forward to an exciting career in the sciences or medicine. But before college and before that future career, VanDieren is working on finishing her high school career, which for her and her classmates at NDP as well as those around the world has been like no other.

"This school year and the second half of last school year have been very different from previous years since we've been dealing with virtual learning, social distancing, masks and definitely more anxiety," she said. "But I am grateful and appreciative to be back in school versus working from home."

She's also grateful for how Notre Dame Prep responded in 2020 to the pandemic.

"I think the closure of our school last March was extremely important and obviously necessary under those circumstances," she said. "The NDPMA leadership has always stressed that one of their main goals is to keep the students and staff safe."

Now, with the negative effects of the pandemic on education waning — fingers crossed — VanDieren is focused on getting to the next step in her academic journey. In fact, she found out last month that she earned a 36 on her most recent ACT, the highest score possible on the college-readiness test.

In rare company

"I was very happy to find out my score," she said. "During school on March 18, I received an email that said the scores were available, but I waited until I got home to check. I reloaded the page a couple of times to make sure the 36 was actually mine, and it took a minute for it to sink in."

VanDieren is the second NDP student this year and the 13th since 2009 to earn the very rare 36. 

The average ACT composite score nationally is 20.8 and for Michigan, it's 24.4. A perfect ACT score of 36 is rare in the state as well as in the U.S. — fewer than one half of one percent who take the test achieve a 36.

For VanDieren, this year's ACT was her second attempt at perfection.

"The first time I took the ACT was in December 2020, and I earned a 35," she said. "So I figured, 'Why not?' I thought I could try another time, since getting that 35 meant that a 36 might be achievable." 

VanDieren said she was grateful for how Notre Dame Prep responded in 2020 to the pandemic.

Where she takes that 36 score and her Notre Dame Prep education is still up for grabs, however, said the St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic School product.

"I am not quite sure yet where I want to attend college," she said. "I know I will apply to the University of Michigan because I have a lot of family who are Wolverines. And I’m not 100 percent sure yet about a major either, but I do intend to study something in the sciences." 

A little laughter in physics class

One of her NDP science teachers thinks VanDieren will be more than ready for college no matter where she goes.

"Maria has an incredibly strong work ethic and she always seeks opportunities for growth and learning," said Jennifer Pakkala, a science and physics teacher at Notre Dame. 

"If she's working on something and has a question, she never hesitates to ask it, and that is one of the traits that enables her to reach the level of academic success that she's had thus far. She doesn't let a concept go by if she doesn't quite understand it." 

VanDieren seems to be on the same page as her physics teacher.

"Notre Dame has challenged me academically and helped me further develop my work ethic," she said. "Based on my older brothers’ experiences here, I think I will be well prepared for college."

In addition, she says, she's thoroughly enjoyed being in a school environment that allows her to strengthen her faith, offers opportunities to help others, and encourages her to be a better person.

"This is due to all the outstanding people I have met at NDP, including fellow students, teachers and coaches," she said. "I've tried to make the most of my experience here by getting involved in different bands, playing softball, and participating in clubs." 

Pakkala notes that beyond academics, VanDieren is a delight to teach and be around.

"Maria is just a wonderful person, period," she said. "She is kind and caring, always willing to help another student and always very patient. She also has a good sense of humor and clearly enjoys the little bit of laughter that comes with every physics class." 

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at