Duchess -- the money part is the trickiest but the most important/helpful to get figured out.
Just about every private school (from Whatev University to Yale) has a sticker price north of $50k. But the average net price of those schools is typically about half the sticker.
But you don't pay the average net price. You only pay your individual net price, which is a tricky calculus based on your finances and your kid's qualifications and the profile /finances of the particular school.
Think of the kids sitting in a freshman english class like passengers on a plane flight. They are all getting the same class/flight, but everyone is paying a different price. Some pay full sticker; some have need aid; some have merit aid; some have in-state tuition, etc. etc. etc.
At ND (and other schools too) if you have the time, eat lunch in the cafeteria. If you sit at a table populated with other students, they'll probably engage you in conversation. We found that a lot of the most valuable info we gleaned on campus visits cam from our lunch conversations.
At ND, one of the kids at our table offered to show my kid their dorm (since a dorm visit wasn't included in the regular tour).
Also (again if you have time) see if there is a hoops or hockey or other game happening on the day you visit. Another good chance to see the ND students in their natural habitat.
Here's the USNWR selectivity index score of some of the schools that have been mentioned. It should give you a rough sense of how these schools might compare to each other.
Gtown # 21
You definitely want to come up with a balanced list of schools for your particular profile.
While all the schools suggested would be "safer" than Vandy or Gtown, they're probably more from low reach to match for you.
Fordham and SMU are probably in your safety zone.
The lower ranking for Tufts is surprising to me, even though they show a 14% admit rate. Could be evidence of so-called Tufts Syndrome (i.e. keeping their stats up by deferring a lot of high stat Ivy-aspiring kids using Tufts as a back up). Tulane has been known to do that too.
So you might want to dig into the details on those two. Those schools might be good targets for you, especially if you show a lot of interest (Tulane) or apply ED (Tufts).
"Notre Dame is willing to fight this battle to the death and is okay with students, even really good students, deciding to go somewhere else."
Exactly right. If you've ever been there, you will find out that ND is absolutely overflowing with kids who really get ND, had ND as their #1 choice, and are absolutely thrilled to be there. If a smart kid really doesn't get and buy into ND, they won't even apply and ND is good with that.
The only other schools I've seen that are in the same ballpark in terms of a distinct and strong culture and community are USNA and USMA. Here's the number about ND that blew me away when my kid was applying. If you are a Catholic kid in the U.S. and you have top 1% stats as a HS student, 50% of those kids nation-wide apply to ND. 50%!!
And the endowment per student is just behind Dartmouth and ahead of the EPS at NW, Chicago, Duke, Penn, WUSTL, Emory, Vandy, Brown, Columbia or Cornell.