How to Get Into Northwestern University

Alana Olswing

How to Get Into Northwestern University

So, you want to be a Wildcat. You want to picnic on the Lakefill, March through the Arch, and experience the Primal Scream. You want to bleed purple, brave Chicago winters, and follow in the footsteps of George R.R. Martin, Meghan Markle, and Stephen Colbert. And now you are wondering how to get into Northwestern. As an alum, both from Bienen and Kellogg, I am going to outline everything you need to know in order to be a successful applicant to Northwestern University. 

Overlooking the Chicago skyline, Northwestern is situated on a 240-acre campus on the shore of Lake Michigan, in suburban Evanston, Illinois. Known for its academic rigor and participation in the Big Ten athletic conference, the private research university recently ranked number nine in the U.S. News Best College Rankings. Northwestern’s Class of 2023 was shaped from an impressive 40,426 total applicants. With an all-time low 8.4% admit rate, more than 90% of the incoming students were in the top 10% of their high school graduating class. If that wasn’t enough, the middle 50% test scores for the SAT and ACT were 1440-1550 and 32-35, respectively. Obviously, the Class of 2023 were experts on how to get into Northwestern, and soon you will be too. 

Campus Overview

Both in the same location, but separated by an invisible line designated by the Norris University Center, Northwestern has two very distinct campuses: North Campus and South Campus. The different atmospheres can be attributed to the placement of academic buildings and the subsequent student populations. 

North Campus is host to the giant Technological Institute (Tech), impressive Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center (SPAC), and Fraternity Quad, lending the opportunity for STEM-based students and athletes to frequent the dorms and adjacent academic buildings. South Campus is home to the brand new Bienen School of Music, the Hogwarts-esque Deering Library, Medill School of Journalism, and a host of academic buildings dedicated to various liberal arts programs. These buildings, along with themed residential colleges, are perfect for students studying the humanities and arts. 

Academic Programs

Northwestern has six colleges for undergraduate students, all competitive and top-ranked for their respective programs:

  • Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences - Weinberg is the hub for students interested in studying just about anything that falls within the arts and sciences. Boasting 26 academic departments and majors within 47 different fields, students have the opportunity to explore an interdisciplinary education through a liberal arts curriculum. 
  • Bienen School of Music - Bienen is a nationally ranked music program with a conservatory-style curriculum. Talented students who have a successful audition work one-on-one with world-renowned faculty and play with award-winning ensembles.
  • McCormick School of Engineering - McCormick is a top-ranked school for engineering, boasting a rigorous curriculum that utilizes whole-brain engineering, the Northwestern concept that engineers should master both left-brain and right-brain thinking (i.e. analysis and logic, as well as creative problem solving and intuition).
  • School of Communication – School of Comm is the place to be for students interested in theater, radio/television/film (RTVF), or the academic study of communication. 
  • Social of Education and Social Policy – SESP is the school for students interested in studying education through academics. A lot of classes focus on learning from real case studies and hands-on work. Students can choose from five concentrations: Human Development in Context, Learning and Organizational Change, Learning Sciences, Secondary Teaching, and Social Policy. 
  • Medill School of Journalism – Medill is one of the top-ranked Journalism schools in the country. Students study journalism, media, and integrated marketing. Medill is known as one of the few programs to utilize the advancement of technology as a way to approach journalism education. 

What Does Northwestern Look For?

Northwestern’s mottos are “And is in our DNA” and “Choose your Northwestern Direction.” With over 73% of students opting to combine majors, it is safe to say that Northwestern appreciates those interested in various areas of study. One of the best features of a Northwestern education is the dual degree program. In just five years, undergraduates can earn two degrees between two of the six specialized schools. This means that students who have various interests and passions do not have to limit themselves to a single major or degree. You can study Violin Performance and Art History, Civil Engineering and Secondary Teaching, or Chemistry and Theatrical Design. The possibilities are endless. Expressing interest in this program is a great way to show dedication and expertise in various academic areas, and truly take your Northwestern Direction.  

Personal Statement 

Like other top universities, your personal statement needs to be unique, honest, and captivating. Northwestern wants students who will be a great fit for the friendly and robust campus environment, so being your true self and expressing that through your personal statement will give you a leg up! A typical Northwestern student is someone who is eager to learn and explore. Whether they are picking up extra classes beyond their major or joining a new student group, they are always busy, and excited about it. Showcasing your own curiosity for knowledge will signal you are a good fit for the campus environment. 

Supplemental Essay

In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here.

This is a simple “Why Northwestern” essay. The best way to answer this essay is to do your research about Northwestern and be honest. Go visit campus, talk to students, and browse the website. It would be a good idea to demonstrate a love for similar activities that are offered on campus. This can include involvement in organizations like the Northwestern Philharmonia (non-major orchestra), Associated Student Government, Dance Marathon, the Daily Northwestern, or even school spirit (Go Cats!). 

The bottom line is that you should gain as much knowledge about the resources and specific programs/clubs/activities Northwestern has to offer. This could include niche clubs like A&O Productions, Mediocretones, or BLAST (ballroom dancing). It could also include expressing excitement for unique resources like the Dearborn Observatory, the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP), or having access to the Block Museum. Once you know what you will be interested in, express your excitement!

You can read more about the Northwestern Supplemental Essays here.

Requirements and Deadlines 

Northwestern is on both the Common App and the Coalition App. You will need a school transcript, counselor recommendation, at least one teacher recommendation, SAT or ACT score (Northwestern does superscore), TOEFL (if an international student), and a mid-year report. If you are applying for the School of Music, you will need to audition. If you are homeschooled, you will need at least three SAT Subject Tests, otherwise Subject Tests are optional. The application fee is $75.

  • The Early Decision deadline is November 1st, 2019. The Early Decision acceptance rate in 2018 dropped to 25 percent; however, approximately half of the incoming class of 2022 was admitted through Early Decision. And compare the 25% acceptance rate to the Regular Decision 8.4% admit rate. This is a huge advantage to the applicants who are truly passionate about Northwestern! If you believe Northwestern is the place for you, ED is worth the commitment.
  • The Regular Decision deadline is January 2nd, 2020. 

Next Steps

As you think more about your application and candidacy to Northwestern, remember to be true to yourself. Northwestern students are friendly, engaged intellectually, and interested in diverse academic areas. If you can demonstrate how you will contribute to the amazing campus environment and utilize the top-notch resources, then you will have a shot! Go Cats!

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