Northwestern, a beacon of strong academics located in Evanston, Illinois, currently occupies the 12th spot in US News and World Report’s National Universities rankings.

With an acceptance rate of 10.6%, Northwestern offers competitive programs in almost every academic field. In particular, the Medill School of Journalism is consistently ranked as the best journalism school in the world, and the School of Communication is renowned for its stellar theater program.

The average SAT score of accepted applicants is 1510, with an average weighted GPA of 4.13—meaning that most accepted applicants were close to the top of their class.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Northwestern is a selective school. This can be intimidating, especially when penning their essays for the first time. But we here at CollegeVine are here to help. Read on for helpful tips and tricks on tackling the Northwestern supplement.

“Why Northwestern” Statement (completion strongly recommended):

Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. 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.

Since Northwestern only has one 300-word supplemental essay, candidates with lots of information to convey may feel restricted by the lack of space. Thus, it is helpful to approach the prompt in two directions. First, discuss your interests and goals; second, explain how Northwestern will help you further these intellectual and personal endeavors.

 

A common trap many applicants fall into when writing is trying to cram their entire resume into this short essay. But listing off every single high school extracurricular is counterproductive and unnecessary—there is already a section for that in the Common Application. Instead, this essay is your time to piece together a cohesive picture of your character, drawing from the essence of your Common Application—the extracurriculars, the awards, the advanced classes, etc.—and explain why these ventures will best be realized at no other institution but Northwestern.

 

For example, if you are applying to the School of Journalism, you would be ill-advised to dedicate one paragraph to your love for speech and debate, one paragraph to your leadership of the school magazine, and one paragraph to your internship at the local newspaper over the summer, though you may love these three activities equally. Instead, choose a single interest to discuss.

For example, you could write about your ability to influence with storytelling, and then explain how Northwestern’s unique journalism residency program for undergraduates’ junior and senior years will help you expand your audience. By focusing on one or two skills, your essay as a whole will present more depth, as opposed to the breadth evidenced by your Common Application.

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Moreover, adding “flavor” to the essays by elaborating on your personal connection with your chosen interests, and the unique contributions you have made to them are also critical to your candidacy. Remember that you do not have to win a Nobel Prize or cure cancer to engage your readers and make them feel that you will add to the excellence of the institution. Uniqueness is conveyed through personal anecdotes, narrated with a detailed voice.

If you are passionate about biomedical engineering, do not write: “I love the intersection between biology and engineering.” Everyone majoring in biomedical engineering also finds such overlap appealing. Instead, start the essay with an anecdote about how when you missed school because of a stomach flu, you spent the long hours in bed sketching designs of ingestible micro-machines that could disseminate antibiotics more efficiently than regular medicine, thinking of the pain it would spare you and millions of other people.

Not only is this specific anecdote a more appropriate way of conveying to the reader that biomedical engineering already permeates your life, it also implies that you are inventive and industrious with your time. This supplement is only 300 words, so using specific anecdotes like this with multiple layers of meaning is essential to saturating the space with as much content as possible.


Do not, however, treat this as a shorter Common Application essay. Ultimately, the emphasis is on your fit for Northwestern’s specific resources. You could begin by illustrating how you would bury your head in literature written by the likes of Kafka and Camus all weekend, then show-up Monday morning before everyone else arrives at school for an advanced lab that aims to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, then transition to discussing how Northwestern’s Science in Human Culture Program is a perfect fit for you and your interdisciplinary mind. Remember to talk about what you will actually do in the program; envision yourself there, already at Northwestern. What will your day look like? Which professors would you like to work with within the Science in Human Culture Program? What kind of scholarship or internship opportunities within the program will you take advantage of for your research proposal?

 

Again, specificity is key. Avoid making general statements such as: “Northwestern’s state-of-the-art theater program makes it the perfect school for me.” That answer is one that could be given by virtually anyone, even those who have not the slightest idea of what theater is. Generality connotes lack of interest, lack of research, and worst of all, lack of effort. So when writing this essay, ask yourself: what are the specific aspects of Northwestern that sets it apart from all the other top 20 schools? What could I do at Northwestern that would be hard for me to do at other colleges?

Therefore, a strong essay by a prospective theater student could begin with discussion of how her passion for theater was ignited by an afternoon of people-watching in a small Parisian cafe, after which she developed a fascination with understanding humans that could only be satisfied by the versatility of the school’s theater program and the flexibility to double major across different schools. She can thus explain her intention to double major in theater and sociology. This essay works because the student demonstrates her personal interest in theater (Parisian cafe anecdote), elaborates on how she has contributed to the field (developed a fascination), and ties it to Northwestern’s specific resources (versaitility of theater program and double major), and then connects it all together with a concrete example of how Northwestern would aide in her growth.

Be cautious of sounding overly presumptuous. Do not use phrases that imply that you have already been accepted. Instead, phrase things in terms of hypotheticals. For example, do not say: “When at Northwestern, I will be sure to use their biology labs to continue conducting research on stem cells in mice.” Instead, write: “As a Northwestern student, I would use the biology labs to continue conducting research on stem cells in mice, which I started during my junior year in high school…”

General reminders

The Northwestern supplement may not allow a lot of words, but with a strategy in place, you can be sure that the essay you submit will make a substantial impact. To recap:

 

  1. Open with a personal, detailed anecdote about your intended major/interest. (Approximately 25% of the essay.)
  2. Discuss your in-depth accomplishments in this field, without repeating what you have written in your Common Application. (Approximately 25% of the essay.)
  3. Explain how Northwestern’s resources will aid in your development in this particular field. Do not forget to sketch out what you hope to accomplish at the school. (Approximately 50% of the essay.)

 

With these three things in mind, writing Northwestern’s supplement will be a lot easier.

And if you still need help with anything, CollegeVine is here! You can learn about our Essay Editing Program. And if you want us to quickly edit your college essay, you can submit it to our Rapid Review program, and we will get it back to you quickly with comments from our expert team.

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