How to Write the Northwestern University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019

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Nestled in suburban Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University is currently positioned at #11 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities Ranking. Since its founding in 1851, the school has consistently been a popular destination for accomplished students, as evidenced by its competitive acceptance rate of 8.4% for the recently matriculated Class of 2022.


Operating on the fast-paced quarter system, students at Northwestern have adequate room to explore the 4,000 course offerings and sample a taste of the 190+ majors, minors, and concentrations. Along with its two campuses in Evanston and Chicago, Northwestern also established a counterpart in Doha, Qatar, affording its student body even more academic, extracurricular, and geographic options to experience, in addition to the 130 study abroad programs that are already available.


If you decide to apply, you can choose from one of Northwestern’s nine colleges that offer undergraduate programs, most notably the Medill School of Journalism, which is consistently ranked as one of the top three journalism programs in the U.S., and the McCormick School of Engineering, which is ranked at #13 by U.S. News and World Report for Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs.


Mid-range accepted candidates typically scored between 1440 and 1540 on the SAT, and between 32 and 34 on the ACT.


Ready to apply? CollegeVine is here to help. Read on for tips on how to write the Northwestern supplemental essays.

How To Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essays 2018 – 2019

Prompt: Why Northwestern?

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.

It is immediately obvious that word count is going to be tight here — in 300 words, you are essentially answering 2 questions: what your interests are, and how Northwestern will help you further your pursuit of them. 


The key here is to seamlessly weave together your responses to both parts. Here is one way to tackle it:


Pick 1 specific interest and the corresponding goal you hope to achieve.

300 words are not enough for you to cover multiple topics, so focus on the one that allows you to tell the most compelling story of yourself. Wondering what that would be? Here are some questions to get you reflecting on what you have accomplished so far, and what you would like to continue doing in the future:


(1) What moment/period of time in your life are you the most proud of? What were you doing in that moment/period of time? Is that something you could see yourself doing non-stop in the next 4 years, and perhaps beyond?


(2) If you could skip ahead 5 years and see yourself then, what would your life look like? What steps need to happen between now and then to reach that lifestyle? What are the corresponding academic or extracurricular passions in your life that relate to those required steps?


(3) At what point in your life was your self-esteem the highest? What were you doing in your academic, professional, or extracurricular life that made you feel confident and poised?


Map out exactly what your goal is in relation to the interest you have chosen to write about.

A pitfall that many candidates fall into is nebulously defining their goals — since their objective is not well-defined, they cannot pinpoint the specific programs, courses, professors, and resources that they would like to advantage of in pursuit of their aspiration.


Generality is one of the most fatal flaws of any essay, especially when you are trying to distinguish yourself in a pool of 32,259 other essays. Here are some examples of more specific goals:


(1) As a frequent reader and a perpetual writer, you have always believed in the doubled-edged sword of words. You have witnessed their power in making people feel understood or alienated, included or isolated, encouraged or disillusioned. Therefore, you hope to harness the strength of writing through covering political news in the Middle East. Doing so, you hope to introduce your readers to new perspectives by including a range of opinions so that people from all cultures feel heard and encouraging those same readers to consider different viewpoints.


(2) As an avid user of a myriad of digital devices, you are a spirited proponent of accessible information technology. Thus, you hope to dive deep into the intricacies of electrical engineering in order to understand the way microprocessors and other components in digital devices fit together. You hope that by understanding the procedures of manufacturing digital devices, you could identify key drivers of cost, and thereby redesign a procedure that lowers the cost of manufacturing them. This would allow them to be more accessible for lower-income households.


Identify a personal anecdote that piqued your curiosity for your current interest.

Use this as the lead/starter for your essay.


(1) Referencing a previous example, perhaps your devotion for journalism was ignited through your habit of keeping a travel diary. Since the age of 5, you would write down phrases, paragraphs, or even draw pictures that reflect what you’ve seen and experienced during your excursions. Reviewing your writings throughout the years allowed you to relive those memories — happy, distressing, or exciting — again, in a more vivid way than you would have been able to had you not written down what you felt in those moments. That is when you discovered the ability of writing to affect emotions and thoughts. Therefore, you hope to extend this skill beyond your personal life, and on to the global stage.


(2) For instance, perhaps your love for technology was planted through playing the video game Assassin’s Creed. When you encountered characters in the game that resembled or mirrored the historical figures your teacher discussed in class, you were inspired by the way technology connected school and entertainment, and supported learning through more relatable mediums. Therefore, you hope to bring this privilege of having more avenues and options in the way we consume information to more people from more strata of society.


Research and pinpoint which Northwestern course offerings, programs, majors, minors, research or practical application resources, professors, or past accomplishments would best aid you in further cultivating your achievements in the field you choose.

You should make this as specific as possible. Many applicants write about general factors like research opportunities or the prestige of the major, and gush about how excited they would be to participate in such a program. However, if the excellence of a program attracts you, you can bet that the majority of the people applying to the same major is drawn to it for the same reason. To differentiate yourself, you need to determine the specific components that make this program well-recognized, and tie it to your personal objective and your specific interest in pursuing this passion.


(1) For instance, perhaps you are especially intrigued by The Googlization of America, an elective course in the Medill School of Journalism that illuminates and probes critical debate on how leading technology companies are shaping the content of information Americans absorb today, and the way they consume this information. You hope to integrate what you learn in this class with what you will discover with regards to the legal and moral frameworks that govern media freedom in the States, all of which you will explore in the core class Media Law and Ethics. You are further excited by Medill’s Global Journalism Residency program; you hope to participate in this at the Qatar location, as it aligns with your professional goal of documenting and presenting the story of political change in the Middle East.


(2) Perhaps as an aspiring electrical engineering student, you are inspired by Professor Alok Choudhary’s work on ultra-scale computing, and information security. You hope to aid in the proliferation and harnessing of data on a large-scale, which aligns with your goal of making technology more accessible and available for a more people in the world.


As a summary, the structure of your essay can be something like this:


(1) Start/introduce your essay with the personal anecdote of why you became invested in this interest


(2) Outline the specific goal that you hope to accomplish in your chosen field — remember to connect it with your personal reason for caring about this subject


(3) Refer to the Northwestern courses, programs, structures, or the work of professors that will help nurture your interest and achievements in the subject

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Integrated Science Program Supplemental Prompts


For those applying to the Integrated Science Program, you’ll have to tackle these additional essays as well:

Prompt #1: Please discuss your interest in science and mathematics.

The structure and purpose of this essay are fairly straightforward — you want to explain what sparked your self-driven interest in both science and mathematics, and while doing so, convey your passion in both of these fields. Since the integrated sciences program emphasizes the commonalities that the sciences as well as mathematics share, it is important to mention how your broad range of interest within the sciences renders it impossible for you to choose just one to focus on — you love them all!


Remember, the direct nature of Northwestern essays and the popular writing style at the school lean more towards straightforwardness and conciseness; there is no need to over-complicate it. Here is an example of how you could tackle the prompt:


(1) Start off with a quick anecdote about why you became fascinated with the sciences. Perhaps during a research project in biology, you had to apply your knowledge of how chemicals react to determine the effects on the human body if one ingests those chemicals together. That was when you realized the critical nature of understanding the foundation of all sciences when studying any of the sciences.


(2) Then, transition into explaining why you love the sciences you mentioned and mathematics. Reasons include practical application (you love how every device that we encounter today is the product of a combination of different academic sciences), understanding our surrounding environment, etc.


(3) Conclude with how acquiring a broad-based yet advanced knowledge of all sciences is significant to you personally. Consider this: if there is no prestige or any benefits associated with studying the sciences or a career in the sciences, why would you still pursue it as a hobby out of your own accord? What personal satisfaction do you receive from it?

Prompt #2: Describe any projects, special courses, jobs, or awards of yours that are related to science and mathematics.

You do not need to craft a literary essay for this one. Answer the question directly, and concisely. There is no need to link all of your science and mathematics related projects, special courses, jobs, or awards together in one cohesive essay. Describing them separately in distinct paragraphs will suffice. When describing them, here are a few key points to highlight:


(1) What the award, special course, job title, etc, really means. Remember, not everyone is familiar with every award name or job title, so make sure to describe what it is exactly that you were honored with, and for what purpose. Same applies to jobs or special courses: what exactly is it that you are doing on a daily basis at the job, or what are you learning in the special course specifically?


(2) The personal and practical significance of the award, special course, or job title. Taking awards as an example, why is the award meaningful for you? More importantly, what has it done for you personally? Does it open up doors to opportunities? Allow you to pursue more advanced studies in school more easily? Put you in contact with more people in like-minded fields?

Prompt 3: Please discuss briefly your educational and career goals. Do they include graduate study?

Here you want to provide a blueprint of what you imagine life would be like for you after college. Do you want to venture into industry? Pursue research in a niche field? Become a professor? Whatever it is that you are thinking of, remember that the underlying purpose here is to demonstrate why your educational and career goals necessitate you being in the Integrated Sciences Program.


For example, if you wish to dedicate your career to research in the sciences, weave in how studying integrated sciences at an accelerated level would allow you to hone in on the specific sub-filed or application of science that truly attract and motivate you.


Of course, the focus of your essay should still be on the goals themselves. Remember to touch on:


(1) The specific career/educational goal. Instead of writing about research in a general sense, hone in on the problem/issue you would like to address through your research. Perhaps you are interested in bettering lives for cancer patients through research in medicine, genetic engineering, or mechanical engineering.


(2) Any interest in graduate programs. Many in the Integrated Science Program choose to further their study in graduate school in a specific field of science, so if that is something that aligns with your goals, make sure to write about that. Include some specific graduate programs that you may be interested in to demonstrate the sincerity of your intentions.

Prompt 4: Why is the Integrated Science Program interesting to you?

Here you want to highlight some (2-3) key components of the Integrated Science Program and explain how they will help you achieve some of the goals you mentioned above, or how they align with the interests or special courses you mentioned in one of the prior essays.


Since you have already described your interest in the integrated sciences and mathematics in the first essay, there is no need to introduce this one with a personal anecdote, simply dive straight into the content. Some interesting features to highlight:


The Structured Curriculum

Explore the curriculum map here to see how the timing and combination of the courses align with your goals and interest. You can also mention here how you like the established framework of the program so you don’t have to worry too much about devising your own, and focus on the actual academic study of these subjects.


The Small Class Size

Classes in this program are held in personal settings where professors interact with individual students. You share a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow students because the program is small and you all take classes together. Explain why this social aspect of the program attracts you. Perhaps you feel like the small class setting will better allow you to establish a relationship with each of your classmates, and allow you to get to know them as both people and scientists. Through these types of connections, maybe you will be able to improve on each other’s ideas and goals.


Research Opportunity

There are advisors and directors readily available to guide you on your research, as a long as you have a passion for it. Whether you know exactly what topic you want to research, or you only know which professor you want to research under, the director and staff on the program are here to help. Describe the skills that research will train in you, and connect them to your future career/educational aspirations.


There! You have now been introduced to a possible way of tackling these essays.


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