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3 Inspiring Northwestern Essay Examples

What’s Covered:


Northwestern University, located in Evanston, IL, is one of the top colleges in the country. With a total enrollment of over 20,000 and a suburban location, many students across the country look to call Northwestern home. This university offers six undergraduate schools, over 200 programs of study, over 4,700 undergraduate courses, and three, rather than two, academic terms to give students more opportunities to explore their academic interests. 


Since it’s such a competitive school, your application needs to shine. One of the most important parts of your application is your supplemental essays. In this post, we’ll share two essays from real students who applied to Northwestern and cover what each did well and should improve upon. 


Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 


Read our Northwestern essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 


Essay Example #1 – Why Northwestern, Music and Business


Prompt: While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.


In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond. (300 words)


The Venn diagram of my life encompasses many different passions; however, none are as prominent as the dichotomy of business and music. 


On the left side of my Venn diagram lies business, my primary pursuit at Northwestern. While not a traditional business major, economics will allow me to gain a deep understanding of the fluctuation of markets and how it impacts our everyday lives. As an aspiring business owner, courses such as Microeconomics I and Microeconomics II will provide valuable insight into profitable business decisions and their effects on the company. Additionally, by minoring in entrepreneurship, I will receive more guidance on starting a company. To further explore this interest, I will join the club Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND) to see the innerworkings of small businesses as well as give back to my Northwestern community.


Contrarily, the right side of my Venn diagram holds my passion for music. With ten years of experience playing the guitar and many more years exploring different styles and genres, music has always played a big role in my life. During my time at Northwestern, I have no desire to change that. With the flexibility allowed in the curriculum, I will take courses such as Harmony, Form and Analysis, and Class Composition to cultivate my love of music composition and performance.


Ordinarily, two seemingly unrelated passions in life can be hard to intertwine; however, Northwestern will encourage the combination of my love for business and music. By providing opportunities like LEND and Microeconomics courses, I will be able to gain the necessary tools to become a business owner at no expense to my musical endeavors. Although the two sides of my Venn diagram are separate, the overlap in the middle is where I want to be: Northwestern.


What the Essay Did Well


A strength of this “Why School?” essay is the Venn diagram analogy that runs throughout the response. Not only is this a clever way to address two seemingly unrelated interests, but the student does a nice job of incorporating the analogy into every paragraph, rather than using it as a hook and abandoning it until the conclusion. Having it continue through the essay makes the response feel much more cohesive.


This student also does a good job fully addressing the prompt in the business paragraph. They include an academic (Microeconomics) and non-academic (LEND) opportunity they hope to engage with and how taking advantage of that resource will help them in the future by sharing their dream to be an entrepreneur. Northwestern is looking for active community members, so discussing opportunities both inside and outside the classroom is a good way to demonstrate how you will contribute to the campus. The student ran out of space to go into the same level of detail for the music paragraph, so it’s important to remember to allocate space properly while still fully answering the prompt.


What Could Be Improved


Ultimately, the biggest thing missing from this essay is this student’s motivation. While we know what their two primary interests are and how they intend to expand on those interests at Northwestern, the crucial element the essay doesn’t touch on is why they are passionate about business and music. Including the why is what would take this essay from good to great.


What does that look like? They could share their first experience with either subject and the feelings that it sparked. Or, describe the way they lose themselves when engaging with a topic they are passionate about. Maybe the student would explain how music and business stirs up nostalgia or brings them closer to others in their life. There are many ways to delve into the emotional connection behind your academic and extracurricular interests, just make sure what you write is genuine to you.


One other thing this essay should have avoided is restating opportunities that were already discussed in the final paragraph. Every word counts in college essays, especially when you only have 300 words, so do not waste your space discussing things you already shared. While it can sometimes work to bring back ideas in your conclusion for extra emphasis, in an essay like this, avoid restating specific classes and programs to make the essay less redundant. 


Essay Example #2 – Why Northwestern, Farming


Prompt: While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.


In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond. (300 words)


For as long as I can remember, I have seen my parents, both farmers, struggling to produce food because of the challenges presented by the environment. Joining Northwestern’s community, and majoring in Environmental Engineering, will allow me to understand what are the reasons behind climate change and learn how to stop them and/or prevent them from happening. 


Having witnessed how plant diseases affect crops, I would like to collaborate in the PLANT-Dx project and in its widespread application. I strongly believe that it will be able to help farmers to improve the quality and quantity of their production, and reduce famine around the world. At some point in my education, I want to take advantage of the study-abroad programs Northwestern has to offer and learn about farming practices in a different part of the world. In addition, I want to conduct research on sustainable alternative farming methods that adapt to the new environmental conditions and that can be practiced in countries with fewer resources.


Apart from having access to outstanding professors, rigorous academics, and cutting-edge research resources, I will be able to be part of a close-knit community genuinely curious about others’ activities, truly passionate about what they do, and not afraid to step out of their comfort zone to make of this world a better place. Being part of Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern will allow me to get to know people that share one of my passions in addition to learning and teaching how to apply sustainable practices in daily life.  


I am already looking forward to marching through the Weber Arch. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay, in responding to the same “Why School?” prompt as above, does a good job of establishing a direct connection between the student and their intended major. By telling the reader right off the bat that they have personally been affected by a lack of agricultural solutions, we understand how much this student could gain from a degree in environmental engineering. That connection is strengthened with the inclusion of opportunities that span a range of disciplines—project teams, studying abroad, conducting research, and social communities—but all directly correlate to their interest in sustainable farming.


It’s very clear what this student hopes to get out of their Northwestern education and how they plan to make a difference in the world. The last part of the prompt wants to know how the resources you discuss will impact you beyond your college career, so this student’s elaboration on what they will get out of each opportunity shows the reader how they will benefit from being at Northwestern, without having to explicitly spell out the direct impact each resource has on their future.  


What Could Be Improved


While this essay includes four Northwestern opportunities that nicely relate back to this student’s passion, they could have used more detail and elaboration to make the essay more specific.


For example, they should have mentioned a specific country or region of the world they hope to study abroad in that piqued their interest because of a unique farming practice or a particular need for innovation. Additionally, they described the type of research they want to conduct, but it would have been great if they included the name of a Northwestern faculty member or class that focuses on that research to show that they can only fully realize their goals at Northwestern.


Another way this essay could be improved is with more sophisticated language. The student relies on “I” statements (“I have”, “I want”, “I believe”, etc) that separate the reader from the author. Rather than feeling like we have been invited into the mind of the student who just shares their thoughts, they are telling us what they want and think, almost as if they are a third person. Great college essays should read like a transcript of a student’s thoughts and feelings, which is much easier to convey with more sophisticated and intentional language.


Essay Example #3 – Why Northwestern, Civil Engineering


Prompt: While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.


In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond. (300 words)


In my everyday life I often find myself considering how things around me could be better designed. Generally these are insignificant issues, like a poorly designed door handle or an un-ergonomic chair. Other times, however, the issues are on a grander scale. A traffic light that causes never ending backups. A public bus transport system that forces the primarily lower income students that use it to choose between getting help after school or having to wait until an evening bus. It is the opportunity to fix those design problems that gravitates me towards civil engineering. Because of this, I am especially excited about the opportunities Northwestern offers to gain experience in engineering while helping local and global communities. By participating in a program like the Civic Engagement Certificate, I will be able to begin achieving my career goal of bettering communities through civil engineering as I am completing my education.


Within civil engineering I am most interested in transportation engineering. Because of this, Northwestern’s pioneering transport center is a huge draw for me. Past research at the center such as work on utilizing the network-like structure of urban areas to improve school bus routing truly excites me, and I would love to participate in similar research in the future. Northwestern’s transportation and logistics minor is also a unique offering that I would love to take advantage of. By combining engineering and economics in such an interdisciplinary program, the minor would expand my horizons as an engineer and better prepare me to tackle the socio-economic challenges facing communities. 


Northwestern’s strong commitment to social justice and emphasis on innovation and community improvement perfectly align with my career goals and what draws me to civil engineering. Combined with extremely prestigious academics, these commitments make the Northwestern experience a perfect fit for my future.


What the Essay Did Well


This third “Why School?” essay makes an excellent use of the limited space and is able to provide the reader with details about their background interest in civic engineering, the unique opportunities they can only take advantage of at Northwestern, and how they hope to make a positive difference in the world. It’s concise and every sentence included is intentional and contributes to the narrative, thus making it quick and engaging to read.


Although the student only includes three Northwestern resources, they demonstrate their knowledge of those resources and how each opportunity directly relates to the student’s interest and future career aspirations. Discussing the past research the center has conducted that directly relates to their passion mentioned in the introduction is a great way to show exactly how the student would fit into the community. Additionally, they explain the economics requirement of the minor and how that would allow them to more effectively pursue their career. 


Overall, this essay very nicely encapsulates how this student will engage with the Northwestern community and how the Northwestern community will enrich the student for the future. There is a nice balance between what they hope to do in the short-run (in college) and long-run (post-grad), combined with enough background details in the introduction to understand what drives this student to pursue civic engineering. 


What Could Be Improved


This essay does an excellent job of showing us what this student’s interest is and exactly how they plan to pursue it at Northwestern, but this prompt does specifically ask for opportunities and resources. To better address the prompt, the student should have included one or two more Northwestern-specific opportunities in their response. 


An easy way to add in additional opportunities without taking up too much space is to include the names of classes or professors. This could work in nicely by mentioning one of the required classes for the transportation and logistics minor that interests them, or listing one or two faculty members at the center that the student is excited to work with. 


While CollegeVine normally cautions against name-dropping in these types of essays, given how flushed out and detailed the other opportunities already are, incorporating the names of professors or classes into these opportunities would bolster the response, rather than detracting from it. As long as the elaboration is already there, adding more details will help to show your dedication to and excitement for the school.


Where to Get Your Northwestern Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Northwestern essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.