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Northwestern Essay Examples: Breakdown + Analysis

What’s Covered:

 

Northwestern University, located in Evanston, IL, is ranked #9 in the United States by US News. With a total enrollment of 21,946 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. 

 

Along with Northwestern’s many offerings and benefits, it is a very selective university. Though admissions rates have risen for the second year in a row, they still hover at around 9%. In 2020, the university received a total of 39,261 applicants, with only 3,542 admitted. With that said, your application needs to be stellar to be accepted. When it comes to that, CollegeVine’s got you covered!

 

One of the most important parts of your application is your supplemental essays. In this post, we’ll go over Northwestern’s 2021 supplemental essay prompt. We’re going to start with an overview of the prompt itself as well as a discussion of how to best approach and answer it. Then, we’ll look at a real student’s essay response. We’re going to dissect the essay to analyze what the student did well, and what could use a little work. In the end, we’ll give you some great free resources to get more feedback on your essay before you send it in. 

 

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. 

 

Northwestern Supplemental Essay 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. 

Before we get into the essay example, let’s talk about how to answer a prompt like this. 

 

Though it doesn’t ask specifically, this is a classic “Why This College?” essay prompt. In different wording, Northwestern is asking; “Why are you applying to Northwestern and why do you want to attend?”

 

Additionally, the admissions officers really want to know why they should admit you. What will you contribute to Northwestern with the opportunities they provide you? How will you impact the wider community on campus? 

 

In order to answer these questions, your response to this prompt should highlight your goals and interests. Focus on how Northwestern’s unique opportunities and resources can serve you, and how you can contribute to Northwestern. Then, you can call out specific programs, courses, or professors at Northwestern that connect to your passions, and explain how you can contribute to these opportunities as well as how they will help you achieve your goals. Forming these crucial connections between yourself and Northwestern will allow the admissions officers to envision you as part of their community.

 

Don’t waste your word count trying to flatter the admissions officers by talking about how great Northwestern is. They know! Instead, use this essay to help the admissions officers get to know you.

 

Here are some ways you can go about answering this prompt:

 

Name some specific clubs or organizations that appeal to you.

 

When naming clubs or organizations, you need to make sure they are unique to Northwestern. Look through the extracurriculars listed on their website and see which activities fit in with your interests. 

 

For example, you could say; “As an art major, I look forward to joining ARTivate. Their dedication to using art for social justice and community outreach excites me since I am also a passionate environmental activist. Creating Climate Strike Art for the Global Climate Strike was my first introduction into using art as a means to advocate for my beliefs. As a member of ARTivate, I would contribute both my voice and my art, as I further explore the intersection of art and social justice.”

 

Talk about the degree path you wish to pursue or courses you are passionate about. 

 

Discussing your desired degree path and/or field of study is a great place to start, but, once again, you need to be specific. If you’re talking about your prospective degree path, make sure you call out specific schools, programs, or resources at Northwestern that will help you achieve your goals. Or, if you’re going to name a course or two, make sure they’re specific to Northwestern. 

 

For instance, you could write; “As part of my dream to become an educator at a high school, I plan to gain an undergraduate degree and eventually pursue a Master’s in Teaching. At The School of Education and Social Policy, I would be able to earn a bachelor of science in education and social policy with a concentration in Secondary Teaching, which would help me achieve both my academic and career goals.” 

 

Mention a professor whose research or courses interest you.

 

Another approach to this prompt is to call out a Northwestern professor who conducts research or teaches a course that excites you. Again, remember to be specific and highlight exactly what appeals to you and your academic interests or other passions.

 

For example, you could mention; “I look forward to learning from Dr. Gregory Smith, whose renowned work in herpesviruses and their effect on the nervous system both stimulates my passion for microbiology and intensifies my desire to become a researcher. I am fascinated by a tiny microbe’s ability to cause severe illness in animals, and hope to gain hands-on experience in the field. Dr. Smith’s lab would afford me this opportunity and prepare me for a career as a microbiology researcher.”

 

All these strategies involve substantial research on Northwestern, including its programs, faculty, community, and student life. Doing your research is especially important for selective schools like Northwestern, since they want to know you’ve done your due diligence and are aware of everything they offer so you can take full advantage of their resources. 

 

What NOT to do here is write about things that could be said about any university, such as:

 

  • “I like the science department.” 
  • “I like the small student-to-professor ratio.” 
  • “[Insert school here] felt like home.” 

 

These statements could apply to any school! Every detail you include should be specific to Northwestern and connect back to you.

 

Northwestern Essay Example

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.

Breaking Down this Northwestern Essay Example

 

Generally, this is a good essay. It covers the prompt, is specific, and talks about the academic pathway the student hopes to take. With that said, there are some redundancies and unnecessary words which could have been replaced with content used to answer the prompt more fully. 

 

Now, we’re going to dive deep into each section of this essay and talk about what’s good, and what could be better. 

 

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.

 

The student begins by describing the things around them that led to their major. This is an effective introduction because it helps admissions officers understand the student’s perspective and the origin of their academic interest. However, the introduction itself is a little wordy, and tells us these examples rather than showing us. To make it more concise, the student could have said:

 

I often find myself considering how things around me could be better designed. A poorly-made door handle, an un-ergonomic chair. A traffic light that constantly causes traffic jams, a bus system that forces students to choose between getting help after school or having to wait for an evening bus.

 

Those small changes strengthened the introduction and saved 31 words. While this may not seem like a lot, 31 words can be used to convey a lot more information!

 

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.

 

Here, the student tells us their chosen field and identifies Northwestern. These sentences are a good segue from the introduction into Northwestern and its unique resources, however they aren’t necessary. Instead of this general statement, the student could have spent those words talking about specific opportunities at Northwestern. The prompt expressly asks for specific information, so the student should’ve jumped right into it.

 

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.

 

The student dives into specific information in their next sentence. This sentence is great, and could easily immediately follow the introduction. It shows that the student has a plan to engage with Northwestern, and hopes to begin making a community impact even before graduation. 

 

Within civil engineering I am most interested in transportation engineering. Because of this, Northwestern’s pioneering transport center is a huge draw for me.

 

This part could be removed. The student goes into much greater detail on the transportation center in the next section, and can quickly introduce it in that section instead. 

 

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. 

 

This section is great! The first sentence could be amended to “Past research at Northwestern’s Transportation Center…”, which would eliminate the need for the previous section, and allow the student to jump straight into the specifics the admissions officers are looking for. This section shows that the student has done their research, and gives a clear example as to what the student could bring to Northwestern. 

 

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. 

 

The main thing the student could have done differently here is center themselves, rather than the school. They could easily flip the sentences, to begin with, “I would…” and end with the specific examples. That way, they stay at the forefront of the reader’s mind and show exactly what they would do at the school. The student ends with another strong statement, explaining how the minor program would put them in a position to expand their community impact. 

 

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.

 

Finally, the student emphasizes Northwestern’s commitment to social justice. They then bring that back to their civil engineering goal, which is great! However, they could end on a better note, making the final sentence about their goals, rather than about Northwestern. A concise sentence summing up the prior paragraphs would fit great here. Add to that an expansion on specifics and goals using the word count saved from removing the sentences above, and this essay would be even stronger!

 

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!


Short Bio
Hi! I’m Cheyenne. I help educational institutions inform stakeholders and the wider public about the offerings available to them.

After graduating with my BA in History, and MA in Teaching, I knew education was my passion. Maverick Educational Copywriting was born out of my desire to make all levels of education accessible to students, families, alumni, and all other potential stakeholders. I believe education is at the heart of a healthy society, and making it understandable is a huge start! When not writing, I am usually spending time with my husband and dog, most likely hiking a new trail!