Timothy Peck 6 min read 11th Grade, 12th Grade, School Comparisons

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt: Which College is Right for You?

Northwestern University and Vanderbilt University share many attributes—for example, they’re both highly respected institutions, offer access to great cities, and crank out graduates who are sought after in a wide variety of industries. 

 

However, when comparing Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt, many differences also arise; keep reading to learn which school is best for you. 

 

Learn more about Northwestern and Vanderbilt and see your chances of acceptance.

 

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt: A Quick Overview

 

Northwestern  Vanderbilt
Location Evanston, IL Nashville, TN
Campus Type Suburban  City 
Undergraduate Enrollment 8,327 6,886
Acceptance Rate 9% 9%
U.S. News Ranking 9 14
Middle 50% SAT 1440–1550 1510–1580
Middle 50% ACT 32–35 34–36
Sticker Price $79,342 $75,974
Need-blind, no-loan, or meets 100% demonstrated need? Need-blind 

No-loan for Pell Grant recipients

Meets 100% need

Need-blind

No-loan

Meets 100% need

 

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt: A Closer Look

 

Location and Weather

 

Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern University, is commonly included on lists naming the best college towns and most beautiful campuses in the United States. Evanston offers everything a college student wants on a college campus with tons of food options, cool shops, and beaches on Lake Michigan. Evanston also consistently ranks highly as one of the most walkable college towns, which makes it great for students who want to leave their wheels behind. When (or if) students want to escape Evanston, Chicago—the U.S.’s third-largest city—is less than 30 minutes away. 

 

Unlike Northwestern, Vanderbilt is in the heart of the city. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, the state capital, Vanderbilt students have access to a wide variety of benefits that come from living in a major city. Best known for its music—it’s often called the “Music City”—Nashville is also home to two professional sports teams (the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and the NHL’s Nashville Predators). While Vanderbilt might not offer the beaches of Evanston, it does provide a much more mild climate, and students coming from more northern states can likely leave their heavy coats at home. 

 

Size

 

There are 8,327 undergraduates enrolled at Northwestern and a total enrollment of 18,191 students. An impressive 77.1% of the university’s classes have fewer than 20 students in them and the student-faculty ratio is 6:1.  

 

“Vandy” has an undergraduate enrollment of 6,886 and a total enrollment of 12,052 students. The student-faculty ratio at Vanderbilt is 7:1 and 61.1% of its classes have fewer than 20 students in them. 

 

Academics

 

Northwestern is split into nine colleges and schools where students can major in programs from African American studies to mathematics to theater. Northwestern’s nine undergraduate colleges and schools are:

 

  • Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • School of Communication
  • School of Education & Social Policy
  • McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science
  • Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Bienen School of Music
  • Kellogg School of Management
  • Bienen School of Music
  • Northwestern in Qatar

 

Many students at Northwestern take a multidisciplinary approach to their education, with 72% of undergrads combining two or more areas of study. Studying abroad is also popular at the university; more than 50% of undergraduates take advantage of the school’s 150 programs in 50 countries. For students truly interested in studying far from home, Northwestern has a campus in Qatar

 

Vanderbilt’s undergraduate education is divided into four schools offering majors varying from accounting to theology. Those four schools are: 

 

  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Peabody College of Education and Human Development 
  • School of Engineering
  • Blair School of Music 

 

Interdisciplinary education is also an important part of a Vanderbilt education, the university even offers a handful of interdisciplinary programs such as Medicine, Health, and Society and African American and Diaspora Studies. While strong academics is the quality that most people associate with Vandy, the school is also decorated in the arts; its Blair School of Music school is commonly considered one of the nation’s top music schools

 

Housing

 

Overall, about 60% of Northwestern undergraduates live on campus. However, Northwestern requires all first- and second-year students to live on campus in either a residence hall, residence college, or in special interest housing, which includes: 

 

  • All Gender Housing
  • GREEN House 
  • Substance-Free Housing 

 

Vanderbilt is a residential college; consequently, all undergraduates are required to live on campus. All first-year students are housed on Ingram Commons, a collection of five historic and five new houses each with their own distinct identity. Vanderbilt also offers the option to take part in one of three living-learning communities: 

 

  • Mayfield Experience: ten students live together and create a self-generated, self-directed group project under the guidance of a faculty advisor 
  • McGill Project: attracts students interested in free expression and discovery of their choice
  • McTyeire International House: for students interested in foreign languages and cultural awareness

 

Financial aid

 

At Northwestern University, 46% of full-time undergraduates receive some kind of need-based financial aid, and the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $52,629. In 2020-21, Northwestern awarded $207 million in scholarships. Northwestern also has the honor of being among a select group of schools that has appeared on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of “top producers” of Fulbright scholars

 

One of the main differentiators when comparing Northwestern and Vanderbilt is their financial aid policies. While both universities have need-blind admissions and promise to meet 100% of demonstrated need, Vandy also has a no-loan admissions policy. 

 

Rather than loans, Vanderbilt undergraduates receive gift aid (which doesn’t require repayment) and are sometimes required to meet a work expectation to cover the cost of their education. Overall, 65% of Vandy students receive some form of financial aid and the average amount of need-based aid awarded is $54,138. Vanderbilt’s financial aid is generally more generous than Northwestern’s.

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Sports and Extracurriculars

 

While many people associate Northwestern with academics, its athletics are also notable. Northwestern is a founding member of the Big Ten and is just one of five private Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)/top research universities to play in an NCAA power five conference. Northwestern’s football games against powerhouses such as Ohio State garner headlines, but their women’s lacrosse team is the definition of success, winning seven NCAA lacrosse titles since 2005.

 

Like Northwestern, Vanderbilt is also in one of the power five conferences, playing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Also, much like Northwestern, Vandy’s football games against nationally ranked opponents are in the spotlight, but the school has had more success in other sports—winning a national title in women’s tennis in 2015, baseball in 2014, and bowling 2007. 

 

Greek life plays an important role in campus life at Northwestern and is an integral part of the university’s social scene. Greek life at Northwestern dates back to 1859, and today, roughly 35%-40% of undergraduates are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority. Vanderbilt is also home to a vibrant Greek community consisting of 20 fraternities and 16 sororities, with around 30-45% of students participating. However, unlike at Northwestern, Vanderbilt’s fraternities and sororities are non-residential. 

 

Culture and Diversity

 

Northwestern is home to a diverse group of undergraduates and works to foster an inclusive environment. The college is home to students from all 50 states and from more than 75 different countries. 

 

Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
White 53.2%
Asian American 25.5%
Hispanic or Latinx 15.4%
Black or African American 10%
International 10%
American Indian or Alaska Native 1.6%

 

Vanderbilt has a long history of inclusion—the university welcomed women to study as early as 1875 and it was the first school in the SEC to field a Black athlete. Comparing Vandy vs. Northwestern on the Campus Pride Index (a benchmarking tool for LQBGT friendliness) is a stalemate, with both schools earning four out of five stars—while Northwestern earns high marks for LGBTQ support and institutional commitment, Vandy gets five stars for LGBTQ Student Life. 

 

Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
Asian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 14.6%
Black or African American 11%
Hispanic 10%
International 9.7%
Two or more races 5.5%
American Indian or Alaska Native <1%

 

How to Decide Between Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt 

 

Deciding between Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt is a problem many college-bound students will welcome. For many students, the decision between world-class institutions like these often comes down to fit—that is, how the school matches a student’s interests and preferences. 

 

Northwestern is especially strong for students who:

 

  • Want four seasons and aren’t afraid of a cold midwestern winter.
  • Want access to a global city but don’t want to be immersed in one.
  • Are interested in studying journalism—the university’s Medill School of Journalism is considered one of the best in the nation.
  • Are focused on outcomes: 95% of 2018 undergraduates were employed, studying on a fellowship, or attending graduate or professional school within six months of graduation.
  • Are interested in research—more than 90 school-based centers and more than 50 University research centers call Northwestern home.
  • Care about reputation: Northwestern placed 33 on the Times Higher Education’s rankings of the top 50 universities by reputation 2019

 

Vanderbilt is especially strong for students who:

 

  • Love music—between the university’s renowned Blair School of Music and its location in  Nashville, Vandy is a musician’s dream.
  • Would like a break from “real” winter weather.
  • Love college football—Vandy doesn’t have the winning record of many of its conference rivals, but it still bleeds black and gold on Saturdays. 
  • Want to attend school in a big, growing, and vibrant city. 
  • Prioritize graduating debt-free. 
  • Are interested in value—U.S. News ranked Vandy ninth on its list of Best Value Colleges

 

Will your odds of admission affect your choice between Northwestern and Vanderbilt? Our free changing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S.—including Northwestern and Vanderbilt. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.