Priya Desai 8 min read 12th Grade, College Application Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Northwestern

Founded as a premier research institution in 1850, Northwestern is located in Evanston, Illinois, alongside beautiful Lake Michigan and just thirty minutes north of Chicago. Its location is a “trifecta” in that the student experience contains elements of a campus, college town, and a big city. In addition to having two campuses in America, the school also opened a third location in Doha, Qatar.

 

Northwestern consistently lands amongst the top fifteen national schools and is on an upward trajectory. Students enrolled in a particular school may also take courses at other schools within Northwestern. Many students elect to pursue a dual degree program, ultimately receiving degrees from two Northwestern schools. 

 

If you’re considering Northwestern, read on to learn how to optimize your chances of admission!

 

Average Stats of Accepted Northwestern Students

 

Northwestern is a very selective school, with a competitive acceptance rate of 8.5%. The university has a holistic review process, meaning that they claim to consider all parts of your application before making a decision. However, prestigious schools usually have some sort of academic threshold to help filter applicants (called the Academic Index). Not having these stats may automatically disqualify you, unless you’re an under-represented minority, legacy, or recruited athlete. 

 

Let’s take a look at the average stats of accepted Northwestern students:

 

GPA

 

If you don’t know your GPA, you can find it using our free GPA calculator. Northwestern doesn’t officially report admitted students’ high school GPAs, but they do stress that courseload rigor and academic excellence are very important parts of your application. In terms of rank, the university shares that 92% of admitted students were in the top ten percent of their graduating class. So, it is safe to assume that the average weighted GPA is around or above 4.0. We strongly encourage applicants to load up on advanced courses, if they’re available at your school.

 

SAT/ACT and SAT Subject Tests

 

Like many other colleges, Northwestern is test-optional for the upcoming cycle – to learn more about what these new guidelines mean for you, check out CollegeVine’s blog post about test-optional policies

 

For this past admissions cycle, the middle 50% of accepted students at Northwestern scored between 1450-1550 on the SAT, and 33-35 on the ACT. 

 

With that in mind, let’s talk about scoring. Northwestern superscores the SAT and ACT, meaning the admissions committee will only consider your highest test scores on each section of each test, regardless of whether those scores occurred on the same test. One thing to note is that the school asks that students do not calculate their own ACT superscore and leave it up to their system. Northwestern allows applicants to self-report, meaning you don’t have to report official scores unless you’re accepted.

 

Northwestern’s testing policy towards SAT subject tests has always been optional for general applicants. For people applying to specific programs, some subject tests may be required. Regardless, because of Northwestern’s competitive applicant pool, we at CollegeVine recommend that you take one or two tests that relate to your prospective major (the 2020-2021 cycle is an exception, as it’s difficult enough to even take the SAT/ACT). In terms of scores, you should aim for at least a 720, although a score about 780 is ideal. 

 

These stats are a good starting point to gauge your chances at acceptance – though fitting into these ranges doesn’t guarantee you a spot, they should at least get your application read. 

 

Northwestern University Application Process

 

Application Overview

 

Northwestern accepts both the Common and Coalition application, and the school has its own supplements as well. CollegeVine has a blog post that delves more into the differences between the Common and Coalition app, so be sure to check that out for more insight! 

 

Northwestern has two application deadlines – Early Decision and Regular Decision. The Early Decision deadline is November 1st. This avenue is binding, meaning that if you are accepted through this means, you agree to enroll at Northwestern and withdraw your other applications.

 

At most colleges, acceptance rates through Early Action or Early Decision programs are significantly higher than overall acceptance rates. Northwestern has an Early Decision admit rate of 25%. About half of its first-year class was admitted through Early Decision. Although it can be extremely difficult to bind yourself to a school, this could be a strong option if you have done the appropriate research and are sure that Northwestern is the university for you.

 

Regular decision applicants have until January 3rd to apply, although earlier is better to maximize your chances of getting an interview. We will discuss the interview process later in this post. 

 

Note that there may be additional deadlines depending on which school you apply to. For applicants to the Bienen School of music, music performance majors must register for an audition by October 15th. For the prestigious Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), a seven-year combined undergraduate/graduate program in which students are admitted into either College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communication, or the School of Engineering and the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, students must submit a pre-application by December 1st. Some students will then be invited to complete an application. Applicants are only admitted to this program under the Regular Decision plan.  

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Application Components

 

To send a complete application to Northwestern, you should submit the following:

 

  • Part 1: Biographical Information
  • Part 2: Essays, activities, and academics
  • Optional Alumni Interview
  • Counselor Recommendation
  • One or more Teacher Recommendations 
  • Midyear transcript and official secondary school transcript and school report
  • Standardized tests: SAT or ACT are accepted, although the upcoming cycle is test-optional

 

Let’s delve into a few of these components:

 

Interviews

 

Based on the time you apply, Northwestern may offer you the optional opportunity to interview with a member of their Alumni Admission Council. The interviewers are regional alumni volunteers that will meet with you on a first-come, first-serve basis. The interview offers an opportunity to put a face and personality to your application. Interviews are available to both Early and Regular Decision applicants and will be accommodated depending on alumni availability. 

 

Northwestern’s official policy is that students who cannot interview are at no disadvantage whatsoever. While it is true that many students have gotten in without interviewing, here at CollegeVine, we strongly encourage you to make the effort to interview, as this gives you a unique chance to talk about yourself and to let more of your personality shine through your application. 

 

Letters of Recommendation

 

Northwestern requires three letters of recommendation, one from your counselor and two from your teachers. The university also has an additional, optional letter of recommendation from an additional reference. You should pursue this supplemental recommendation option if there is someone who is able to provide new or different information about you, perhaps outside of an academic context.

 

For teacher recommendations, Northwestern recommends you select teachers from your core courses. Ideally, Northwestern encourages applicants to ask a teacher who had you as a student recently, within the last year or two if possible. These teachers are likely to remember you the most. If you choose a teacher from earlier in high school, you just need to be sure to go and meet with them periodically to get reacquainted before you ask for a rec letter.

 

When you’re deciding which ones to ask, think back to all of the teachers you’ve had throughout high school and consider these questions:

 

  • Which ones did you know well? Which ones knew you the best?
  • Were there a few teachers whose classes you really excelled in?
  • On the flip side, was there a class that you struggled in but took the initiative to
  • seek help from the teacher and improve your performance?
  • Did you have any teachers who also advised a club you were in, who also knows what you’re like outside of the classroom?

 

To learn more about recommendation letters, don’t miss our post: How to Get a Great Recommendation Letter.

 

Supplemental Essays

 

For all applicants, Northwestern only has one supplemental essay. Although it is technically optional, we strongly recommend you complete this essay as it is another opportunity to highlight what makes you a great applicant:

 

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.

 

This prompt is a classic example of a “Why This College?” essay. Northwestern wants to know why it is a good fit for you, and why you are a good fit for the school. The key with these prompts is specificity – you need to research via the school website to find particular opportunities that appeal to you. You need to consider concrete steps you want to take at the school, your future career and societal goals, and the kind of community you want to be a part of.

 

These next set of prompts are for students applying to the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program (MMSS). The MMSS program is extremely selective, admitting approximately thirty first-year students each year. MMSS requires applicants to display strong academic performance in high school, including a year of calculus.

 

When you’re answering these prompts, the same principles apply: be specific and goal-oriented. Additionally, you should go into greater depth about your intellectual interests, complex topics, and experiences you’ve had in rigorous settings, like AP classes and summer programs.

 

The four MMSS prompts are:

 

  1. Why MMSS? (200 words)
  2. Which social science question or problem interests you most? (200 words)
  3. Describe your current educational and career goals. (200 words)
  4. Describe your extracurricular interests and activities. (200 words)

 

Another program with its own supplemental essays is the Integrated Science Program (ISP). This program’s curriculum combines math and science and stresses interdisciplinary learning. With a small class size, research opportunities, and its own student center on campus, ISP ensures that its members receive an intimate, hands-on learning experience.

 

ISP applicants must fill out a separate application on the university website. To qualify for this program, applicants should have taken four years of mathematics and four years of science, as well as three SAT II Subject Tests or AP exams. 

 

The ISP essay prompts are as follows:

 

  1. Describe any projects, special courses, jobs, or awards of yours that are related to science and mathematics.
  2. Please briefly discuss your educational and career goals. Do they include graduate study?
  3. Why is the Integrated Science Program interesting to you?
  4. How did you learn about the Integrated Science Program?
  5. Do you know any current or past students of the program?

 

There’s a lot to cover when it comes to optimizing your essays for Northwestern, but your best bet is to check out our post on How to Write the Northwestern Application Essays 2020-2021. In this post, we give a comprehensive guide to approaching and executing each of these prompts, so if you’re applying to Northwestern, be sure to check it out!

 

Already have drafts of your essays? You can get free essay feedback from other students using our Peer Essay Review tool.

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

Early applicants will receive admissions decisions in mid-December. Early applicants may be accepted, rejected, or deferred to the Regular Decision applicant pool. Regular Decision applicants will be notified of their admission status in late March.

 

Northwestern University Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

Northwestern’s tuition and fees for full-time students amount to $56,760. Housing approximately brings the total cost of attendance to $78,654. 62% of Northwestern students receive financial aid. The university gives examples of aid packages on their site. The average total aid package for students based on their annual family income is listed in the chart below. 

 

Family Income Percent Receiving NU Aid Average NU Scholarship Avg. Package with NU Scholarship + State and Federal Grants Avg. Package with NU Scholarship, State, Federal Grants & Private Scholarships
$0 – $29,999 96% $61,388 $71,927 $72,718
$30,000 – $59,999 98% $60,749 $67,440 $68,717
$60,000 – $89,999 94% $57,636 $59,709 $60,175
$90,000 – $119,999 97% $50,935 $51,154 $52,354
$120,000 – $149,999 90% $44,260 $44,362 $45,518
$150,000 or more 34% $29,902 $29,902 $30,476

 

Admission is need-blind, meaning students’ financial need (or lack thereof) will not factor into their admission decision. The university also meets 100% demonstrated need, and is no-loan for Pell Grant recipients. 

 

To apply for financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE. You will also need to complete and submit federal tax forms to the College Board. 

 

Early Decision applicants applying for financial aid must submit financial aid forms by December 1st, and Regular Decision applicants must do so by March 1st. If their paperwork is completed and submitted, admitted students should receive their award notification a week after getting their acceptance letter.

 

Northwestern also has a wide variety of scholarships awarded based on a mix of academic achievement and demonstrated need. The school is also a QuestBridge partner, an organization that matches high-achieving low-income students with top-tier colleges. 

 

Want to learn more Northwestern financial aid? Check out our article What Does It Really Cost to Attend Northwestern?

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

If you want to get a better idea of how your specific stats align with Northwestern’s admissions criteria, check out our chancing engine, which will give you your personal odds of acceptance, based on academics, extracurriculars, and demographics. It will also give you tips on improving your profile.

For more information, take a look at Northwestern’s profile page to see diversity stats, majors, and how long your application should take. You can also find links to more helpful blog posts to help you on your application journey.

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Priya Desai
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.