The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Northwestern

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Founded as a premier research institution in 1850, Northwestern is located in Evanston, Illinois, alongside beautiful Lake Michigan. The undergraduate campus is comprised of six schools: Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Communication, School of Education and Social Policy, Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications, and Bienin School of Music. Some students elect to pursue a dual degree program, ultimately receiving degrees from two Northwestern schools.

Known for its prestigious music, journalism, and engineering schools, Northwestern‘s other popular majors include psychology, biology, education, and business. Students enrolled in a particular school may also take courses at other schools within Northwestern.


Want to learn what Northwestern University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Northwestern University needs to know.


Statistics and Basic Information

Northwestern is a very selective school, with an acceptance rate of 10.7%.

Tuition costs $50,424 for one year at Northwestern, with a total cost of $70,496 including room, board, and other fees per year. Approximately 62% of Northwestern students receive financial aid. Admission is need-blind, meaning a student’s financial need (or lack thereof) will not factor into his or her admission decision. 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.

Early Decision applicants must submit their complete applications by November 1st, and will be notified of their admission decision on December 15th. Music applicants applying to the Bienen School of Music must register for an audition by October 15th. Early Decision is binding at Northwestern, and students admitted through this plan must submit a nonrefundable tuition deposit by February 1st. Regular Decision applicants must submit their applications by January 1st, and will be notified of admission decisions in late March. Music applicants must register for auditions by December 1st under this plan. Admitted students must secure their spots by May 1st. Students applying under the Early Decision plan may receive a deferral of admission, meaning the admissions committee will consider them as art of the Regular Decision pool. If offered admission in the Regular Decision round, these candidates are no longer bound to matriculating at Northwestern.

In 2014, 2,767 applicants were offered a position on the wait list, and 55 students were subsequently offered admission to Northwestern.


Northwestern accepts the Common Application or the Coalition Application, along with the Northwestern supplement.

There are five sections in this supplement: General, Academics, Contacts, Family, and Northwestern Statement.


Northwestern general

In this section, you will indicate your entry term. The only option here is Fall. You will also indicate your preferred plan: Early or Regular Decision. If you indicate that you are applying Early Decision, you must respond yes to the following statement, indicating that you understand that this decision is binding if you are admitted:

If you are accepted under an Early Decision plan, you must promptly withdraw the applications submitted to other colleges and universities and make no additional applications to any other university in any country. If you are an Early Decision candidate and are seeking financial aid, you need not withdraw other applications until you have received notification about financial aid from the admitting Early Decision institution.

You will also be asked whether or not you are applying for financial aid. Keep in mind that this will not impact your admission decision.


Northwestern Academics

In this section, you will select to which of the six colleges listed above you are applying. If you are applying to the School of Education or the School of Music, you must declare a major here. Journalism is the only available major within the School of Journalism. For the other schools, you may select “undecided” as your major, and have the option of declaring your final major once you are enrolled as a student.

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. You will indicate whether or not you were invited to apply to HPME here.


Northwestern Contacts

In this section, you will indicate whether or not you have applied to Northwestern previously, and how you learned about Northwestern. You may indicate up to ten responses in order of influence.


Northwestern family

In this section, you will be asked if any relatives are associated with the school:

Are any siblings also applying for undergraduate admission to Northwestern University this year?

Have any relatives ever attended Northwestern University?

            – Are any of those relatives a parent, step-parent, grandparent, or sibling?

Have any relatives ever worked for Northwestern University?

            – Are any of those relatives a parent or step-parent?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you will be prompted to list your relatives’ names and relationships to you.

Northwestern Statement

Northwestern statement

The Northwestern Statement is not required, but you are strongly encouraged to complete it. There is just one question, and you have 300 words to answer it:

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. 

This is a typical “why us” essay. You should try to be as specific as possible and use plenty of examples and anecdotes to show the admissions committee why Northwestern appeals to you and why you would be a good fit for the school.

Other Requirements

Northwestern requires either the SAT or ACT. Two SAT Subject Tests are recommended, but not required. Additionally, applicants must submit a letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor, along with one recommendation from a teacher. You may submit additional letters of recommendation if you are inclined to do so, though we at CollegeVine recommend sending no more than one additional academic recommendation or one recommendation from an outside party (work manager, volunteer coordinator, etc.). Keep in mind that each recommendation should provide a new perspective on your accomplishments and personality to admissions committees.

Northwestern conducts off-campus interviews through its Alumni Admission Council. However, there is a limited number of these interviews available, and they are not required, nor are they considered a significant component of the application. Applicants who are unable to schedule interviews will not be penalized in the admission process.

Note that Northwestern does not accept any unsolicited supplemental materials.

The Northwestern application has fewer components in its supplement compared with some of the other elite colleges, but you should take great care to make sure your application is thorough and complete, and convey your enthusiasm for the school in the short amount of space available.


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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.