What is Northwestern’s Acceptance Rate & Admissions Requirements?

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The history of Northwestern University is as rich as its academic program. In 1850, nine men with little money, no land, and little experience in higher education met with a vision:  to build a university that would serve the Northwest Territory. They could have never imagined that the college that opened in 1855 with just one building, two faculty members, and 10 students, would eventually grow to become one of the top national universities.


Today, Northwestern University, still located 12 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, is home to 12 schools and colleges, 3,300 faculty, and 21,000 total enrolled students. It is ranked as the number 10 national university, and boasts top programs in journalism, business, and education. Its endowment of nearly $10 billion ensures that it consistently offers top resources and facilities, along with nearly $700 million spent on research each year.


For students interested in a larger university with a competitive academic program, Northwestern is a great choice. To learn more about applying, don’t miss this post.


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.


Applying to Northwestern: A Quick Review


Northwestern offers several different processes for applying. They include processes for international students, transfer students, and the QuestBridge program for high school seniors who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges.


Traditional applicants may choose between Early Decision and Regular Decision. The Early Decision deadline at Northwestern is November 1st, while the Regular Decision deadline is January 1st.


To complete your Northwestern application, you’ll need to submit:


  • The Common App or Coalition Application
  • An official secondary school report and transcript completed by your counselor
  • At least one recommendation from a teacher
  • One recommendation from your counselor
  • A mid-year report completed by a counselor or school official
  • Test results from either the SAT or the ACT
  • Nonrefundable application fee of $75 or application fee waiver
  • Northwestern’s supplemental application essays
  • Early Decision Agreement (ONLY required from Early Decision applicants)
  • Midyear transcript (ONLY required from Regular Decision applicants)
  • Music audition (ONLY required from School of Music applicants)
  • Required for homeschooled applicants ONLY: 3 SAT subject tests 


There are also some additional requirements for students who apply to specific programs. These include the Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), the Integrated Science Program (ISP), the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences (MMSS), and the School of Communication applicants to the Music Theatre Certificate Program. To learn more about the specific application requirements to each of these programs, visit Northwestern’s Application Requirements page.


Due to COVID-19, Northwestern is adopting a test-optional policy for applicants in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. To learn more about test-optional policies, visit our blog post.


Northwestern’s Acceptance Rate is 9%


Northwestern’s acceptance rate for the class of 2023 rose slightly from the previous year. This was the third year that Northwestern’s acceptance rate dipped below 10%.


In 2019, Northwestern received 40,595 applications from hopeful first-years. It accepted 3,673 students overall into the class of 2023, giving an acceptance rate of 9%.

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So, How Does One Get Into Northwestern?


Due to its selective acceptance rate, getting into Northwestern requires just the right balance of qualities evidenced throughout your application materials. You’ll need to perform well academically during high school to show that you’re capable of college level work. You’ll also need to achieve strong test scores and present an outstanding essay and recommendations.


Admits to Northwestern typically display their academic prowess in a number of different ways. More than 90% of them ranked in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. 75% of of accepted students received a composite SAT score of 1450 or above, and 75% of those submitting ACT scores received a composite score of 33 or above. For more statistics on accepted students, you can check out this document.


Of course academic prowess alone doesn’t get you into Northwestern. Northwestern’s admissions committee works hard to identify applicants for whom Northwestern is “a good fit”. Their admissions page outlining The “Fit” Factor points out that fit isn’t about being perfect, it’s about the overlap between your strengths and the strengths of the university.


Northwestern encourages applicants to consider the following questions as they debate the right fit for them:


  • What topics are you excited to explore? What kinds of questions drive you forward?
  • How have you shown initiative in learning more about the world around you?
  • How have you challenged yourself? Surprised yourself?
  • What role(s) have you played in the communities around you (e.g., family, school, religious, service organization)? What impact have you had? How have these communities shaped you?
  • What types of involvement have been the most meaningful for you? Why?
  • How do you envision yourself plugging into, learning from, and contributing to Northwestern’s community? 
  • What are you proud of? What makes you awesome?
  • What kind of friends do you hope to make in college? What kind of friend would you be?
  • How do you overcome challenges or manage disagreements?
  • What gives you joy? 


How To Make Your Application Stand Out


Schedule an Interview. Northwestern makes alumni interviews available to every applicant possible. Though they aren’t a required element of your application, and you will not be penalized if they can’t accommodate you, interviews are an good way for the school to learn more about you and for you to learn more about the school. Check out their Admissions Interviews page to learn more.


Consider Your Theme. A theme might seem like an odd choice of word when describing your college applications, but Northwestern is a selective school, and if you want to stand out, you’ll need to craft an application that tells a story. Think about your experiences, what makes them unique, and the threads that weave throughout them, turning it into a cohesive story. Tell that story on your application and you’ll make yourself even more memorable.


Apply Early Decision. If you know for sure that you want to attend Northwestern, you should apply via the Early Decision program. In 2018, roughly half of the incoming freshman class was accepted through this program. The acceptance rate through regular decision dipped to just 6.4%, while early decision applicants were accepted at a rate of 26%.


Polish Your Essay. We’ve observed that Northwestern places a significant amount of emphasis on the essay portion of your application. Students who don’t shine as much in their extracurriculars may do particularly well in admissions if they can truly stand out through the application essay. For tips on how to do this, don’t miss our post How to Write the Northwestern University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019.


What If You Get Rejected?


First of all, don’t beat yourself. Due to its selectivity, the huge majority of students who apply to Northwestern ultimately are rejected. In addition, Northwestern does not accept admissions appeals of any kind.


Northwestern does accept transfer students, so it is possible to attend school elsewhere and then reapply as a transfer student. This should not be your first plan of action, however; Northwestern’s transfer acceptance rate is still a low 12%. Instead, you should focus on choosing another school at which you’ll be genuinely happy. If a few years go by, you do well, and you still want to transfer, then you might consider it.


Your best bet after a rejection is to set your sights elsewhere. This may be a bitter pill to swallow at first, but it’s important to remember that ultimately it’s not where you go to college that matters, but what you do with your time there. For our advice on adjusting to life at a college that wasn’t your first choice, read our post Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.


The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Northwestern

How to Write the Northwestern University Supplemental Essays 2020-2021.

A User’s Guide to the Common App

Early Decision versus Early Action versus Restrictive Early Action


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.

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