How to Get Into Northwestern: Admissions Stats + Tips
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A top 10 college in the heart of one of the country’s great cities, it’s easy to see why so many college-bound high schoolers want to attend Northwestern University. Further bolstering Northwestern’s appeal is its list of notable alumni, which includes 22 Nobel Prize laureates and 40 Pulitzer Prize winners and a who’s-who list of celebrities including Stephen Colbert, David Schwimmer, and George R.R. Martin.
How Hard Is It to Get Into Northwestern University?
Northwestern has historically been a very hard school to gain admission to and is only getting more difficult. The university’s 6.8% acceptance rate is the lowest in its history admitting just 3,239 students out of 47,633 applicants to its class of 2025.
Northwestern received 4,411 applications through its early decision process, of which it offered admission to 1,105 applicants. Northwestern’s roughly 25% early decision acceptance rate is substantially higher than its overall acceptance rate.
Admission to prestigious institutions with incredibly low acceptance rates like Northwestern is extremely challenging, however, your odds vary depending on the strength of your profile. CollegeVine’s free admissions calculator can help you better understand your chances of admission—it uses metrics like grades and test scores along with factors such as extracurricular activities to estimate your odds of acceptance and provide tips for improving your profile.
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Northwestern University Students
Northwestern does not publish the GPA or class rank of admitted students, but it’s worth noting that 96% of the class of 2025 graduated in the top tenth of their high school class.
The middle 50% SAT score of Northwestern’s class of 2025 is 1430-1540 and its middle 50% ACT score is 33-35. On the SAT, 82.22% of the class of 2025 scored better than 1400, while 83.10% scored better than a 30 on the ACT.
Northwestern doesn’t publish the high school class rank of students in their class of 2025.
What is Northwestern University Looking for?
Northwestern looks for applicants interested in taking “a Northwestern direction” and pursuing a multidisciplinary education; 72% of undergrads combine two or more areas of study. Northwestern makes it easy for students to major across schools and pursue numerous minors and certificates.
Northwestern weighs the application essay, particularly the Common Application essay, more heavily than extracurricular activities. This makes Northwestern a good choice for students with weaker extracurricular resumes hoping to attend a top 10 school.
Some of the most recognizable names in both broadcast and print journalism attended Northwestern University’s Medill School. Consequently, Northwestern is the nation’s number one school for journalism—topping even institutions like Harvard and Stanford.
How Northwestern University Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, Northwestern considers the following factors “very important”:
- Course rigor
- Class rank
These factors are “important”:
- Recommendation letters
- Extracurricular activities
- Character/personal qualities
These are “considered”:
- Test scores
- First generation
- Racial/ethnic status
- Volunteer work
- Work experience
- Applicant interest
And these are “not considered”:
- Religious affiliation
- Geographical location
- State residence
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Northwestern University
1. Achieve the highest GPA possible while taking the most challenging classes available
Northwestern might not publish the average GPA of students admitted to the class of 2025, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in your GPA. The only three characteristics the university deems “very important” are GPA, class rank, and course rigor.
Highly selective schools that receive huge numbers of applications use Academic Index to hasten the admissions process. Academic Index is a distillation of an applicant’s academic credentials into a single number that the university uses to separate academically qualified applicants from those who miss the mark. If you fail to fall into Northwestern’s Academic Index range, it’s likely you’re not considered a serious applicant.
To clear the Academic Index bar, it’s important for students to take the most challenging courses available to them. It’s common for students at top 10 schools like Northwestern to have completed upward of 12 AP courses over their high school careers. Wondering how many high-level classes you need? Check out our article, “How Many AP Classes Should You Take?”
If your GPA is lower and you’re earlier on in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1540 SAT and 35 ACT
The middle 50% range of accepted students at Northwestern is 1430-1540 for the SAT and 33-35 for the ACT. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the closer you get to the high end of the range, the better your odds of admission become. For applicants who sit for the SAT or ACT multiple times, Northwestern will super score them both, which makes taking the SAT/ACT multiple times a smart strategy to improve your odds of admission.
To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these free CollegeVine resources:
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT
- How to Get a Perfect 36 Score on the ACT
- More SAT Info and Tips
- More ACT Info and Tips
Due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, Northwestern adopted a test-optional policy for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and has extended it to 2021-2022. It’s recommended students take a standardized test if it’s possible to do so safely, as applicants who submit test scores are accepted at higher rates than those who do not.
If you’ve taken a test but the score has left you wondering whether to submit it or not, CollegeVine recommends submitting scores if they’re at, or above, the 25th percentile of accepted students at the school. Students can get recommendations on whether or not they should apply test-optional using our free chancing engine.
3. Write engaging essays
Once you clear Northwestern’s academic threshold, essays are the best way to set yourself apart from the competition. As Northwestern says on its website’s admissions portal, “Essays are an opportunity.” Northwestern places considerable weight on the Common Application and Coalition Application essay.
Northwestern also recommends all applicants submit a writing supplement—if you’re serious about getting accepted, it’s a good idea to consider this required. The supplemental essay prompt is:
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.
In addition to the Northwestern Writing Supplement, admission into some specific programs also requires an essay. To learn about all of the Northwestern writing requirements and how to craft compelling Northwestern essays, read our article, “How to Write the Northwestern University Essays 2021-2022.”
4. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
Northwestern places less of an emphasis on extracurricular activities—it considers extracurricular activities “important”—than other top 10 schools. However, they’re still an excellent way to separate yourself from the competition and highlight what makes you special.
All extracurricular activities can add insight into your interests outside of the classroom, but some are more impressive in the admissions process. The 4 Tiers of Extracurriculars are an easy way to understand the impact of your extracurriculars. Aim for one or two activities from the top tiers, rather than a bunch of less-impressive, unrelated activities. For example, a highly developed interest known as a “spike” can improve your odds at a top 10 school like Northwestern.
The 4 Tiers of Extracurriculars are:
- Tier 1 extracurriculars show exceptionally high levels of achievement and leadership. These activities are very rare and include winning a national award or honored achievement.
- Tier 2 activities demonstrate high levels of leadership and achievement but are more common than those found in Tier 1. Examples include holding a leadership position in a well-known club or making an all-state selection in athletics or music.
- Tier 3 activities highlight a student’s interests more than spotlight distinctions. These activities include holding minor leadership positions in popular clubs or lesser achievements, like being captain of a varsity sport.
- Tier 4 are the most common and least influential of extracurricular activities. These include participating in a club, sport, or musical group and general volunteer work.
5. Apply Early Action/Early Decision
Northwestern has an early decision (ED) application process which has the benefit of having a much higher acceptance rate than the university’s overall acceptance rate—25% vs. 6.8%. Simply put, one of the best ways qualified applicants can improve their odds of acceptance at Northwestern is to apply for early decision.
While early decision delivers higher acceptance rates, it isn’t for everybody. Early decision is binding and by applying ED to Northwestern, you are committing to attend if accepted—this means you can’t compare financial aid offers from other institutions.
In general, early decision is a good path for applicants who are sure that Northwestern is the school they want to attend and are able to afford going there.
6. Recommendation Letters
Northwestern considers letters of recommendation “important” when making admissions decisions and requires applicants to submit two letters of recommendation. One letter should come from your high school advisor—that is a college counselor, guidance counselor, academic advisor, or career center specialist—who can speak to your high school curriculum and involvement in your high school. The other recommendation should come from a teacher in a core subject from your junior or senior year who can address your strengths as a student.
Teachers are not compensated for the time they spend writing recommendation letters, so make it as easy as possible on them by following these general guidelines:
- Leave them plenty of time to write the letter; a few months’ notice is advisable.
- Provide them with all the information they need to write a compelling letter—a resume, transcript, or recollection of a relevant memory are all useful.
- Make sure to say thank you once it’s written; it’s not uncommon to give a small token of your appreciation like a gift card or something homemade.
Check out our 9 Rules For Requesting Letters of Recommendation from Teachers for comprehensive advice on how to get compelling letters of recommendation.
How to Apply to Northwestern University
Northwestern accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. The other Northwestern application requirements are:
- Official transcript
- Mid-year transcript
- School report
- Counselor recommendation
- Teacher recommendation
- Music audition (music school only)
Other optional materials include:
- SAT/ACT Score
- Northwestern writing supplement
Learn more about Northwestern University
Interested in learning more about Northwestern? Check out these other informative articles:
- What is Northwestern University Known For?
- Northwestern University Diversity Statistics: An In-Depth Look
- How to Get Into Northwestern
- Northeastern vs. Northwestern: Which College is Right for You?
- Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt: Which College is Right for You?
- UChicago vs. Northwestern: Which College is Right for You?