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Tips for Applying

Set yourself up for success.

We know that questions will come up.

Our staff has compiled a list of  tips and suggestions as you complete your application. Use the links below to jump to our tips on the subject.

Tips for identifying your academic path

Selecting an undergraduate school at the time of application

TIP: Apply to whichever undergraduate school’s curriculum is most relevant to your academic interests – they are all equally competitive.

Northwestern requires all applicants to apply to one of the six undergraduate schools. There is no strategic advantage to applying to any specific school, as we use the same admission review criteria for all Northwestern undergraduate applicants. The undergraduate schools are not restrictive; it is very common for students to take classes and/or add a double major or minor in another school. Given that each school has different degree options and requirements, it is in your best interest to apply to the school that houses the department of your intended or anticipated primary major.

Dual Degrees and Second Majors

TIP: If you want to earn two bachelor’s degrees over five years, apply to the Dual Degree program. If you want to have a traditional double major in four years, apply to the undergraduate school that houses your primary major, and you can add a second major later.

The Dual Degree programs at Northwestern allow students to graduate with two separate degrees in five years. For example, a student enrolled in the Bienen School of Music Dual Degree program with the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music. In the Dual Degree programs, you have to fulfill the curriculum requirements for both degrees and majors. 

Conversely, adding a second major adds another concentration of study to the same degree. For example, a student double majoring in McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will receive one Bachelor of Science degree with two majors (i.e. Industrial Engineering and Computer Science). Adding a second major can be completed within four years.

Pursuing premed coursework

TIP: The Honors Program in Medical Education is an accelerated option for the most academically competitive students, but there are plenty of other opportunities to be premed at Northwestern.

The majority of undergraduates interested in studying medicine participate in premed as an advising track. These students have the option to choose any major offered at Northwestern, while also taking the necessary complement of science courses required by most medical schools. The advisers in the University Academic Advising Center will encourage pre-med students to also consider clinical experience, research, and involvement in the campus and local community.

Northwestern also offers the HPME program (Honors Program in Medical Education). HPME is a direct-admit, highly selective program, whereby students are admitted to both Northwestern University and the Feinberg School of Medicine. Students interested in applying to HPME should submit a request form, which becomes available in mid-September and must be completed by December 1. Note that students must complete the application required by the Office of Undergraduate Admission as well as a separate application for the Feinberg School of Medicine. HPME undergraduates can pursue majors within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Communication. The HPME website offers a profile of the most recently admitted class, which you can view to determine if you are a competitive applicant.

The Northwestern Undergraduate Premedical Scholars Program (NUPSP) is an additional early acceptance program into the Feinberg School of Medicine for high achieving Northwestern University undergraduate students. NU students apply to the program at the beginning of their junior year for matriculation into the Feinberg School after their senior year.

Applying “Undecided”

TIP: If you’re unsure of your major, you can apply “Undecided” to the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or the School of Education and Social Policy.

Applying undecided is one of the more popular majors for applicants. You may apply undecided to the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Education and Social Policy. In fact, "Undecided" is the most common major among our applicants.  Undecided students have until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major, during which time they may explore the distribution requirements of their school as well as work with their adviser to find a major that fits their interests.  

Pursuing multiple areas of study

TIP: You only need to select one area of study at the time of your application – you can add second majors, minors, and certificates later.

All students must select one primary major within their undergraduate school, which will determine their degree requirements. You may choose to add a double major, or a minor or certificate as an additional area of study. At Northwestern, a certificate program is a highly specialized area of study which requires fewer courses than a minor. A major is typically 15-18 courses, a minor is typically 8-10 courses and a certificate is typically 4-6 courses.  Northwestern students can declare up to three different concentrations (majors, minors, certificates).

Tips for completing your application

Standardized test scores

TIP: Take whichever standardized test best suits you, and submit SAT Subject Test Scores if you’d like to demonstrate additional areas of academic strength.

You may send in either an ACT or SAT score. There is no preference for either exam. 

We review test scores slightly differently between the ACT and the SAT. For students taking the ACT, we use the highest official composite score that you choose to report. For students taking the SAT, we will simply add together your highest scores in the Critical Reading and Math categories to make a higher total score. This is the only area in which we create a “superscore” for applicants. You may use Score Choice to select which official SAT scores we receive.

SAT subject tests are optional. Subject exams, offered in topics such as molecular biology, English and physics allow students to demonstrate their skill level(s) in a particular area. For instance, a future engineering student may choose to take the chemistry and math subject tests. However, subject tests may be from topics outside of your potential major. Prospective students who do not submit SAT subject test results will not be penalized; we recognize that many applicants may not have the opportunity to sign up for the exams. 

Letters of recommendation

TIP: Letters of recommendation should be from individuals who can best speak to the range of your strengths and abilities.

We require two letters of recommendation.

One letter should come from your high school counselor. This could be your college counselor, guidance counselor, academic advisor, career center specialist or whoever can to best speak to your overall high school curriculum and involvement within the context of your high school. The second letter should come from one of your teachers who can address your strengths as a student in the classroom; this recommender should most likely be a teacher from one of your core subject areas, in your junior or senior year.

If you have an additional reference who would like to submit a letter on your behalf, we will accept supplemental letters of recommendation. It is in your best interest that each letter provides new or different information about you.

Personal essay

TIP: Essays are an opportunity – they are one of the few sections of your application that you can manage right now, rather than being dependent on your past performance.

Essay writing is an excellent opportunity for personal expression and original thought. Applicants to Northwestern complete two sets of essays: essays appearing on the Common Application or Coalition Application, and the Northwestern Writing Supplement essay. The suggested word limit guideline gives you the chance to answer each question in detail, while also challenging you to write in a concise and clear manner.

In the Northwestern Writing Supplement, we ask students to explain why they would like to attend Northwestern. This question is intentionally open-ended. You may choose one or several aspects of Northwestern to focus your writing, though the majority of the essay’s content should relate to your own interests or experiences.

Activity chart

TIP: The activity chart is your opportunity to be thorough about the depth and range of your involvement, whatever it may be.

The activity chart is your chance to explain any and all activities in which you’ve been involved outside of your high school classes. Provide as much detail as you can, explaining any abbreviations or acronyms that may be unique to your school. If you have held any leadership positions or received any awards, honors or distinctions, be sure to include that information on the activities chart as well. There’s no “right answer” to what kind of activities we like to see – Northwestern has over 500 different clubs and activities on campus, so we appreciate a very wide range of activities and value diversity of student interests.

Special circumstances

TIP: Use the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application to share any information that may have significantly impacted your academic performance or other involvement.

If you have experienced any special or outstanding circumstances that may have interrupted or significantly affected your academic performance in high school, you may write about those in the “additional information” section of the Common Application. If your high school counselor is aware of these circumstances, he or she may also use the Counselor Recommendation to explain this information. Should you have additional circumstances that need to be addressed, you can email a brief summary to ug-admission@northwestern.edu.

Selecting Early or Regular Decision

TIP: If Northwestern is your first choice for college, applying Early Decision best positions you within a competitive applicant pool. If you’re applying for financial aid, we use the same need-based process for financial aid awards for early decision and regular decision; your aid package will be the same regardless of when you apply.

If Northwestern is your top choice, you are strongly encouraged to consider applying Early Decision. We use the same review criteria for both early and regular decision. Applicants in both cycles are very competitive. Last year we enrolled 49% of our incoming freshman class from early decision.

Northwestern allocates financial aid on the basis of demonstrated financial need. Should you receive an offer of admission, your financial aid (including scholarships) will not differ whether you apply under the early decision or regular decision time frame. Please use our Net Price Calculator to determine your expected family contribution. Northwestern guarantees to meet 100% of the demonstrated need between your expected family contribution and the total cost of attendance.

Interviews and meetings

TIP: Admissions staff members do not conduct interviews, but optional, informational alumni interviews are available in some cities.

Alumni Interviews are an optional component of the application process, available on a limited basis. Alumni feedback is included in your file, but not participating in an interview has no negative effect on your chance of admission. Alumni interviews allow applicants to ask questions, and are primarily informational. Read about alumni interviews and availability.

Once you’ve hit “submit”

TIP: Once you’ve submitted your application, keep an eye on your email account associated with your Common Application or Coalition Application – that’s where we’ll send any important updates regarding your application status.

Congratulations! You’ve completed your application. Sit back and relax. Keep your eye on the email address associated with your Common Application or Coalition Application. If we are missing any of your application materials, you will receive an email from ug-admission@northwestern.edu. Otherwise, you’ll hear from us with an admission decision, by mid-December for Early Decision applicants, and by the end of March for Regular Decision applicants.

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