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Your Application

Advice for Completing Your Application

Find help related to application requirements, such as your letters of recommendation and personal essay, and answers to common questions. To jump to a specific topic, please see below:

Standardized Test Scores

TIP: SAT Subject Test Scores, if available, are one way that students can demonstrate additional areas of academic strength.

Northwestern will be test optional for first-year applicants for the 2020-21 cycle.

If students choose to take an SAT or ACT, there is no preference for either exam—and will review a “superscore” for both tests. For students who take the SAT or ACT more than once, this means that our system will combine the highest section scores across multiple test dates and calculate a “superscore” that will override the high score from a single sitting in our database. Applicants are not obligated to report scores from all test dates, though are welcome to do so.

Reporting ACT scores
  • For students who take the new ACT section tests (available in September 2020), we will factor any individual section scores into your ACT superscore. You may utilize ACT’s new superscore reporting option to report an official superscore.
Self-reporting SAT and/or ACT scores
  • Students may self-report all SAT and ACT scores, but please do not calculate your own ACT superscore—report your highest ACT section scores and your highest composite score from a single test date, and our system will calculate the ACT superscore. Admitted students who choose to enroll will be required to submit official SAT or ACT test scores that confirm highest self-reported section/composite scores prior to matriculation.

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 a school that, if admitted, you would attend without hesitation, 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 a top choice, and you feel comfortable applying through the Early Decision process, 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 approximately 50% of our incoming freshman class from early decision. To learn more, please visit our Application Options page.

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.

Need to submit an update or want to check on the status of your application? Once your application has been submitted, we will email a personalized link with instructions on how to access the Applicant Status Portal, which can be used to monitor the progress of your application.