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Will the coronavirus outbreak have any effect on the admissions process for prospective students?

The coronavirus outbreak has clearly affected how students and families navigate the college admission process. Even as we see comunities starting to rebuild and reopen, we understand that many have experienced school closures or restricted activities, and that families around the world are enduring financial strain and loss of loved ones. We are committed to working with schools and families to ensure all candidates receive full consideration for Northwestern’s incoming classes. Secondary school officials with questions or concerns about undergraduate admissions should contact, primarily if a student will not be able to complete their secondary school education.

In any given year, we recognize that the college admission process can be filled with challenges and anxiety and student face unprecedented considerations as the pandemic has  brought—and continues to bring—profound change to our daily lives. To help address some of these considerations, our Director of Undergraduate Admission, Liz Kinsley, has written this blog post for prospective applicants.

What are Northwestern’s testing policies for the upcoming admission cycle?

Given test cancellations and anticipated registration challenges caused by the pandemic, we will adopt a test-optional policy for first-year applicants in the 2022–23 admission cycle. Applicants may submit a score if they wish, but scores are not required.

For more on our modified test policy, see our 2020-23 Testing Policy FAQs.

Our Director of Undergraduate Admission, Liz Kinsley, has also posted a blog post addressing the change in standardized testing policy for 2020-23.

What should students do if they are having trouble submitting documents (e.g., a transcript) from a high school or these documents are not available?

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students and communities in unexpected ways, disrupting the day-to-day processes for many schools. Our office believes that students should not be penalized for things that are outside of their control. If you anticipate challenges submitting items to complete your application, please contact us so that we can work with you to gather the necessary documents.

We also recognize that COVID-19 may impact the ability of students to request letters of recommendation. While we still require a letter of recommendation from a counselor (or designated school official) along with at least one letter from a teacher, we will not penalize applicants if teacher recommendations are especially brief or arrive late due to circumstances outside of students’ control.

How will changes/cancellations to exams like Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate impact students’ applications?

We realize Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests, certain national exams, and other external examinations will also be modified or canceled due to the pandemic. We do not require that applicants submit these exam results unless they are part of graduation requirements for your secondary school.

To the extent that AP and IB scores earn credit for our incoming students, our registrar’s office has partnered with academic departments to determine whether test modifications will affect our credit policies. Please refer to our undergraduate schools’ websites for credit policies specific to each program.

How will Northwestern consider changes in high school grading due to the COVID-19?

We always look to a high school’s own metrics for relative academic rigor and performance rather than imposing our own standards. Additionally, high school counselors will have an opportunity on this year’s application to describe any grade/transcript changes in response to the pandemic.

Our holistic review process always foregrounds context, so we are well prepared to assess applications fairly in light of the many challenges and disruptions students have faced in recent months.

How can applicants let Northwestern know about ways they have been impacted?

The historic events of 2020 will resonate into the future. Our process is designed to consider context on multiple levels and, this year, we will be mindful as ever of circumstances at home, with school, and in communities. We constantly seek out narratives: applications tell us a story of students’ paths through high school. We have been humbled by the resiliency, bravery, and creativity that students have shown. This spring will become part of that story, and we will do our best to interpret it with understanding and compassion.

Students choosing to share information about the impacts of this past spring can do so through a variety of methods: (1) the Common Application and the Coalition application will both include questions specific to the possible impact of COVID-19 on applicants, (2) high school counselors will be asked to share the impact of COVID-19 on school communities, (3) documents like essays and letters of recommendation help us to better understand students in the context of their environments.

How can prospective students learn more about Northwestern without visiting campus in person?

Although the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has temporarily suspended on-campus programming, we welcome you to sign up for an upcoming online information session, watch a recorded “Live from Northwestern” information session, experience our online virtual tour, or keep up with us on social media. You may also wish to view our Director's message to prospective students.

What are Northwestern’s plans for holding regional events or visiting high schools?

While getting to meet students in their own communities is among the highlights of our jobs, we are actively assessing the health and safety risks of traveling in person. Please feel free to check our website for updates regarding travel.

Where can I find the most current information about Northwestern’s response to COVID-19 and the potential campus impacts?

The University’s response team is posting all Covid-19-related announcements on a dedicated website, and we recommend checking this for updates. New information and FAQs will be posted as the circumstances surrounding the pandemic and Northwestern’s response plan continue to evolve.