How To Get Into Northwestern: The Definitive Guide

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September 8, 2022
About Northwestern UniversityNorthwestern University RequirementsNorthwestern Acceptance RateHow to Apply to Northwestern Northwestern Application Process and Deadlines Tips to Get Into Northwestern Northwestern Supplemental Essay (Prompt + How to Tackle It) How to Prepare for the Northwestern Interview Should I Apply to Northwestern?FAQs: How to Get Into Northwestern

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/13/22

How hard is it to get into Northwestern? It takes some work, but we’re here to help. Read on to learn everything you need to know about getting into Northwestern University.   

Northwestern University is a prestigious institution and an attractive option for prospective students. According to U.S. News, Northwestern currently holds the #9 spot in the ranking of best national universities. 

This definitive guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to get into Northwestern University. You will find information about Northwestern’s application requirements and an in-depth exploration of the recent class profile. You’ll also find essential information on writing Northwestern’s supplemental essay and tips to ace your interview. 

Applying to college can feel daunting, but this guide will illuminate the process and the requirements to get into Northwestern. Read on to learn how to claim your seat. 

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About Northwestern University

Northwestern is a private research university located in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Its two other campuses are located in Chicago and Doha, Qatar. There are 26 campus residences for undergraduate students.

The school is a leading research facility and states:

“With an interdisciplinary culture, our research spans a spectrum of areas including neuroscience, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and drug discovery.” 

Northwestern is the perfect place if you have STEM goals involving the discovery of new treatments and potentially positively impacting people's quality of life. 

Northwestern University has six undergraduate schools for you to choose from:

No matter what school you choose, a liberal arts education lays the foundation of every degree. 

Northwestern’s Mission and Values 

Northwestern University’s mission statement says that they are:

“committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.” 

The school emphasizes research, knowledge, creative expression, and practical application of the concepts taught in classrooms. Students at Northwestern “are part of an innovative, collaborative, and multidimensional community delivering an impact that is rare in higher education.”

Northwestern University Requirements

There are many components you need to have in order as part of your Northwestern application. Below we will explore the details about the materials you’ll need. 

Mid-year Report, School Report, and Official Transcripts 

You must provide a mid-year report (if you’re still in high school), a school report, and official transcripts. These documents provide the admissions committee with valuable insight into your academic performance and your standing in your class.

Counselor and Teacher Recommendations 

Recommendations serve as an opportunity for third parties to share your positive traits with the admissions committee. 

Your counselor recommendation form asks your counselor or a school official to share context about your personal characteristics and academic performance. They can comment on your school involvement and initiative and anything else they may want to share. 

Northwestern also requires that you submit at least one teacher recommendation. Your evaluator will write a recommendation that they feel best represents you. Make sure that you choose a teacher who knows you well enough to produce a stellar recommendation. 

Test Scores and GPA 

The admissions office does not explicitly state the average GPA to get into Northwestern Univeristy, nor does it state the minimum test scores required. However, you certainly want to perform as well as you can in your high school classes and on your SAT or ACT. 

The middle 50% of admitted students’ combined SAT scores were between 1460 and 1540, and the middle 50% of composite ACT scores were between 33 and 35. 

Over 90% of accepted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class in a recent admissions cycle. While opportunities at every high school can vastly differ, shooting for the top 10% of your class can help bolster your application. 

For the 2020-2022 cycles, Northwestern has made SAT and ACT score submissions optional. If you want to, you can still submit your scores. 

TOEFL, IELTS, or DET Academic Scores

You are required to submit scores from one of these tests if English is not your native language or you’ve received instruction in high school in another language. 

Application Fee or Fee Waiver 

You must submit a nonrefundable application fee or a fee waiver as part of your Northwestern application. 

Among admitted students in a recent admissions cycle, 20.5% were Pell Grant recipients. 61% of undergraduates received some form of financial assistance. 

Northwestern “meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students with loan-free financial aid packages.” During a recent cycle, $195 million in need-based financial assistance was awarded to students. 

Additional Application Materials 

Some of Northwestern’s programs require additional materials to the ones listed above. 

Bienen School of Music 

If you’re applying to the Bienen School of Music, you must submit the Bienen School Supplement. You will provide music prescreening or portfolio materials. It’s preferred that you provide a letter of recommendation from a music teacher. 

Integrated Science Program (ISP)

If you want to apply to this program, you must complete the online ISP application. Consider that, “Admission to Northwestern is not a guarantee of admission to the ISP and the status of your ISP application will not affect your Northwestern general acceptance decision.” 

Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences (MMSS)

This program requires you to submit an additional online application. Similar to the ISP, these application processes are separate. A strong high school curriculum, including calculus, is required for admission into this program. 

School of Communication Applicants to the Music Theatre Certificate Program

If you’re interested in this program, you’re encouraged to submit a Music Theatre Supplement. You are required to submit a personal video and a performance video, and any other materials you want to submit. 

Northwestern Acceptance Rates 

In a recent undergraduate admissions cycle, Northwestern University received 47,636 applications and accepted 7% of applicants. Almost half of the students admitted applied through Early Decision. 

First-generation college students made up 15.1% of the incoming class, and more than 95% of admitted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class. 

Northwestern Yield Rate 

A school’s yield rate refers to the number of admitted students that end up enrolling. Yield rates can help you judge how competitive a program is. A high yield rate reflects a school’s popularity as the first choice among applicants. 

Like acceptance rates, yield rates can change annually. According to U.S. News, Northwestern’s yield rate was 50% in a recent admissions cycle. This earned Northwestern a spot on the list of national universities where most students enroll. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Northwestern? 

Northwestern is a highly selective school. In a recent admissions cycle, 47,636 applicants applied to Northwestern’s undergraduate programs. Just 2,086 students accepted and enrolled.

While low acceptance rates can be discouraging, remember that it mainly reflects the volume of applications Northwestern receives. There’s no way to gauge the quality of all these applications. 

The best thing you can do to boost your chances of acceptance is to polish your application and highlight why you should be admitted into Northwestern. 

How to Apply to Northwestern 

When you apply to Northwestern, you have two choices on which online application to use. You can choose either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. It doesn’t make a difference which one you use.  

You’ll need to submit your admissions materials through either of these online portals. Keep in mind that for either application, you must submit another essay. The prompts may differ slightly, and you can choose which prompt to respond to from a list. 

These online applications are your one-stop-shop for college applications, but be sure to always reread and check what’s being asked of you before you submit. 

Northwestern Application Process and Deadlines 

The college admissions process is a lengthy one, and there are deadlines that you must meet to be considered. Below you will find a list of deadlines for Regular Decision applicants. 

December: This is the last month that you can take the SAT or ACT to ensure that your scores are reported to Northwestern on time. 

January 3 (by 11:59 PM applicant's local time): There are numerous materials you must submit by this time: 

Late March: You will receive an admission decision by this time. 

May 1: This is the deadline to make your decision and submit your nonrefundable tuition and housing deposits. 

Northwestern Early Decision Dates and Acceptance Rate

Early Decision means putting your application together earlier and receiving your admissions decision before other applicants. If you’re planning to apply under Early Decision, these are the critical deadlines for the admissions process: 

October: This is the last month you can take the SAT or ACT to make sure that your scores are reported to Northwestern on time. 

November 1 (by 11:59 pm applicant’s local time): There are numerous materials you must submit by this time, along with the Early Decision agreement: 

Mid-December: You will receive an admissions decision by this time. 

February 1: This is the deadline to make your decision and submit your nonrefundable tuition and housing deposits. 

Early Decision applicants made up almost half of the admitted students into Northwestern in a recent admissions cycle. According to U.S. News, Northwestern’s Early Decision acceptance rate is 25%. 

Tips to Get Into Northwestern 

It’s important that you don’t get too hung up on the admissions statistics. Instead, bring the focus to your own application. There are some ways to highlight your candidacy to give yourself the best chance of getting into Northwestern. 

1. Demonstrate Your Academic Aptitude 

Northwestern takes a holistic approach to admissions, but you should still strive to perform your best in high school and on the ACT or SAT. If you’re still in high school, consider taking IB or AP classes. This can demonstrate that you’re willing to challenge yourself academically and are passionate about learning. 

Performing well on the SAT or ACT can show admissions that you’re serious about your studying habits and can work toward a challenging goal. Overall, demonstrating your academic aptitude can bolster your application and give you an edge over other applicants. 

2. Pick Your Teacher Evaluation With Care

This is the one part of your application where you don’t get a say in the content. You want to ensure that the evaluator you choose knows you well enough to adequately comment on your skills, character traits, and demeanor. Try to pick a teacher with whom your relationship runs deeper than simply showing up to your classes, performing well, and leaving. 

If you’ve collaborated with the teacher on a project, joined an extracurricular activity that they oversee, or taken more than one course that they teach, this can work in your favor. Whoever you choose, make sure that they can represent you well! 

3. Be Authentic, But Consider What Northwestern is Looking For In Applicants 

You should always strive to present the most authentic version of yourself. Your undergraduate application is no exception. However, you can still bolster your chances of getting into Northwestern by knowing what it looks for in prospective students.  

Northwestern is serious about “the fit factor.” The admissions committee wants to know that the students they accept will thrive on campus. Northwestern states, “Fit is not just about who you’ve been or who you are, but also who you will be and who you might become.” 

To help students assess whether or not they’re a good fit for the school, Northwestern presents examples of questions that admissions officers think about. Allow these questions to guide you as you work through your application to demonstrate why you’re a good fit at every step!

Northwestern Supplemental Essay (Prompts + How to Tackle Them) 

Along with the rest of the requirements to get into Northwestern, the application requires that you write a supplemental essay. The writing supplement asks you to explain why you want to attend the school

“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.”

This question is open-ended, so there are many different ways to approach it. Northwestern states, “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.”

Additional Supplemental Materials 

Northwestern University requires you to submit an activity chart. You can list all of the extracurricular activities you participated in outside of the classroom. 

Remember to provide as much detail as possible and explain or expand on any acronyms that may be unfamiliar to the admissions committee. This is also the space to provide information about any awards, honors, or distinctions you’ve received. 

Keep in mind that there’s no right answer regarding what information to share in this section. With over 500 clubs and activities on campus, Northwestern values the diversity of admitted students’ interests. 

How to Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essay 

These top tips will ensure you produce a well-crafted piece of writing that elevates your chances of getting into Northwestern. 

1. Think deeply about the essay’s purpose 

While the prompt is straightforward, it’s helpful to think about the essay’s purpose and what the admissions committee is looking for in an answer. Northwestern wants to know why the school is the best fit for you and how it can elevate you to reach your goals. The essay should show that you’ve put thought into why Northwestern is right for you. 

Your response can also indicate your passion and interest in attending Northwestern. Admissions committees want to admit students they think will accept their offers. Your job is to offer a compelling tale of why Northwestern is the school for you, so make sure to do your research

2. Brainstorm and create an outline. 

You have many options in regards to what direction you take your essay. You’ll need to figure out what the main idea of your essay will be. Think of relevant stories or anecdotes that relate to why you want to go to Northwestern. 

An outline is a great tool to keep you on trackt. It can also ensure that your essay's introduction, body, and conclusion are easily identifiable and flow well. 

3. Craft a compelling introduction. 

The introduction in your essay is akin to a first greeting’s handshake. Many applicants like to start their essays by jumping right into a narrative to immerse and captivate the reader from the very first sentence. 

Make sure it’s punchy enough to catch the admissions committee’s attention. If you’re the type of person that agonizes over first lines and spends hours rewriting the beginning of your writing until it sounds just right, don’t feel pressured to start with the introduction. Remember that your handy outline can help you start writing at any place that you want to start! 

4. Write the body of your essay. 

The body of your essay includes rich detail and expands on what you wrote about in your introduction. Try to use concrete examples that help illustrate why you want to go to Northwestern. Think about events, places, people, or things that influenced your decision. 

5. Wrap it all up in the conclusion. 

Your conclusion should wrap up your essay in a cohesive way and leave the reader satisfied with what they read. Many applicants like to nod toward their hopes for the future in the conclusion. However you decide to end your essay, make sure that it reaffirms that Northwestern is the school for you. 

6. Edit and revise your work. 

No one’s work is perfect the first time around, and that’s okay! When you revise, you can ensure that you’ve adequately answered the prompt and that your writing is well-crafted. Make sure to check for spelling and grammar errors. 

Although it’s great to review your work yourself, it can be advantageous to have someone else look it over. Sometimes when you get too close to your own work, you can start to miss errors that someone else will notice. 

Consider employing the help of an admissions consultant for a fresh perspective on your work; it can make all the difference and help you boost your chances of acceptance! 

How to Prepare for the Northwestern Interview 

Northwestern does not have mandatory interviews for undergraduate students. Instead, the school offers optional alumni interviews off-campus and are scheduled depending “entirely on alumni geography, availability, and capacity.” 

The admissions Admissions Office will contact applicants who attend high school in regions where there are active alumni interviewers. Interviews are accommodated on a space-available basis. Currently, all interviews are held virtually. 

Northwestern says you can “expect a conversational setting where you can relax, be yourself, and ask questions in addition to answering them. You do not need to send a resume or other documents to your interviewer or prepare any other materials prior to the conversation.” 

You will not be at a disadvantage if you can’t or decide not to agree to an interview. Remember that it is not possible to set up an interview with every applicant who wants one due to geographical and alumni limitations. 

Interview Questions

Here are some questions and topics that you may cover in the alumni interview if you choose to participate. 

Questions About You 

The interviewer wants to get a sense of who you are as a person. They may ask you questions about your time in high school, community involvement, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and your background or upbringing. 

Questions About Why You Want to Go to Northwestern 

Your interviewer may ask you about what inspired you to apply to Northwestern. They could ask what program you applied for and why, any clubs or activities you’re interested in joining, and how you plan to contribute to the Northwestern culture and community. 

Questions About Your Strengths or Weaknesses

Your interviewer may or may not ask you questions revolving around your personal strengths or weaknesses. They may ask about your accomplishments, your self-improvement journey, or what you consider to be your greatest strength. 

Questions About Your Aspirations and Future 

The flow of conversation may lead to your interviewer asking about your aspirations and goals. They may ask about your dream job and any other goals you have for the future. 

An Opportunity to Ask Your Interviewer Questions 

You’ll have the chance to ask any questions you have that can’t be answered with a simple Google search. Maybe you want to know more about the student lifestyle or what they loved about attending Northwestern. 

Feel free to ask your interviewer questions about their experiences and time at Northwestern. Taking advantage of this knowledge from someone who has attended the school can help answer questions that require a personal touch. 

FAQs: How to Get Into Northwestern

Still have some lingering questions about Northwestern? Below are some common questions answered. 

1. What does Northwestern look for in applicants? 

Northwestern looks for prospective students that demonstrate academic growth and intellectual curiosity, involvement in school or community, and positive character traits. In your application, be sure to emphasize your academic aptitude, initiative, and personality. 

2. Does Northwestern accept transfer credits? 

Yes, Northwestern accepts some transfer credits, but not every credit you receive from a different institution is eligible for transfer. For example, physical education and English as a second language classes may not be eligible. 

3. Is Northwestern an Ivy League school? 

Northwestern is not an Ivy League school, but it’s still a top national university with a longstanding reputation for quality education. 

4. What Is the Average GPA to Get Into Northwestern University? 

The admissions office doesn't release information about what GPA you need to get into Northwestern, but a higher GPA like a 4.0 will always strengthen your application. Because of Northwestern’s prestige, it’s in your best interest to boost your GPA as much as you can in your junior and senior years of high school. 

Remember that over 90% of admitted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class in a recent admissions cycle. Northwestern is undoubtedly a competitive school, but you can give yourself the best chance of acceptance with enough effort put into your application. 

5. When should I start thinking about college applications? 

Ideally, as early as possible. You should ensure that your application is complete long before the Regular Decision deadlines. Take your ACT or SAT earlier than December of your senior year so that you have the opportunity to retake if you wish. 

Starting your application early means that you give yourself more time to polish and perfect it. 

6. What should I do if I get rejected from Northwestern? 

Rejection is an unfortunate reality that happens to everyone. Northwestern’s admissions rate is low, and there is always a chance that you may not be accepted. 

If you get rejected, that doesn’t mean that you weren’t good enough or intelligent enough to go to Northwestern. Remember that there’s a limited number of seats to fill, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. 

Your next course of action may be a gap year where you go off to find meaningful activities or employment to add to next year’s college application, or you accept an offer from a different school. 

7. Does Northwestern have an MBA program if I want to continue my education? 

Yes, Northwestern is home to the Kellogg School of Management, a prestigious MBA program. If you’re interested in business after your undergraduate studies, Kellogg can be a fantastic option for you. 

Is Northwestern the School for You?  

Applying to Northwestern can be intimidating, especially given the low acceptance rates and its status as a top-ranked national university. However, with enough time and care into your application, you can give yourself a fighting chance among the pool of prospective students. 

Now you know more about how to get into Northwestern, you should feel empowered to do what you need to give yourself the best chance of acceptance. Remember that every part of your application is essential. Take the time to make sure that every part is high in quality before you click submit. 

Your application shows who you are—your personality, academic aptitude, initiative, and authenticity. If you take the information in this guide and take what you’ve learned to your application, you’re sure to have a better chance of acceptance into Northwestern!

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