How To Get Into Northwestern: Admission Requirements + Tips

Picture of the Chicago skyline, including the Sears Tower, at night
Updated:
February 5, 2024
10 min read
Contents

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/5/24

Is getting into Northwestern difficult? 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 in the Midwest and an attractive option for prospective students. According to U.S. News and World Report, Northwestern is currently tied for the #9 spot in the ranking of best national universities. 

We’ll cover everything you need to know about Northwestern University. You’ll find information about Northwestern’s application requirements and tips to boost your profile. 

Northwestern University Acceptance Rate: 7.2% 

The Northwestern acceptance rate is 7.2%. In recent undergraduate admissions cycles, Northwestern has consistently accepted less than 10% of applicants. Their average acceptance rate has been steadily declining over the years and now hovers around 7%. 

Here’s some more info on Northwestern’s acceptance rate trends: 

Year Number of Applicants Number of Accepted Students Acceptance Rate
2023 52,233 ~3,765 7.2%
2022 51,261 3,695 7.2%
2021 47,636 3,321 7.0%
2020 39,263 3,654 9.3%

Source: Northwestern Common Data Sets

Northwestern Early Decision Acceptance Rate

The current Northwestern Early Decision acceptance rate is 22%. Their ED acceptance rate tends to be in the 20-25% range, but like the overall acceptance rate, these numbers have also been decreasing slightly over the years. 

Take a look at this chart for some more Northwestern ED acceptance data:

Year Number of Applicants Number of Accepted Students Acceptance Rate
2023 N/A N/A 22%
2022 5,021 1,109 22%
2021 4,545 1,105 24%
2020 4,411 1,105 25%

Source: Northwestern Common Data Sets

How Hard Is It to Get Into Northwestern? 

With an acceptance rate of 7.2%, Northwestern is a highly selective school. In a recent admissions cycle, over 52,000 candidates applied to Northwestern’s undergraduate programs. Fewer than 4,000 students were accepted. 

While low acceptance rates can be discouraging, remember that they reflect 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. 

Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Northwestern.


Northwestern University Admissions Statistics

Northwestern Average GPA: 3.9-4.0 

The average GPA of incoming Northwestern students is likely between 3.9 and 4.0. While the admissions office doesn’t explicitly state the average GPA to get into Northwestern University, over 95% of accepted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class in a recent admissions cycle. 

While opportunities at every high school can differ, shooting for a 4.0 GPA and a spot in the top 10% of your class can help bolster your application.

Northwestern Average SAT: 1530 

In a recent admissions cycle, the median SAT score at Northwestern was 1530. The 25th to 75th percentile range was from 1500-1560. 

While there’s no minimum SAT score required to apply to Northwestern, you should aim for a 1530 or higher in order to improve your admission chances. 

Northwestern Average ACT: 34 

The median composite ACT score at Northwestern was 34 in a recent cycle. The 25th to 75th percentile range was from 33-35, which is quite high. You’ll need a 34 or higher to be a competitive applicant.  

Northwestern will continue to be test-optional for the 2023/2024 admissions cycle, so you can choose whether you want to submit your SAT or ACT scores

What is Northwestern University Looking For In Applicants? 

To be a competitive candidate at Northwestern, you should have a GPA between 3.9 and 40 and minimum SAT/ACT scores of 1530 and 34, respectively. Successful applicants also have relevant extracurricular activities, a compelling essay, and strong recommendations. 

Northwestern also looks for candidates who demonstrate academic growth, intellectual curiosity, involvement in school or the community, and positive traits. In your application, emphasize your academic aptitude, initiative, and personality.

Here’s some more information on how Northwestern evaluates applications, taken from their Common Data Set: 

Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Rigor of secondary school record X
Class rank X
Academic GPA X
Standardized test scores X
Application essay X
Recommendation X

Non-Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Interview X
Extracurricular activities X
Talent/ability X
Character/personal qualities X
First generation X
Alumni/ae relation X
Geographical residence X
State residency X
Religious affiliation/commitment X
Volunteer work X
Work experience X
Level of applicant’s interest X


Northwestern University Admissions Requirements

To get into Northwestern University, you should aim for an SAT score of at least 1530 or an ACT score of 34. Additionally, you should strive for a GPA of 4.0 or higher. To further strengthen your application, ensure you highlight your intellectual curiosity and unique traits.

There are many other components you need to gather to apply to Northwestern, including the following: 

If you’re applying to a specific program, such as the Bienen School of Music, the Integrated Science Program, Mathematical Methods in Social Sciences, or the School of Communication’s Musical Theater Program, you may be required to submit additional materials such as portfolios or audition videos. 

Be sure to read all the requirements thoroughly and take time polishing your materials. This will help you create a standout college application

Northwestern Application Deadlines

Keeping track of college application deadlines can be tricky, especially if you’re applying to many different schools. To help make the process easier, here is some information about important dates for Northwestern’s application process. 

Below, you’ll find a list of deadlines for both Regular Decision and Early Decision applicants: 

Application Step Deadline
Early Decision applications due November 1
Early Decision financial aid applications due December 1
Early Decision notification date December
Regular Decision applications due January 3
Regular Decision financial aid applications due February 1
Regular Decision notification date March

Northwestern Regular Decision Deadline

The deadline to apply to Northwestern through Regular Decision is January 3. Regular Decision applicants will receive their decision notifications sometime in March. 

Northwestern Early Decision Deadline

The Northwestern application deadline for Early Decision is November 1. This year’s Early Decision acceptance rate is estimated to be approximately 20%, almost three times higher than the overall Northwestern acceptance rate.


How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into Northwestern

Although it can be easy to get hung up on Northwestern’s acceptance rate, it’s crucial to put your time and energy toward your application instead. Here are some tips to help you boost your profile and give yourself a better chance of acceptance at Northwestern University. 

Show Your Academic Excellence

Northwestern’s holistic approach to application review means every part of your application is considered before the admissions committee makes a final decision. However, striving for a high GPA always bolsters any college application. 

female student reading book

Northwestern also wants to see your “academic growth and intellectual curiosity.” This means taking challenging courses such as AP or IB classes to show you can take charge of your learning. 

Determine Your Test Score Strategy 

Since Northwestern is currently test-optional, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to apply with SAT/ACT scores. This is up to you – however, we recommend evaluating the scores of past admitted students first. 

For example, if your SAT score is between 1500 and 1560 or your ACT score is between 33 and 35, your scores would be on par with the upper middle 50% of admitted students. If your score is at these levels or higher, consider sharing it! Otherwise, you must decide whether your scores strengthen your overall application. 

Be Yourself, But Consider What Northwestern Is Looking For 

group of students walking to class

You always want to be authentic in your application documents. However, it never hurts to consider what top schools search for in students and tailor your application to their expectations. 

For example, Northwestern has an entire webpage dedicated to what it calls the “fit factor.” Northwestern states, “Most important, though, we agreed that fit isn’t something that you have (or don’t). Instead, fit is a story you tell us about how you see yourself thriving on campus.” 

Answering the questions Northwestern asks on the fit factor page can help you determine what the school seeks and how to incorporate some of your answers into your application documents.

Northwestern Supplemental Essay

Along with the rest of the requirements, you must write a supplemental essay, required for all applicants using the Common Application or Coalition with Scoir. 

The Northwestern writing supplement essay question is as follows: 

“We want to be sure we’re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences: What aspects of your background, your identity, or your school, community, and/or household settings have most shaped how you see yourself engaging in Northwestern’s community, be it academically, extracurricularly, culturally, politically, socially, or otherwise?”

female student with earphones

Northwestern also provides several optional essay prompts, encouraging students to answer at least one and no more than two in 200 words or less. Here are the optional Northwestern essay prompts: 

  1. “Painting “The Rock” is a tradition at Northwestern that invites all forms of expression—students promote campus events or extracurricular groups, support social or activist causes, show their Wildcat spirit (what we call “Purple Pride”), celebrate their culture, and more. What would you paint on The Rock, and why?” 
  1. “Northwestern fosters a distinctively interdisciplinary culture. We believe discovery and innovation thrive at the intersection of diverse ideas, perspectives, and academic interests. Within this setting, if you could dream up an undergraduate class, research project, or creative effort (a start-up, a design prototype, a performance, etc.), what would it be? Who might be some ideal classmates or collaborators?” 
  1. “Community and belonging matter at Northwestern. Tell us about one or more communities, networks, or student groups you see yourself connecting with on campus.”
  1. “Northwestern’s location is special: on the shore of Lake Michigan, steps from downtown Evanston, just a few miles from Chicago. What aspects of our location are most compelling to you, and why?”
  1. “Northwestern is a place where people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world can study, live, and talk with one another. This range of experiences and viewpoints immeasurably enriches learning. How might your individual background contribute to this diversity of perspectives in Northwestern’s classrooms and around our campus?”

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. 

Northwestern Interview 

Northwestern doesn’t have mandatory interviews for undergraduate candidates. Instead, the school offers optional alumni interviews, which are scheduled depending “entirely on alumni geography, availability, and capacity.” 

The 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 and are offered in a hybrid format. The default format will be virtual, but you may request an in-person meeting if you so choose. 

female student doing virtual interview

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.” 

Remember, it isn’t possible to set up an interview with every applicant who wants one due to geographical and alumni limitations – you won’t be disadvantaged if you aren’t offered an interview.

How to Prepare for the Northwestern Interview

Even though your interview will be in a relatively casual setting, you should still prepare yourself well. Your Northwestern interview is a great chance for you to learn more about the school’s culture and what you can expect as a student there. 

Here are some tips to help you prepare for your college interview

  • Dress Appropriately: It’s important to make a good impression, so make sure you’re wearing suitable clothing! Aim for business casual style. Even if your interview is virtual, you should still dress well from head to toe. 
  • Ask Good Questions: The interview is as much for you as it is for your interviewer! Think of questions you can ask that will give you insight into what Northwestern is like, not just things you could research yourself. 
  • Prepare, But Don’t Over-Rehearse: It’s important to consider questions that you may be asked so you aren’t caught off-guard, but you don’t want to sound robotic. Think of potential answers, but don’t create an extensive script. 

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 seeks to admit students who are academically strong, curious, and community-oriented. To improve your chances, emphasize your academic aptitude and positive personality traits in your application. 

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. However, despite not being an Ivy League school, 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, but it’s estimated that the average GPA of incoming students is between 3.9 and 4.0.

5. Does Northwestern Prefer SAT or ACT? 

Northwestern doesn’t prefer either test. It’s your choice whether you want to apply with SAT or ACT scores. 

6. What Should I Do If I Get Rejected From Northwestern? 

Remember, there’s a limited number of seats to fill, and sometimes tough decisions must be made. Your next course of action may be a gap year where you find meaningful activities or employment to add to next year’s college application, or you accept an offer from a different school. 

7. How Much Does Northwestern University Cost?

The total cost to attend Northwestern University comes to about $91,290 before financial aid. However, Northwestern offers financial aid that meets 100% of each student’s demonstrated financial need. 

8. What Is the Average SAT Score for Northwestern University?

The median SAT score at Northwestern is 1530.

Is Northwestern the School for You?  

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

Your application shows who you are—your personality, academic aptitude, initiative, and authenticity. Take what you’ve learned about Northwestern’s requirements and apply it to your application; you’re sure to have a better chance of acceptance!

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