How To Get Into Northwestern: Admission Requirements + Tips

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November 24, 2023
12 min read

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/24/23

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.   

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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 #10 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

In a recent undergraduate admissions cycle, Northwestern University received 52,225 applications and accepted 7% of applicants

Northwestern University acceptance rate compared to how many students Quad get's into the same school!

Northwestern Yield Rate 

A school’s yield rate refers to the number of admitted students 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 55% 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, 52,225 candidates applied to Northwestern’s undergraduate programs. Approximately 3,665 students were accepted. 

While low acceptance rates can be discouraging, remember it 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.

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

Northwestern Admissions Requirements

To get into Northwestern University you should aim for an SAT score of at least 1560 or an ACT score of 35. Additionally, you should strive for a GPA of 4.1 or higher. To further strengthen your application, ensure you highlight your intellectual curiosity and unique traits.

There are many components you need to gather to apply to Northwestern. We’ll explore the details below.

Mid-year Report, School Report, and Official Transcripts 

These documents provide the admissions committee with valuable insight into your academic performance, high school courses 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 to share context about your characteristics and academic performance. They can comment on your school involvement, initiative, and anything else they want to share. 

Northwestern also requires you to submit at least one teacher recommendation. Ensure you choose a teacher who knows you well enough to produce a stellar recommendation. 

Northwestern University SAT Requirements 

There’s no minimum SAT score required to apply to Northwestern, and the school is currently test-optional. The middle 50% of admitted students’ combined SAT scores were between 1460 and 1560.

Northwestern University ACT Requirements 

The middle 50% of composite ACT scores were between 33 and 35. Northwestern will continue to be optional for the 2023/2024 admissions cycle, so you can choose whether you want to submit your SAT or ACT scores

Northwestern GPA Requirements 

The admissions office doesn’t explicitly state the average GPA to get into Northwestern University. However, 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 the top 10% of your class can help bolster your application. 

TOEFL, IELTS, or DET Academic Scores

You must submit scores from one of these tests if English isn’t your native language or your high school taught 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. 

If finances are a concern, you’re in luck! Among admitted students in a recent admissions cycle, 21.5% were Pell Grant recipients. Additionally, over 60% of undergraduates received financial assistance. 

Northwestern “meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students with loan-free financial aid packages.” The school also recently awarded over $200 million in need-based financial assistance 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’ll provide music prescreening or portfolio materials. It’s preferred that you provide a letter of recommendation from a music teacher. 

Integrated Science Program (ISP)

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.

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 must submit a personal video and a performance video.

How to Apply to Northwestern 

When you apply to Northwestern, you can apply using the Common Application or Coalition Application. It doesn’t make a difference which one you use.  

Remember that you’ll need to write a personal statement no matter which portal you use – these prompts may differ slightly. These online applications are your one-stop-shop for college applications but always reread and check what’s being asked of you before you submit. 

Northwestern Application Deadline & Process

Below you’ll find a list of deadlines for Regular Decision applicants:

Deadline Regular Decision
Application Deadline Early January
Admissions Decision Released Late March
Enrollment Decision/Tuition Deposit Due Early May

The Northwestern application deadline for Regular Decision is January 2. 

Northwestern Early Decision Dates and Acceptance Rate

If you’re planning to apply under Early Decision, these are the critical deadlines for the admissions process: 

Deadline Early Decision
Application Deadline Early November
Admissions Decision Released Mid-December
Enrollment Decision/Tuition Deposit Due Early February

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.

Northwestern Supplemental Essay

Along with the rest of the requirements, you must write a supplemental essay. The Northwestern writing supplement asks you:

“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. 

Northwestern Interview 

Northwestern doesn’t have mandatory interviews for undergraduate candidates. Instead, the school offers optional alumni interviews off-campus, 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. 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.” 

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

Tips to Get 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. 

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 1510-1560 or your ACT score is between 34-35, 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 them! Otherwise, you must decide whether your scores strengthen your overall application. 

Be Yourself, But Consider What Northwestern Is Looking for 

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 University Tuition Fees and Scholarships

Let's explore Northwestern University's tuition fees and the various scholarship opportunities available to make higher education more affordable.

Tuition and Fees

Northwestern University will increase undergraduate tuition by 4% for the 2023-2024 school year. Additionally, they are increasing undergraduate financial aid to $289 million, which is more than a 4.1% increase.

If you're an undergraduate living on campus, the total cost for the year will be $86,330. This includes $64,887 for tuition, $20,333 for standard room and board, and $1,110 in fees.


Northwestern University awarded over $200 million in undergraduate scholarships in 2022-23, with approximately half of undergraduates receiving these scholarships. 

Eligible students are automatically considered for various aid programs, subject to program and eligibility changes based on regulations. Scholarships are limited to four years for first-year students and three years for transfer students.

Northwestern University Scholarship

This scholarship is typically the last component of an aid package, covering remaining financial need. Eligibility is based on institutional financial need, with awards ranging from $250 to over $40,000 annually.

Northwestern Endowed Scholarships

Eligible need-based scholarship recipients may also receive named endowed scholarships established by individuals passionate about the university's mission. Endowed scholarships replace NU grants on a dollar-for-dollar basis and have specific criteria for selection. No additional application materials are needed.

Good Neighbor, Great University

This scholarship is offered to graduates of Evanston and Chicago high schools, replacing summer earnings and work-study allocation based on demonstrated university financial need. Award amounts range from $1,000 to $5,500.

QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship

Northwestern partners with QuestBridge to assist low-income students with strong academic records. Considerable scholarship aid is available; contact QuestBridge for details and deadlines.

Chicago Star Scholarship

This need-based program, established in 2016-17, is for students who transferred from City Colleges of Chicago to Northwestern for their first bachelor's degree. Award amounts are determined by demonstrated need and are renewable for up to three years, contingent on academic progress.

Native American and Indigenous Studies Scholarship

Beginning in 2023-24, this scholarship supports undergraduate students focusing on Native American and Indigenous studies. 

It's awarded based on commitment to and knowledge of Native American and Indigenous issues and replaces Northwestern University Scholarship funds, depending on financial need. Renewable for up to four years with satisfactory academic progress.

Should I Apply to Northwestern?

Question marks

Northwestern can offer you an excellent undergraduate experience and comprehensive education. If studying at Northwestern has been a goal of yours and you meet the requirements, you should certainly apply! 

Are you passionate about one of the undergraduate schools? Do you see yourself fitting in with the school’s culture, activities, or clubs? Does Northwestern offer classes that appeal to your specific interests? Envision getting into Northwestern, and picture yourself spending four years at the campus to decide if it’s what you want. 

If you’re intimidated by the low acceptance rate, don’t be. You can’t control the volume of applications Northwestern receives, but you can control how much yours can stand out for all the right reasons. 

FAQs: Northwestern University Admission FAQs

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

1. What Does Northwestern Look for in Applicants? 

Northwestern 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. 

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 (on a weighted scale) is 4.1. 

5. Does Northwestern Prefer SAT or ACT? 

Northwestern doesn’t prefer either test. Remember, it’s your choice whether you want to apply with SAT/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?

Northwestern University costs an average of $83,838 before financial aid.

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

Approximately 50% of admitted Northwestern University applicants achieved SAT scores falling from 1460 to 1560.

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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