Northwestern Supplemental Essays: Tips and Examples

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September 5, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

Northwestern University is a popular addition to any college list. If you're ready to enjoy the vistas Lake Michigan offers, get ready to write the Northwestern supplemental essay. 

Supplemental essays are an integral part of any college application. They show admissions committees why you're an excellent fit for their school and that you've done the research necessary to understand how its course offerings mesh with your educational goals. 

This guide will outline the "Why Northwestern?" essay and examples to guide your writing. Crafting the perfect Northwestern supplemental essay doesn't have to be too challenging: read on to learn how to write a masterful essay and get into Northwestern!

Northwestern Essay Prompt

You'll need to write a personal statement as part of the Common Application or Coalition Application and the Northwestern Writing Supplement: 

“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 prompt is an opportunity to show your personality, creativity, and thought process behind applying to Northwestern.

How to Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essays 

Writing the “Why Northwestern” essay doesn’t have to be intimidating. These tips can help you create a masterful piece of writing that can boost your chances of getting accepted at Northwestern. 

1. Think Deeply About the Essay’s Purpose 

While the prompt is straightforward, it's helpful to think about the essay's purpose: what does the admissions committee want to see from your answer? 

Northwestern wants to know why the school is the best fit for you and how getting accepted can help you reach your aspirations. The "Why Northwestern" essay should show that you've considered why Northwestern is right for you. 

Your response should also indicate your passion and interest in Northwestern. Admissions committees want to admit students who demonstrate a healthy interest in their school. Your job is to offer a compelling tale of why Northwestern is the school for you: be specific and ensure you do your research. 

2. Brainstorm and Create an Outline

You have many options regarding what direction you take in your essay. You'll need to determine the main idea of your essay. Think of relevant stories or anecdotes related to why you want to go to Northwestern. 

An outline is a great tool to keep you on track. It can also ensure that your essay's introduction, body, and conclusion are easily identifiable. Outlines also help ensure you hit every crucial point you want to mention in your narrative and that it flows logically with no room for confusion. 

3. Align Your Writing With Northwestern’s Mission

Aligning your narrative with a school's mission shows that your goals and intentions match the value of the school. Relating your goals to Northwestern's mission can make you a more competitive applicant. Here is Northwestern's mission

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

Based on this mission statement, you can include anecdotes or elements related to your mission. Are you interested in Northwestern because of its undergraduate research opportunities? Does one of Northwestern’s undergraduate schools offer the perfect program for you (that offers something to you no other college does)? 

Before writing your essay, think about how your reasons for attending Northwestern relate to its mission statement. 

4. Craft a Captivating Introduction

Think of your introduction like your first impression: you want to ensure you're memorable yet professional. Many applicants choose to start their essays by jumping right into a narrative. Starting your narrative in the middle of the action can grab the reader's attention from the first sentence. 

Make sure your introduction is punchy enough to catch the admissions committee’s attention without writing solely for a “shock” factor. Think about what emotions your introduction communicates. 

If you're the type of person that agonizes over essay introductions and spends hours rewriting 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 you want to! Sometimes it's easier to pull together a stellar introduction once the rest of the writing is done. 

5. Write the Essay’s Body 

The body of your essay includes rich detail and expands on the content from 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. 

Don’t forget to include your reactions, feelings, and thoughts. Remember, your essay helps humanize your application!

6. Write a Satisfying 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 mention their hopes for their future and how an education from Northwestern will help them achieve these goals. 

However you decide to end your essay, make sure that it emphasizes that Northwestern is the school for you. 

7. Remember to Edit Your Work 

No one’s “Why Northwestern” essay is perfect after the first draft, and that’s okay! When you edit your writing, you can ensure that you’ve adequately answered the prompt and that narrative is well-constructed and complements the rest of your application. 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 you can get so used to your own writing that you can miss errors that would be much more obvious to someone else.  

Consider seeking an admissions consultant’s help for a fresh perspective on your work; it can make a huge difference and help you boost your chances of acceptance!

Northwestern Supplemental Essay Examples 

These Northwestern supplemental essay examples can help inspire your writing. Read on to learn why they worked! 

Northwestern Supplemental Essay Example #1 

“I felt the cold sheets beneath me and the beeping sounds of a monitor next to my bed, my chest moving up and down and my body sinking into the mattress. I opened my eyes and was greeted with a plastic surgeon holding the cyst that was once in the corner of my eye. Medicine, I decided, was my destiny.

Flash forward to 8th grade, the year I decided to read 100 books. Emerson, John Green, Ernest Cline--you name the author, I read them. I became instantly inspired to learn to write like the wonderful authors I had read. So, writing, I decided (maybe), was my destiny.

Wait--or was it medicine? Well, perhaps it can be both.

The thing I find most striking about Northwestern is its emphasis on the word ‘AND.’ Northwestern students can love computer science AND music theory, poetry AND Latin History, journalism AND business--I can love science AND English. 

At Northwestern, my interests would not be hindered by strict and unwavering guidelines. Rather, they could be effortlessly streamlined and integrated into one another. I could go from ​PSYCH 361--Brain Damage and the Mind to ENG 206 - Reading and Writing Poetry to Carol Clayberger’s Lab to continue my extensive research on T-lymphocytes, similar to that I conducted at UPMC. 

I would be learning each level of the human psyche, communicating my thoughts through writing, and putting them into action through my research.

At Northwestern, I plan to take advantage of the various resources that would enable me to pursue my passions, find new ones, and combine them into one, pulling from both sides of my brain. I know that I am right for Northwestern and Northwestern is right for me because we have a mutual understanding of what education should look like--emphasis on ‘AND,’ not ‘OR.’”

Why This Is a Good Essay

This Northwestern supplemental essay example begins with an anecdote that immediately draws the reader in: where was the writer, and what was happening? We’re encouraged to read on and find out. 

The author does an excellent job setting up their passions to align with Northwestern's approach to interdisciplinary studies. They make a compelling case for why Northwestern is the best school for them to explore all of their interests unrestricted. 

The writer weaves in specific Northwestern classes and connects them to their experience researching T-lymphocytes, creatively merging their past experiences with the school's offerings. 

The conclusion shows that the writer understands Northwestern’s educational model and shows their passion and excitement. Overall, this essay is succinct, well-constructed, and gets to the point. 

Northwestern Supplemental Essay Example #2 

“Why Northwestern? Because this introduction was so difficult to write; because I cannot possibly summarize these reasons in one introductory sentence. Simply put, my interests span across a wide range, and Northwestern has a place for them all.

As an enthusiastic programmer and advocate for positive minority representation in the media, I hope to combine both these interests and conduct research on the influence of media on society. To my delight as a prospective communications major, the School of Communication's research labs showcase project topics ranging from the depiction of STEM in media to improving digital communication. I look forward to taking advantage of the high-quality research, internship and even career opportunities offered to explore my ideas.

My multiple passions keep me creative and energetic, and I plan to continue pursuing them at Northwestern. With years of editing and writing experience for school publications under my belt, for instance, I hope to join the staff of Helicon and North by Northwestern. Last but not least is the constant school spirit and sense of inclusion present within campus. During my campus tour, each tour guide seemed genuinely excited to introduce prospective students to the school. As my particular tour guide described the quarter system and tradition of guarding and painting the rock with passion in her eyes, I knew that only at Northwestern could I find students as enthusiastic about the school itself as they are about their majors. I also spotted many students of color while visiting; as an Asian woman, Northwestern's focus on diversifying reassures me that not only will I not be judged for my background, but that I will get to meet students of all ethnicities and cultures.

College is a time of self-discovery, and I firmly believe I can see my dreams become reality at Northwestern.”

Why This Is a Good Essay 

This essay takes a bold approach: although it doesn't begin with an anecdote, it still works and immediately connects the author's interests to Northwestern's offerings. The author writes about combining their passions and gives examples of the School of Communication's research projects that they would be interested in. 

The author weaves in their experience with writing and editing for school publications to show the value they would bring to the school: hoping to join the staff of Helicon and North by Northwestern. 

If you’ve visited the campus, mentioning something impactful from your visit can work to your benefit in the “Why Northwestern” essay. The author gives a concrete example of their day and mentions how they value the diversity of students. 

Overall, the essay is pretty good and answers the prompt. As a critique, the conclusion could have had more power. This would have been an excellent opportunity to share how Northwestern’s offerings could help the author reach their educational or professional goals. 

Remember, the conclusion is the last impression the reader is left with. You want to ensure you finish off as strong as you started!

Northwestern Essay FAQs

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Northwestern supplemental essays. If you’re looking for a complete Northwestern application guide, check out our college guides directory

1. How Many Supplemental Essays Does Northwestern Require? 

Northwestern currently has only the “Why Northwestern” essay prompt. The number of supplemental essays you must write can change depending on the application cycle. 

2. How Many Essays Do You Need to Write for Northwestern College of Arts and Science? 

Only one program offered at the Weinberg College of Arts and Science requires more essays than the one above. If you apply to the Mathematical Models in Social Sciences program, you'll need to complete short answer questions explaining why you want to apply and more. 

3. How Important Are Essays for Northwestern? 

Essays are a crucial element of your Northwestern application. The admissions committee uses your essays to assess your fit. Whether it’s your personal or supplemental essay, Northwestern is looking for the “fit factor:" academic growth and intellectual curiosity, involvement and community, and positive character traits. 

4. What Is the “Why Northwestern” Essay? 

This essay aims to show you've done your school research, understand how attending Northwestern can help you reach your educational and professional goals, and show how your attendance would positively impact the school. 

Overall, a well-written supplemental essay complements and elevates the rest of your stellar application. 

5. Will Northwestern Always Have the Same Supplemental Essay Prompt? 

No supplemental essay at any college is set in stone. Schools can change their supplemental essay prompts each cycle, but they usually revolve around the same themes. 

6. Is Northwestern’s Activity Chart Another Supplemental Essay? 

No, but it is another mandatory piece of your application. The activity chart is your opportunity to describe your extracurricular activities in detail and include their depth and scope.

Final Thoughts

The Northwestern supplemental essay is a crucial part of your application that requires some school research and critical thought about your goals. Before you jump into your first draft, think deeply about the essay's purpose, craft an outline, and find connections between your activities and goals and Northwestern's mission. 

The Northwestern essay examples and analysis above can help guide your own writing as you show Northwestern why you’re an excellent candidate. Good luck with your essay writing!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

Access 190+ sample college essays here

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