There’s a T-shirt with a phrase on it that applies to most Northwestern University students: “Plays well with others.” Although Northwestern undergraduates are unquestionably intelligent and academically driven—approximately eighty-six percent of them graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class—they are also a remarkably collaborative group. As a result, you’ll find Northwestern students working together on everything from scientific research projects with outstanding faculty members to a seemingly infinite number of student-organized a cappella and theater groups to the nationally known Dance Marathon, an annual thirty hours of nonstop dancing fund raising event for a designated charity. You’ll also find students engaged in community service projects and internships throughout the Chicago metropolitan area where Northwestern is located. “My Northwestern education encompassed so many components that it is difficult to avoid pigeonholing it into preconceived stereotypes. I had small classes, great research opportunities, and caring professors, but I also took part in Division I football games and a vibrant campus that never lay dormant. The intellectual atmosphere drove me to question my assumptions about the world around me, while the social atmosphere was just a lot of fun. Chicago offers everything you need from a city, while Evanston offers everything you need from a college town and then some.
I visited other universities that claimed to have it all, but each was lacking in some component of the environment I desired. Northwestern didn’t flinch in any of its attributes, rather, I grew to like them more as I learned more about them in my four years there. Looking back, I still can’t imagine going to college anywhere else. —Braxton Boron, Music ’08, ’09, awarded Gates Scholarship
Part of that cooperative ethic stems from Northwestern’s academic culture, which encourages collaborative learning in an unusually broad range of disciplines for a school of its size. Students can explore academic subjects in six undergraduate schools, regardless of major, either through academic programs such as dual degrees or simply by taking electives. Regardless of academic discipline, you’re likely to end up in classes where you’ll not only have a chance to voice your opinion, you’ll be expected to do so. That means you’re an active participant in your education, not a passive note-taker.
And part of this sense of community also results from the often-unplanned interactions that occur when you get 8,300 intelligent, involved students together in one place. Whether it’s debating the merits of a particular viewpoint in class, hanging out at any of Evanston’s halfdozen coffeehouses near campus, or riding the free university shuttle bus together to catch events in neighboring Chicago, Northwestern students generally cram as much into their lives as possible. If you want solitude, you can definitely find it at Northwestern—the campus’ mile-long shoreline of Lake Michigan is a favorite place, especially in good weather—but if you’re someone who enjoys “playing well with others,” Northwestern is a good fit.
North by Midwest
So why is a private university in the Chicago metro area named Northwestern? When it was founded in 1851, the university’s founders intended it to educate the children of those living in the states that had been carved out of the Northwest Territory, which was created by Congress in 1787. The vast region included all the land between the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and the Great Lakes. The area ultimately became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota, and was known for decades as simply “the Northwest.” Today Northwestern attracts students from all fifty states and approximately 50 foreign countries.
There really isn’t such a thing as a “typical” Northwestern experience, mainly because there are so many different types of people here. That’s probably a good thing, although it makes it hard to characterize the institution. In the end, Northwestern students can make their time here be pretty much anything they want, given the range of choices that exist. For most students, that means four years of a great education—and some really fun times with good friends.
I first visited Northwestern in seventh grade, when my older brother was visiting prospective colleges. I had visited many other universities and found them quite intimidating. I had thought that college was just an enemy to be defeated, but Northwestern felt more like home. By the end of the tour, my brother was still undecided, but I’d already made up my mind. Four years later, I felt more homesick leaving Northwestern than I had coming there. Like my parents prepared me for college, Northwestern prepared me for the real world, and yet it is so much more than the skills I gained from it. The most important lesson it taught me was to be extremely picky about the way you live your life—after all, you only get to do it once. Wherever your life takes you, it should always be painful to leave because you need to become a part of a place to grow there. Northwestern has a lot of environment to offer, but in the end you have to interact with that environment to make the next four years the best of your life.