Northwestern University


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.

Information Summary

Ranks 2nd in Illinois and 57th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 96.7
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $74,649
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 35 / 1550
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 12 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 97% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 22,127


Choosing Courses

With a full-time undergraduate population of about 8,300, Northwestern provides personal attention and flexibility that is rare in larger institutions. Students also benefit from superior academic advising, career counseling, and student services. Yet the size of the student body and an easily navigated campus may be the only things about Northwestern that feel small. The broad range of academic opportunities is unmatched in other schools of similar size. In fact, students at Northwestern have a larger pool of courses to choose from—about 4,000 each year—than at most other institutions of comparable size. Undergraduates benefit from the fact that Northwestern is home to six strong and distinctive undergraduate schools that will prepare them for the work place or graduate study.

Also making it easier to customize a Northwestern education is an academic calendar of three quarters each year (with a fourth quarter of optional summer study)—instead of two semesters— that allows you to take four courses per quarter. It’s an ambitious curriculum that means that you have to hit the ground running in each of your courses. But it also ensures that you’ll have a solid foundation in the liberal arts and a thorough education in your chosen field. And it allows you to explore interests and subjects you might not have thought about before you came to Northwestern.

As a prospective undergraduate, you’ll apply to one of Northwestern’s schools that offer undergraduate programs. At the center of Northwestern is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive of the undergraduate schools, the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Enrolling more than half of the undergraduates, Weinberg combines the vigor of a leading liberal arts college with the resources of a major research university.

Northwestern’s other colleges and schools—McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; School of Education and Social Policy; Medill School of Journalism, School of Communication; and Bienen School of Music—offer outstanding preprofessional programs in their respective fields. Regardless of what area you choose, you will enjoy an unusual degree of access to top faculty and personal attention—in classrooms, around seminar tables, and in conversation with academic advisers from the university’s many disciplines. You will also be able to work in the laboratories of prominent scientists, study with award-winning scholars, and engage with speakers from around the world.

Special Programs

In addition to the opportunity to customize academic programs, Northwestern also offers several specialized programs for undergraduate students. Among these is the Honors Program in Medical Education, in which a select group of students complete three years of undergraduate study and in the fourth year are admitted to the entering class of Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Or, as juniors, students may enroll in specialized undergraduate certificate programs in Financial Economics or Managerial Analytics offered by Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, one of the top business schools in the world. Many students also take advantage of undergraduate research programs, which provide funds for students to conduct in-depth study, either during the year or over the summer, into a particular topic under the guidance of a faculty member.

What began as a tangential lunchtime conversation about the possibility of musicians learning video-game systems faster than average eventually became my summer job, my first academic conference presentation, and my senior thesis—all thanks to the Office of Fellowships. When I found out about the Undergraduate Research Grant program, I was skeptical that anyone would want to fund research about video games (or that the project was even possible). But when I talked to one of the professors about it, he agreed to advise me on the project and helped me develop the software system to record controller data for the games I would need. When I found out that I had won one of the grants, I was ecstatic—I hadn’t expected to spend the summer running test trials of Mortal Kombat II, but at Northwestern, these things really do happen.

While Northwestern believes in core values as part of the liberal arts education, it trusts its students enough to allow them to learn these through subjects which appeal to them. Thus, instead of a rigid ‘core curriculum,’, Northwestern offers distribution areas of many classes which rely on the basic principles it hopes to impart. Don’t like Differential Equations? You can take a Logic or Game Theory class instead. Instead of slogging through Bio 101, I took Astrobiology 111, where I learned about the search for life on other planets. I learned much more about how life develops in the context of a subject I liked rather than something that was forced upon me. Many of my friends discovered their future major by being adventuresome with their distribution requirements, and I highly recommend it as well. —Braxton Boron

Study Abroad

Every year, nearly 600 students from all of Northwestern’s six undergraduate schools participate in overseas educational opportunities. With affiliated programs at approximately 100 institutions, Northwestern students literally have a world of choices. While Europe remains a popular location, a growing number of students choose to study in Africa, Asia, and South America. Some programs are university-based, meaning that students live in one place and take courses at a university. Others are fieldbased, focusing more on fieldwork and independent research projects.

Undergraduate Research

Northwestern students have the opportunity to engage in major research projects while still undergraduates working closely with top faculty members. Following is a sample of some of the topics explored by undergraduates who received research grants recently:

  • Humanizing Deindustrialization: The Cultural Narrative of Pittsburgh’s Steel Workers in the Post-Industrial America.
  • Creation of an MRI Phantom for Quantifying Liver Iron Content in Iron Diseases
  • World of Warcraft: American Social Fantasy Play
  • Achievability of Our Moral Ends in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement
  • Relationship between HIV/AIDS Prevention and Christian Influences in Uganda
  • Language Learning and the Effect of Phonological Tone Awareness
  • Exercise and Chronic Pelvic Pain: A longitudinal Study in Women’s Health
  • Epithet and Characterization in Homer’s Odyssey
  • Fabrication of a Nanodiamond-Polymer Drug Delivery Platform for Directed Post-Operative Chemotherapy

The stereotypical collegiate experience probably proscribes large survey classes as an underclassman, followed by smaller upper-level classes later on. Certainly I experienced smaller classes within my major—by my senior year, I was the only undergraduate in a graduate-level seminar in which each student was expected to give a presentation on her research every week. When your classmates have worked in industry before returning to grad school, it sort of spurs you on to a higher work ethic. But I wouldn’t say that my classes were impersonal even as an underclassman. My sophomore year, I was the only student enrolled in a Music Theory survey course, but the professor continued on, giving me a personal lecture every period that quarter. Even in the large lecture halls, my friends and I would sit right in front of our favorite philosophy professor as he was addressing a hundred or more students. Any time we had an insight or objection, we could ask him about it, and he would gladly banter back and forth with us—it felt more like a dinner table discussion that a lecture, and I learned the subject matter better as a result.

Most Popular Fields of Study


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Admission to Northwestern isn’t easy. The university accepts only about 25 percent of the 25,000 students who apply each year. Good test scores are a basic requirement, of course, but a more important factor is how well you did in a challenging high school program. If you’ve taken advantage of the most demanding courses offered in your school, such as AP and Honors courses, and excelled in them, that carries a great deal of weight. In addition, Northwestern wants to hear your individual voice. The essay is the place to do this. The essay is a chance for you to give Northwestern a better feel as to who you are and whether you’d be a good match for the university. The application also includes an activity chart that allows you to show important interests you have outside the classroom, so be sure to complete that portion as well.

Given the caliber of Northwestern students, it becomes easy to take excellence for granted. Luckily, the admissions staff at NU applies the same rigorous standards to more than 25,000 applicants in crafting next year’s freshman class. Though its students claim a diverse body of interests, you can be sure that each possesses the passion to dream big and the skills to put that passion to work. My three best friends were a political junkie, a theatrical director, and a Minnesotan hockey player, but despite our different proclivities, we were able to uplift each other and broaden our own interests as well. This desire to improve oneself and one’s surroundings is found within every student here, and it is this shared heritage that keeps Northwestern’s standards so high year after year.

Admission to Northwestern is “need-blind,” meaning that an applicant’s ability to pay is not considered when the application is being reviewed. Approximately forty-five percent of Northwestern students receive university-funded grants and 60 percent receive some form of financial aid: grants, loans, and/or work-study jobs. All awards are based on financial need (see the Financial Aid section for more information).


Northwestern requires that you submit the results of either the SAT or ACT. The middle of 50% range of scores for admitted students is 670–750 for the SAT Critical Reading, 690–780 for the SAT Math and 30–34 for the ACT. While not required, the results of any Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or SAT Subject Tests that you have taken also are considered. If English is not your primary language, you must submit the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as well.

Early Decision

If you believe strongly that Northwestern is the university you would most like to attend, you should consider applying by November 1 under the Early Decision plan, which allows you to receive a decision in December. Do this only if you’re sure Northwestern is your first choice— by applying under this binding admission option, you agree to withdraw all applications at other colleges, initiate no new applications, and enroll at Northwestern if you’re admitted.

Perhaps the best word to sum up academic environment at Northwestern is simply ‘hard’ Buzzwords like rigorous and stimulating certainly apply, but don’t be fooled for a minute into thinking that you can get by with merely giving the right answer on a test. Classes are demanding and unyielding, so you will have to yield to them. Granted, this process will include the occasional all-nighter in the library curled up with Tolstoy or Spinoza—and, oh yeah, that 20-page paper that you really should have started yesterday. Since Northwestern is on the quarter system, classes will move at a ridiculous pace, but they also end sooner. The additional courses allow higher flexibility for double (or even triple!) majoring. This process takes some time, of course, but why would you want to attend a world-class university without becoming a world-class individual in the process? When I left Norhtwestern, I had not merely gained insights into how to pass a class; rather, I had gained a new way of understanding the world around me.

Financial Aid

Financial aid at Northwestern is awarded on the basis of family need. Recipients of need-based financial aid come from a wide range of income backgrounds, so if you’re not sure whether you’d qualify for need-based aid, go ahead and apply. To do so, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Financial Aid PROFILE. Northwestern awards more than $80 million in grant assistance to undergraduate students each year.

I was initially a little wary about attending Northwestern, knowing that my family’s finances were going to be strained with three children in school at once. But when I met Northwestern’s financial aid department, I was blown away. Every member of the staff is knowledgeable and caring; they immediately explain the system to you so that you understand your options. Since most of Northwestern’s aid is need-based, they paid for most of my family’s financial contribution without making us sell our house or take on renters. Best of all, I was able to meet my contribution with other scholarships and a work-study job, all without taking out any loans.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 3315th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Illinois.


Lakefront Living

Most undergraduates at Northwestern live on the Evanston campus in one of the residence halls, residential colleges, sororities, or fraternities. Some of the halls and residential colleges, and almost all the fraternities and sororities, are in older, ivy-covered houses. Other residence halls and residential colleges are new and feature apartment-style suites with individual bathrooms. Several of the residence halls/colleges overlook Lake Michigan, and all are within easy walking distance of the main classroom buildings.

Every student defines his or her Northtwestern experience in a different way. You could stay on campus every night for four years, and not run short of edifying experiences to fill your time. There is a new theatrical production opening almost every weekend, world-class concerts through the week, and exhibits, performances, outreaches, and activism of every kind happening constantly on Northwestern’s campus. That being said, there is also the wide world of Chicago at your doorstep, and I for one could not resist the allure of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Art Institute, the Cubs/White Sox rivalry (take your pick), the Lyric Opera—the list goes on and on. The real key to your time here is to balance the wealth of opportunities you have with actually staying caught up with classes— those things you come to college for, remember? —Braxton Boron

Regardless of where students live, they can enjoy Northwestern’s beautifully landscaped lakefront campus that stretches for a mile along the shore of Lake Michigan. That location can bring some fairly chilly winds in winter, but it also means an endless horizon to the east, a private beach and boathouse where you can take sailing lessons, and plenty of open space where you can soak up the sun in the spring and fall.


Over-opportunity-ed. That was how one student described her undergraduate experience at Northwestern. Students tend to be active, engaged, and involved. That means, at least for most students, that their most important accessory is their day planner (either paper or electronic), followed closely by their cell phones/PDAs because they keep rescheduling all their commitments. For many students, those commitments include not just academic studies, but other activities as well. Northwestern has more than 300 extracurricular groups on campus, ranging from cultural groups to religious and spiritual groups to dozens of music and small theater groups open to nonmajors. Every fall during the first week of classes, the Student Activities Fair showcases these organizations, giving new students a chance to find out more and choose which ones they’d like to join. With enthusiastic members promoting each group, it’s easy to jump into lots of organizations. If you’re really good at time management, you can pull it off, but be prepared for some late nights— many groups start their meetings/rehearsals/practices at 9 or 10 P.M.

No decision influenced my collegiate experience as much as my choice to live in Chapin Hall, the Humanities Residential College. As a high school senior, I had little idea what constituted the humanities—I was mainly just drawn to Chapin’s very large rooms. In my time there, the Chapin community provided me with friendships and memories that can only be forged out of a thousand little experiences: the late night political discussions in the common room, the poetry readings, the video game tournaments, the film screenings, the soccer games (either organized intramurals or impromptu matches in the guys’ hallway). Each residential college has associated professors who eat with its members, allowing a quick way to get into upper-level classes, obtain research jobs, or just gain perspective from some of the most intelligent people you will ever meet. By the end of my first year in Chapin, I felt less like an individual in a building and more like a member of a family. —Braxton Boron

Community Service

Another key interest for Northwestern students is community service. Approximately 3,000 students perform some sort of community service each year, ranging from tutoring at local schools to service projects in Chicago. The largest student group on campus is the Northwestern Community Development Corps, which serves as an umbrella organization for many of the service groups on campus. In addition, the web site at http://www. matches up students with volunteer opportunities in the community.

Residential Colleges

Northwestern’s eleven residential colleges provide housing and specialized programs that allow students and faculty to pursue a common interest outside the classroom. Here are some of the disciplines covered by res colleges:

  • Business (Commerce and Industry)
  • Communication
  • Cultural and Community Studies
  • Humanities
  • International Studies
  • Performing Arts
  • Public Affairs
  • Science and Engineering

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


Northwestern is a charter member of and the only private university in the Big Ten, one of the premier Division I athletic conferences in the country. Sports at Northwestern are not just for watching, however, as club and intramural sports attract approximately 2,000 participants each year. Approximately forty sports clubs compete, including crew, Ultimate Frisbee, ice hockey, equestrian, water polo, cycling and a host of others, many of which compete at the highest levels. Intramural offerings range from casual softball leagues to competitive basketball, and many of the outdoor sports are played on Northwestern’s lakefront fields.

Northwestern teams are powerhouses in many sports: the women’s lacrosse team has captured the NCAA championship four years in a row, the women’s tennis team dominates the Big Ten, having won the title for 10 straight years, and the swimming, wrestling, and soccer programs are among the strongest in the country.

Local Community

Evanston and Chicago

Evanston isn’t a typical college town. While Northwestern is a vital part of the community, it doesn’t dominate the city of 75,000 that adjoins Chicago as a large university in a small town does. So you won’t find a large area of somewhat shabby student apartments just off campus or rows of bars catering to the just-of-age (or perhaps not) crowd. Instead, Northwestern’s campus is bordered by a neighborhood of beautiful old homes and a vibrant downtown. Downtown Evanston has dozens of interesting locally owned shops and more than sixty restaurants, ranging from student budget-friendly cafés to fancier places that are great for Family Weekend. Within walking distance of the campus is an eighteen-screen movie theater, with six of the screens devoted to showing independent and foreign films. Best of all, the theater—and almost all the stores and restaurants downtown—offer a discount if you show your WildCARD, the Northwestern student ID.

Then there’s Chicago, one of the world’s truly great cities. The third-largest city in the country, a place with world-class museums, an incredible theater scene, ethnic restaurants, and nightlife galore. Students can take advantage of such great opportunities as the Chicago Art Institute’s free admission day and student-discount tickets to the Chicago Symphony (as cheap as $10), and, of course, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

For a small-town kid, the allure of a city like Chicago is hard to describe. I remember arriving at Northwestern for the first time and seeing Chicago from campus and feeling that perhaps I was finally an adult. In my first two years at Northwestern, I explored Chicago thoroughly—the concerts, the parks, the independent theater companies, and the museums (especially free ones). I worked at restaurants downtown, recording studios, and even the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. In my later years, I found appreciation in exploring the outer reaches of Chicago land, attending video game concerts in Rosemont or biking the lakefront trail to Highland Park. I can’t say enough about Evanston itself, which is less like a suburb and more like its own city on the outskirts of Chicago. The restaurants, used book stores, coffee shops, and fabulous lakeside parks always gave me plenty to do without ever jumping on the El. —Braxton Boron

Getting to Chicago is easy. The CTA rapid transit (“the El”) has three stops near campus and even runs express from Evanston during rush hours. In addition, the university runs a shuttle bus on weekdays between the Evanston campus and the Chicago campus (home to the law school, medical school, and part of the business school), which is only two blocks from Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, one of the best shopping streets in the world. And on Saturdays, a free shuttle bus runs between the Evanston campus and downtown Chicago, providing easy access to Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, the Art Institute, and other cultural attractions.


Northwestern alumni and their employers regularly comment on how much they value a Northwestern education.

No amount of praise for Northwestern’s programs will carry much water if the final product—its graduates—does not measure up. I was a regular at the Office of Fellowships throughout my senior year—flushing out what I had done academically and what I still wanted to do. Their guidance was crucial in forming my essays and applications for graduate school, and their work shows in the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships my classmates have already won. In addition, the University Career Services Office does a great job of helping graduates enter the workforce smoothly. My friends working with consulting firms, helping after-school programs, and starring on Broadway are but a fraction of the NU graduates all around the world. —Braxton Boron

Few students view graduation as the end of their education, however. The majority of Northwestern’s undergraduate alumni eventually go on to earn advanced degrees. Northwestern alumni, numbering approxima tely 200,000, include leaders in business, government, law, medicine, media, education, and the performing arts. In addition, alumni are engaged and active in their communities and their professions.

Prominent Grads

  • Christine Brennan, Columnist, USA Today ; commentator, ESPN
  • Steven Colbert, The Colbert Report
  • Douglas Conant, President and CEO, Campbell Soup Co.
  • Rahm Emmanuel, Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama
  • Joe Girardi, Manager, New York Yankees
  • Heather Headley, Tony-Award winning Actress; Star of The Lion King and Aida
  • David Schwimmer, Actor
  • David Skorton, President, Cornell University
  • John Paul Stevens, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • George Stigler, Economist, Nobel Prize Winner
  • Julia Wallace, Editor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Michael Wilbon, Columnist, Washington Post : co-host, Pardon the Interruption
  • Mary Zimmerman, MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Tony-Awardwinning Director, and Northwestern Professor of Performance Studies


Northwestern has nearly 1,000 full-time faculty who teach in its undergraduate college and schools. One of the hallmarks of Northwestern historically has been that almost all faculty members teach undergraduate students; that remains true today. That means you’ll be taught, mentored, and advised by MacArthur Fellowship recipients, Tony Award honorees, National Medal of Science winners, and members of numerous honorary and professional societies.

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