The Ivy Scholars guide to Northwestern University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.
Location: Evanston, Illinois
Mascot: Willie the Wildcat
Type: Private Research Institution
Population: 22,000 (8,000 undergrads)
Year Founded: 1851
4 Year Graduation Rate: 82%
Gender Distribution: 51% female, 49% male
Acceptance Rate: 9%
Residency: 34% in state, 54% out of state, 10% international
Location Type: Urban
Schedule System: Quarters
Student/Faculty Ratio: 6:1
Average Class Size: 20
Demographics: 48% Caucasian, 18% other, 17% Asian, 12% Hispanic, 6% Black
US News Rankings:
Average Applicant Pool: 37,000
Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 3,500
Average Number Enrolled: 2,000
Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App
Average GPA: 4.13 weighted
SAT Scores: 25th percentile – 1470, 75th percentile – 1570
ACT Scores: 25th percentile – 32, 75th percentile – 34
*Test mandatory. Writing sections are not required.
Subject Test Requirements: Subject Tests are no longer required, but still recommended.
Demonstrated Interest: Northwestern does consider demonstrated interest. How to Demonstrate Interest.
Recommendation Letter Policies: One letter should come from a counselor, either guidance, college advising, or some other figure familiar with your academic tenure. The other should come from a teacher of a core academic subject, ideally from Junior or Senior year.
Northwestern Essay Prompts:
Northwestern Essay Writing Tips
The most important criteria for Northwestern admissions is academic record. The application aspects which are factored into the overall academic record are GPA, test scores, class rank, course rigor, and the application essay.
Other important factors are extracurriculars, recommendations, and talent.
Factors which are considered are legacy status, first generation status, demonstrated interest, race/ethnicity, and volunteer or work experience.
Northwestern does recruit and give some preference to athletes. While they are expected to meet the academic standards for admission, recruited athletes do have an advantage in the admissions process overall.
What is Northwestern Looking For?
While academic preparation is the most important factor overall in the admissions process, this is a weeding out factor, meant to ensure that all of the students at Northwestern are academically prepared for the rigors of college courses. Excelling academically alone is not enough to guarantee acceptance. Northwestern uses a holistic admissions process, and while academics are considered in this, they are not the entirety of what the school is looking for.
Northwestern is interested in “fit,” the idea that a student and a college should be well-suited for each other. That is the students strengths, and what they want to pursue, should line up with what the school is looking for, and what they can offer to the student in turn. Students who are passionate, intellectually curious, and academically driven fit into the idea of Northwestern.
For extracurricular involvement, Northwestern is looking for passionate, focused students, as most other elite universities are. Students who demonstrate considerable talent and aptitude in their own niche as specialists are more likely to stand out and gain acceptance. Students who are good at many things but not great at any one thing have a harder time standing out.
Northwestern has a commitment to diversity and inclusion of first-generation college students, which means their applications will be given special consideration so long as they also meet the high academic standards held by the school. Recruited athletes will be given the same consideration, and held to the same standard. Legacy applicants will be judged in much the same way, and while all of these factors may increase a student’s chances, none will guarantee acceptance.
Northwestern admits around half of their class each year through the Early Decisions process. The acceptance rate for ED applicants is therefore four times that of those who apply Regular Decision. If Northwestern is your top choice, the single largest boost to your admissions chances is to apply ED. WHile you still need to be academically qualified to be admitted, you are competing against a far smaller pool of candidates, allowing your application to stand out more.
Your test scores and GPA should be high to be considered for Northwestern. While they are not enough to guarantee admission, low scores or grades are enough to sink it. Studying for tests and to raise your grades should not consume you, but you should try to maintain high grades and achieve scores at around the 50th percentile of accepted Northwestern students.
Interviews are an optional part of the process, and not many students have the opportunity to complete them. While it won’t hurt you not to do one, it can help you if you are able to do one and impress your interviewer. This can further describe you and humanize you to admissions officers.
As Northwestern does consider demonstrated interest, showing this interest is a simple way to increase your chances of admission. While the best way to demonstrate interest is to apply ED, other ways are discussed in our article linked above.
Finally, a small number of applicants to Northwestern are interviewed by the president of the school, or have their applications reviewed by him. These students are a mix of faculty children, children of donors, politically connected children, and students at Chicago and Evanston Public Schools. Having an application reviewed in this manner does not automatically increase chances of admission. Indeed, the interview can deeply hurt admissions chances if the student fails to impress the president. While it is unlikely that you will be one of the few hundred applications reviewed out of the tens of thousands submitted, this is an interesting quirk of the Northwestern admissions process.
Courses of Study:
AP Credit Policies:
Computer Science Options:
Additional Specialty Programs:
Programs for High Schoolers:
School Motto: Whatsoever things are true. The world is full of grace and truth.
Mission and Values:
Northwestern allows students to live in either traditional dorms, residential colleges, or special interest housing, all run by the university’s housing office. Residential Colleges offer more faculty involvement, and the opportunity to take seminars through the college.
Approximately half of all students live on campus.
Campus & Surrounding Area:
Greek Life: Northwestern University has a broad representation of social and fraternal organizations, more information can be found on their website.
Yearly Cost of Attendance:
Northwestern is committed to meeting the demonstrated financial needs of all admitted students. 61% of students at Northwestern receive financial aid to some degree. In order to qualify for this aid, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Additional Financial Aid & Student Loan Information
All admitted freshman applicants are automatically considered for scholarships. Approximately 51% of Northwestern students receive some amount of aid from scholarships. These are used to fill financial needs after other types of aid are administered.