A Visit to Northwestern University

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By Sue Luse


Northwestern University is a private, mid-sized university known for innovative teaching and pioneering research. There are approximately 8,400 undergraduate students and 8,000 graduate students. While prospective students apply to one of 6 colleges, it is easy to transfer among colleges and you have the entire university at your disposal. Located in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago,  the 240-acre campus is on beautiful Lake Michigan.
Northwestern University sign


Northwestern’s calendar operates on the quarter system, in which the academic year is divided into three 10-week terms (for fall, winter and spring) and a summer session of eight weeks. The quarter system allows students to take a greater number of courses and tends to encourage participation in internships and other off-campus experiences. You will take (on average) four courses per quarter or 12 per academic year on the quarter system. Approximately 2/3 of students double major, which is easy to do with the quarter system. Northwestern offers an exceptional range of study through more than 150 majors, minors, certificates, and concentrations.


McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

NU Engineering

NU Engineering

The McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science emphasizes cultivating whole-brain™ engineers. Students develop superior analytical, left-brain skills in addition to divergent, right-brain skills. One fun example of a whole-brain project is developing shoes for geriatric penguins. McCormick is recognized for its world renowned research internships and co-ops.  Managed by the Office of Career Development, McCormick’s Co-op Program is a five-year combination of formal academic studies and invaluable on-the-job experience. Co-op students supplement 12 quarters of undergraduate study with 6 quarters of hands-on experience at one of nearly 200 corporate partners. The 5th year can be a paid co-op so the student can graduate with a full year of experience. Approximately 1/3 of students participate in the co-op program.

Prospective students need to complete an online math placement and should know computer science.  It is very helpful to know coding and calculus before enrolling. McCormick prefers that students don’t take all AP classes and tests as it is considered a red flag that you are not a balanced person. Approximately 30% of course work is not STEM. While community college credits may be accepted, College In The Schools courses are not. During freshman year, students take Engineering First courses to experience a full range of engineering and then declare their major after their freshman year. Biggest programs are biomedical engineering and industrial design. Design competitions for seniors come from industry.

Men to women ratio is 2 to 1. Two percent are accepted into the honors program in medical education. A separate application is needed for the honors program – due Dec. 1. NU Medical School does not give preference to NU undergraduate. Twelve percent do not finish engineering degree. They transfer out but about the same number transfer in. Engineering is all about making people’s lives better. You need to work in a team and integrate all STEM areas.

School of Communication

The School of Communication comprises five departments:

Kellogg School of Management

Kellogg School of Management

  • Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Communication Studies
  • Radio, Television and Film
  • Performance Studies
  • Theater (includes dance)

Communication studies is a great major for pre-law or pre-business. Speech Communication is popular for pre-med students.  No audition is required for prospective theater students. The School of Communications holds over 80 productions a years – there are plenty of chances to get involved.

Medill School Of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications

Medill has a long-standing reputation for journalism excellence. This college is very digital and high-tech. Medill likes story tellers and teaches them how to share their stories. They offer a Social Media Certificate program in marketing and communications which is great for pre-business.

School of Education and Social Policy

The Secondary Teaching program uses an interdisciplinary approach by combining course work from Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (WCAS) in a chosen field — such as English, history or math — with School of Education and Social Policy courses on such topics as child and adolescent development, educational philosophy, and methods of instruction. There is a 10-week practicum.

Bienen School of Music

NU old Music School

Old Music School

The Bienen School offers 15 academic majors in six degree programs. There are great resources for diverse interests in music – choice of electives such as music production, music lessons, marching band, jazz ensembles, and not to mention 16 a capella groups. There are approximately 400 undergraduate students.

There is one application to NU. Early decision audition registration is Oct. 15, regular decision by Dec. 1.  Depending on how you submit auditions and supplements, read the application process carefully. The School encourages résumés. Students who are interested in being a music major can visit and schedule a lesson with an instructor from the school of music. This will provide good feedback whether or not a prospective student has the talent to audition and pursue the very rigorous course of a music major. Music teacher recommendations should accompany application.

Music practice room

Practice room

Merit scholarships are available. Curriculum is 3/4 music and 1/4 liberal arts. There are 5-year programs for dual degrees and double majors. For example, you can major in music and in economics, or you can major in engineering and minor in music. Music theory can count as a math requirement.

The School encourages gigs for hire in Chicago and hiring students to provide music lessons to the community. Practice rooms are available 20 hours a day.

Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

The Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences is the oldest and largest of the undergraduate schools. More than half of the undergraduates are enrolled in this college.

Fun Facts

NU Rock

NU Rock

  • Great research funded by NU
  • Career services helps students find interviews
  • Over 500 student groups
  • Big 10 school
  • 19 varsity sports – The Wildcats
  • Free admission to all home events
  • 1/3 Greek
  • Quarter system – Freshman year starts winter quarter
  • Classes are designed for 11 weeks so no more work than say Harvard
  • Some classes like bio go the whole year in order to get through the material.
  • Size of campus – one mile north and south, half mile east and west
  • Building new music and engineering buildings
  • There are two beaches
  • There is a skating rink
  • Restaurant capital of the North Shore
  • Olive mountain
  • Chicago is the third largest city in the US
  • Free transportation shuttle
  • Access to trains


Looking toward Lake Michigan

Looking toward Lake Michigan

The application has three supplements. You need to indicate which college you are applying to and which major. Undeclared is OK for Weinberg and McCormick. Prepare to write about “Why NU?”.

Admissions reviews applicants holistically – quantitative and qualitative. No super scoring on ACT, only the SAT. Subject tests not required, but send them if they are over 700. They look at the rigor and the context of your high school. GPA is not as important because of the different scales. Extra letters of recommendation are OK if they reveal something new about you.

Essay tips: Don’t mention the campus by the lake. Do mention cheesy jokes. There isn’t one college that is easier to get into than another. Students should have a genuine voice.

Financial Aid

Need blind. Need-based only. Use CSA Profile and FAFSA. Will need parents’ tax returns.

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