What Does it Take to Get Into Northwestern University?

Strategies by School
March 5, 2020
Without A Doubt, Northwestern University Is One Of The Most Prestigious Universities In The World…

Located in the heart of Chicago, Illinois, Northwestern University provides a curriculum and campus experience steeped in culture and tradition; it’s no wonder thousands of students flock to Chicago every year to join the Northwestern family.

Northwestern offers a diverse range of academic programs along with active student groups, an excellent athletics program, and fantastic career connections thanks to its location in a top U.S. economic and business hub. Regardless of what you want to study, you’ll find your niche at Northwestern. If you’re interested in studying and growing in a metropolitan area, keep reading to learn how to get into Northwestern University!

What You’ll Find In This College Guide:

Northwestern's Ideal Student

The average GPA and standardized test scores for incoming Northwestern freshmen are:

  • GPA: 3.92*
  • SAT: 1490
  • ACT: 34

Due to the university’s prestige, Northwestern admission officers look for students who challenged themselves during high school, and graduated in the top percentage of their class. Northwestern’s academic curriculum is rigorous, and they want their students to succeed! To ensure that applicants are ready for the challenge, the administration at Northwestern has shaped the application process with specific requirements.

Note: While Northwestern admissions doesn’t release incoming freshmen data, some sources calculated the GPA of incoming freshmen as 4.09 on a weighted scale. The provided data was gathered using a more reliable, unweighted scale.

Regardless of the GPA scale your high school used, Northwestern is considered an extremely competitive school. While Northwestern admissions considers all official grades, test scores, and transcripts, they adhere to their “fit factor” when it comes to determining a student’s application status as well. This fit factor helps officers go deeper than scores, and find the substance of a student’s application.

Test scores can represent your work ethic, confidence, and perseverance, and Northwestern wants hard-working students. However, they also want students who prize integrity, community involvement, and honesty. These are the students who belong at Northwestern, and these are the qualities they will be looking for on your application.


Northwestern admissions believes that without enthusiasm, university-level work isn’t fulfilling. On your application, show the excitement you have for academic excellence by highlighting challenging classes, fun projects, new topics, and different experiences that fed your curiosity.

  • Describe a project or assignment where you went the extra mile simply because you were curious to learn.
  • Was there a moment in your academic career that particularly excited you? What subject or class was involved, and do you still carry that enthusiasm?
  • What is it about Northwestern’s programs that feeds your curiosity and excitement for academics?


Like any great university, Northwestern strives to serve their city well and care for their people through research. Chicago has many different pockets and communities that need what Northwestern has to offer; highlight your passion for making your community a better place as often as you can.

  • How did you serve your community in high school?
  • How do you hope to use your academic experience and career path to make your community a better place?
  • In what ways do you hope to serve Chicago should you be accepted to Northwestern, and how will you carry that into the world after you graduate?


Northwestern admissions is a strong believer in simplicity; too many college admission teams don’t spend enough time getting to know the little things about their applicants, and this is one part of the admissions process that sets Northwestern apart.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re in college application mode. As you’re writing your essays, it seems that all you can think about are test scores and academic language. On your Northwestern application, challenge yourself to take a step back and let the little things that make you who you are shine through.

  • What would you consider your strengths and weaknesses? (These could be anything; maybe you’re really good at math or you’d like to be better at a certain sport or activity like painting, yoga, or basketball. Get creative!)
  • What is your favorite thing to do just for yourself?
  • What is a social injustice that you’re particularly passionate about? (Think along the lines of our current cultural moment: politics, the ecosystem, or even something like a health and wellness concern).


On your application, the biggest thing Northwestern will be looking for is why you chose their university in the first place. Keep drawing connections between what you have to offer, and what Northwestern can do for you, and you’ll be on your way to delivering a captivating application.

  • Why do you think Northwestern is your ideal school?
  • What does “thriving” mean to you, and how will you find this quality of life on Northwestern’s campus?
  • What Northwestern classes, groups, or activities are you most excited about?


Northwestern’s impressive rankings show their commitment to excellence and diversity in their course offerings. If you choose to research Northwestern further, you’ll quickly find a vast range of academic programs; whether you’re interested in journalism, the performing arts, business, or politics, Northwestern has a program for you!


Northwestern admissions looks for honest individuals who are excited about their work and want to share their success with the surrounding community.

As you’re nearing the end of your high school career, continue working hard in classes and set goals to help yourself achieve excellent grades. Show your curiosity and excitement for specific classes and assignments by highlighting the ways you went the extra mile.

Share your passion for people and community, and don’t be afraid to be open about the little things that make you you. After all, you’re first and foremost a human, and Northwestern doesn’t want cookie-cutter students; they want to see applications from real humans with real strengths, weaknesses, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and achievements!

Lastly, make sure you make it clear on your application why you belong at Northwestern. Explain why their campus culture excites you and why they offer exactly what you need to succeed in your goals. The more connections like these that you can make, the more successful you will be in presenting an impressive and intriguing application.

What You Need To Get Accepted Into Northwestern

In 2018, Northwestern’s acceptance rate was 8.4%. Out of 40,425 applications, 3,392 students were accepted and started their college career in Chicago.

Because of Northwestern’s wide range of academic programs, you’ll want to pay close attention to specific requirements that pertain to the program you’ll be seeking admission into. Before you start your application process, do some research on Northwestern’s programs. Knowing the areas you’re interested in beforehand will be advantageous for you by helping you stay on track with Northwestern’s requirements.

Every year, Northwestern supplies a helpful checklist that their applicants can download and use to keep track of their progress, so don’t forget to grab your copy before moving on to your application!


You can apply to Northwestern by using one of the following applications:

Northwestern admissions is clear that they don’t prefer one application over the other; instead, they emphasize that their applicants should use the application that feels the best for them and the materials they’re submitting.

The general sections of these applications will cover information that can be sent to multiple colleges like standardized test scores, your personal statement and school reports.


Northwestern admissions requests three documents highlighting your grades:

  • Official transcripts
  • School report
  • Mid-year school report (can be sent after application deadline)

Your counselor can help obtain all these documents for you, and will send them to the appropriate schools when they’re ready.

You’ll need to send your SAT or ACT scores to Northwestern as well. They don’t have a preference for either test, although they have certain requirements for specific students. For example, homeschooled students must take 3 SAT Subject Tests, and international students must take an English Proficiency Exam like TOEFL or IELTS.


Northwestern admissions requests two different kinds of letters of recommendation from their applicants:

  • One recommendation from a counselor
  • At least one recommendation from a teacher

If you’d like to submit more than one letter of recommendation, you may obtain one from a coach or mentor, but one of them must be from a teacher. If you can, obtain a letter from the teacher of your favorite class or perhaps the subject you plan on studying at Northwestern; this kind of specificity will boost the quality of your application.


As you’re applying to Northwestern, you’ll need to complete two sets of essays:

  • The Common App essay
  • The Northwestern Supplement

The Common App essay is a general writing piece based on a prompt. These prompts change subtlety every year; luckily past versions are available year-round for students to reference.

The prompt for the Northwestern Supplement asks that you explain why you think you belong there. Be sure to connect your goals with Northwestern’s goals; by showing them that you have something to offer while receiving a degree from them, they’ll be able to see what makes you Northwestern’s ideal student.


Northwestern’s application fee is $75, and fee waivers can be requested either through your application or your counselor. Northwestern has two main deadlines for you to keep in mind:

  • Early Decision: November 1
  • Regular Decision: January 2


Depending on what academic program you’re applying for, you may have to complete additional requirements for your Northwestern application. Students applying to any of the following programs must write additional essays, record auditions, and supply portfolios and work samples depending on the program, so make sure you read Northwestern’s requirements carefully:

  • Bienen School of Music
  • Honors Program in Medical Education
  • Integrated Science Program
  • Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences
  • Music Theatre Certificate Program


Northwestern is a prestigious college with a lengthy application process; they want to make sure that their applicants are ready for the challenge of Northwestern’s curriculum. If you can communicate your enthusiasm in your application, you may be one step closer to being a Husky!

Be sure to highlight your curiosity and excitement for your favorite academic subjects, and be honest about the little things that make you who you are. Explain how your involvement at Northwestern will further their goals, while helping you achieve yours. Keep the importance of community at the center of your goals, and you’ll easily show Northwestern that you belong there!

Northwestern's Campus Life

Northwestern’s campus culture offers its students a diverse atmosphere to grow and learn. The campus is situated not far from Lake Michigan, in a charming area of Chicago, Illinois, one of the most iconic cities in the world.

Not only is Chicago filled with vibrant historical and cultural value, but it’s also home to some of the most forward-thinking organizations of our time, making it the perfect place to fuse your academic growth and professional goals.


Northwestern offers more than 400 student organizations on campus. From science-based to cultural appreciation groups, the vast range of opportunities they offer means that you don’t have to worry about finding your niche at Northwestern.

Because Chicago is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, Northwestern’s choices for student groups reflects that quality. Art and culture is deeply important to the Northwestern administration, so art showcases, concerts, culturally relevant lectures, and chances for artists to share their unique craft with other students dominate a lot of the campus activities.

You don’t have to go very far to experience quality art, either. You can catch a play or musical being put on by the theater department, an art show by visual art students, or find comedic relief by experiencing one of Northwestern’s six student comedy groups.


While art and culture are top priorities at Northwestern, no college is complete without a stellar athletics program. Health and wellness go hand-in-hand in a great college experience, and Northwestern’s athletics department surely doesn’t disappoint.

The Northwestern Wildcats are famous for their football team, but they offer a total of 19 sports for both men and women, and that’s not counting their intramural program offerings. Whether you want to play a sport competitively or just for fun, you won’t have a problem forming a team.

Northwestern also believes that physical fitness is a lifestyle, and they hope to ingrain this appreciation for health in their students. Their recreation facilities offer free fitness consultations, memberships, and the right equipment and classes to help you achieve your fitness goals.


All Northwestern students must live on campus during their first two years, and can choose from three residential options: residence halls, a residential college, or special interest housing.

Residence halls and special interest housing are typical college housing situations; you’ll be immersed in community events and activities by living in either of these areas. Special interest housing is great if you want to live with students who enjoy similar activities that you do.

Residential colleges function like communities; they have their own government and board, and residents of these buildings usually focus on a certain theme. Residential college members also go on trips and dine at specific locations together.

The Northwestern residential dining commons offers all-you-can-eat menus for students. With multiple locations and convenient hours, students can check online for what’s open at any time during the day. Health and wellness is also an integrated factor of their menus, so Northwestern designs it's dining program to cater to everyone’s health needs.


Northwestern hosts the largest student-run charity event in the U.S., the Northwestern University Dance Marathon. Every year, students organize a 30-hour dance marathon, where they raise money for different organizations established in Chicago.

This world-famous charity event takes place in a massive tent on Northwestern’s student commons lawn; last year, students raised over $1.1 million.

From Application To Career: What You'll Experience At Northwestern

Northwestern is a fantastic place to study; the name looks great on any resume, and an education from this university forges deep roots. You’ll not only learn to infuse your passions into your education and make amazing career connections, but you’ll make lifelong friends as well.

Of course, this one-of-a-kind experience all starts with an application, and Northwestern admissions is with you every step of the way.


On your Northwestern application, make sure you highlight any AP courses you took in high school; show them your stellar GPA and test scores! Keep in mind that Northwestern admissions looks for students who graduated in the top percentages of their classes, so keep working hard throughout your senior year to maintain the kind of scores they want to see.

Show your curiosity and excitement for growing in your education, and explain how Northwestern will fuel that enthusiasm. Connect your academics with serving your community, to really catch Northwestern’s eye. Most of what they do involves using their research and students to make Chicago a better place, so make it clear why you belong there!


Spend plenty of time on your Northwestern writing supplement. They want to read essays that combine professionalism and openness. The only way to marry these two qualities is through time; come back to your essay often and make edits until you have a finished product.

They want to read about the little things that make you who you are; your ambitions and disappointments, your likes and dislikes. This is the best way for them to clearly see you as their ideal student.


Northwestern’s campus culture offers students experiences steeped in the arts, history, health and wellness, and community service. While studying at Northwestern, don’t wait to check out the student groups and activities that interest you! Catch a play at the theatre, attend a fitness class at the gym, and go off campus to enjoy Chicago.


Northwestern University has a highly effective career center that helps students find connections, internships, and jobs to pursue even while they’re finishing up their senior year.

In 2018:

  • 72% of students had a job secured at graduation
  • 20% of students went into a Business-related field
  • 23% of students were enrolled in a graduate school

Your Future At Northwestern University

Northwestern attracts students from all over the world who are ready to bring their education to the next level. Studying in Chicago means that you’ll have top-notch career connections, countless opportunities to try new things, and still leave room for fun in a thriving, modern city.

Of course, as you’re eyeing this prestigious university, you may run into some questions: how exactly do you highlight your passion through your essay, and how do you keep track of all the supplements you’ll need? If you find yourself confused at any point in applying to Northwestern University, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of  WeAdmit’s professional counselors. We’re standing by to help you refine your application and showcase your unique skills to ensure Northwestern knows that there’s nowhere else you’d rather study!

Start Your Journey To Northwestern Today!



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