Case Studies

How To Get Admission in Northwestern University

Miguel Marfori

Learn how to gain admission in Northwestern University

Most universities you see these days look new and modern to the point that you don't feel much of the history that goes with them. But for Northwestern University, you'll be eager to learn that it started small back in the 1850s when a few men began with limited resources akin to a man who wants to start his own business. But the ones who started this elite university were determined to make their vision a reality and years later, Northwestern University is now what it is. If they could come back to life for a brief moment, they'd be surprised to see that the university they built is one of the most elite among other universities today, it's got great housing options for students, has excellent professors, offers excellent courses and other things that would just make them happy knowing what was small in their time has now become big in ours. 

So, with all that being said, you must ask yourself: Can you make it through the admissions process and gain your entry into this elite university? Of course, you can! With the guide we have written for you, you’ll find your way here. Read on and find out how below!

1. Ask yourself if you got the “fit” factor along with other factors

While most universities would either be detailed or vague on what they look for in a student, Northwestern University goes for a slightly different approach. Right from the start, they ask the prospective student if they got the “fit” factor. As Northwestern University elaborates here, they pose two questions about what being fit means for them and you. They also give out their interpretation of how the fit factor went for them when they said: "We didn’t think it was fair to ask you to define fit without doing so ourselves. As we thought about fit, a few themes emerged:

  • Fit is not just about who you’ve been or who you are, but also who you will be and who you might become.
  • Fit is not about being perfect, but about how your strengths overlap with those of a college or university.
  • Fit is not static and can change as you develop. 

Most important, though, we agreed that fit isn’t something that you have (or don’t). Instead, fit is a story you tell us about how you see yourself thriving on campus.”

Alongside detailing what being fit all means, they also gave out a few more factors that they're looking for to let applicants know if they got it all such as academic growth, intellectual curiosity and involvement with the community. 

2. Take note of the current strategy Northwestern University has when it comes to admissions

Being familiar with the factors you’ve just learned now isn’t enough because you have to know what’s currently going on with the admissions team. You can learn more from Liz Kinsley, director of undergraduate admissions, who assumed the position after Christopher Watson. In a post made in 2019 shown here, the reporter noted that "Kinsley said she plans to expand upon current initiatives she developed as a former communications director. These include increasing connections between prospective and current students as well as fostering a bigger social media presence.” From there, Kinsley said, “When you ask a Wildcat why they chose to come here, so often the response you get is, ‘the people’. So this is an important strategic lever in recruitment to be sure, but it's also a substantive resource because when prospective students arrive on campus having already made meaningful connections, they're in a better position to thrive here." 

It's a way of saying Kinsley is eager to get her gears on with increasing the diversity in the university while also slowly but surely bringing in more people in so that the connections people can have will improve. 

3. Develop your spike 

Northwestern University can be clear on what it means to be fit, and the dean is looking to increase the diversity amongst the students, so what will be your strategy from here? You'll need to develop the spike from within you. What’s that? According to PrepScholar here, a spike, "is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way." If you need a better view of this, it's like being the Hercules among your brethren, or when everyone wants just to do ordinary painting, you'll go full Da Vinci. 

But when it comes to reaching that kind of status, it's going to take a lot of your time and effort to do it. You'll feel like it's going take ages before you can even be somehow world-class in your way. If you need a little motivation, think about someone like Harry Styles. His name and music already make worldwide shouts everywhere. You can assume he got it quickly and made his name like it's nothing, but you have to remember that he's just a human being which means that he went through a lot of obstacles to be where he is now. He struggled the same way a lot of people do when they want to achieve their goals and look where he is now. If he can deliver his goals, then you can make your goals too! 

4. Decide on how you’ll develop your spike 

Finally, got the eagerness to develop your spike? Good! Your next move is deciding how you'll develop it. You can't just think it can be formed out of nowhere. You need to think hard on a plan that'll help you grow it. If you're stumped on how to go about it, here are some steps you can follow to get started:

  1. Pick the area of interest that already shows you've got some excellent skills
  2. Plot out the schedule that works best for you
  3. Mark the days you’ve successfully nurtured the spike
  4. Select resources that will help you further the spike (i.e. online courses, one-on-one classes, books)

You can also go with other ways that'll work for you. The critical thing to remember here is making the decision and going for it.

5. Prioritize on other areas of interest and keeping the greatness within them

As you're slowly developing the spike, you can also maintain the importance you've got for different areas of interest, but you need to prioritize a few of them and leaving the rest out. An excellent way to do this is listing down the areas of interest you're engaged in, picking out the ones you're actively doing and taking out the ones that aren't doing any favours for you. For example, if you got ten areas of interest, but only three are doing good for you, then prioritize the latter and ignore the others. It isn't a good thing to take on so many things, so learn to make the best ones your priority.

6. Get artsy and fancy with the art class

You remember those art classes you sometimes see at school where they have a teacher teach a group how to paint correctly with brushes? It's time to get your fancy and get artsy in them when you've got time. Joining an art class can help you unlock your creativity and let you explore the boundaries of arts. Still, it'll also be a great way to rev up your application because it'll show Northwestern University you're a student who can be diverse in many ways. Plus, they'll see you got an eye for the visuals. 

7. Be part of a culture club

These days, it's not uncommon to hear about how some students get bullied because of their race, age and other factors that end up being media bait. That's why if you want to make a difference, you can do your part and join a culture club. It'll let you see the world from different perspectives and also help you accept others as they are. It's another excellent way to boost your application because it'll let Northwestern University you're compassionate toward others and with the dean's plan to increase connections and diversity, it'll be a significant aid to your cause in gaining admissions with them.

8. Keep everyone posted with the student newspaper

Have you got an eye for the news? Always on the top of everything when your school has some updates? Join the student newspaper and show your skills of keeping everyone posted about things that are going on. It'll not only let you be connected with others, but it'll give your application the much-needed glamour for Northwestern University because they'll see that you've got tremendous writing skills. It'll also show them you're active outside of your studies. Also, Northwestern University has a course in journalism, so being the student newspaper person will show them you got the eagerness to be the source for news.

9. Tackle the honours classes

If you need to level up your high school journey a bit, consider adding the honours classes to your activities. What are they? They're the classes that are given to highly-graded students who get to have a little bit more work than a typical student. You can think of it as the same class but with more materials added to your program. It'll be an effort, but it'll give Northwestern University the impression you're a hard worker, and you're not the kind of applicant to sit down and settle for less. 

10. Pick the course that resonates with you

When you’ve finally done the previous steps we’ve listed, you’re now ready to pick your course. It can be a little intimidating to know which one resonates with you, so you can check this list here for an idea on what works. The list is great because you can click a course and see the classes that are included. 

11. Collect the requirements you’ll need for applying

Got the course you want? Great! Your next step will be getting the requirements you’ll need. You can check for the requirements with more details here, but you can have a quick look at the essentials below:

  • Completed Common or Coalition Application
  • Response to supplemental essays
  • Secondary School Report
  • SAT or ACT score results (optional)
  • Midyear report
  • High school transcript
  • $75 application fee or fee waiver form
  • Letters of recommendation (one from a teacher and another from a counsellor)

A thing you'll need to take note of here is depending on what decision route you picked, you'll be asked to submit an additional requirement. For the Early Decision, you'll need the Early Decision Agreement, and for Regular Decision, you'll need a midyear transcript. If your course falls under the School of Music, you'll need a music audition. 

As you may have noticed, SAT and ACT score results are optional at the moment due to the coronavirus. You’ll find more details here.

12.  Check out the SAT and ACT scores that delight Northwestern University

As you've just read earlier, SAT and ACT scores are currently optional for the current cycle due to the coronavirus. It's even had Northwestern University consider making it utterly optional with applicants applying for the class of 2025 which they've explained in a post here. It means that you can rest a little easy and know that you don’t need to have test scores to submit with your requirements. But it still pays to be prepared because you can’t predict if Northwestern University will reverse their decision and bring back the SAT and ACT score results as mandatory requirements, so better safe than sorry. As for the scores, you’ll need to get quite high. How high? Here’s College Simply says about that:

Northwestern University SAT and ACT scores

As you can see above, your SAT score must be above 1490 and ACT score must be above 34. But because SAT and ACT results are optional, it won’t matter much since your other requirements are what will be considered more. Still, you can’t be complacent so don’t think you’ve got it all easy.

13. Score significantly on the ACT and SAT tests (optional, but recommended to be taken)

You’re free to ignore this step because SAT and ACT test results are optional when applying for Northwestern University. But even with the reassurance, you can’t think that this optional development will stick around, so it’s still recommended you take the tests and play it safe. If you’re up and running to take the optional step and decided against skipping, then here are things to remember: 

  • Practice the tests 

You cannot barge in the test venue and ace it like you’re some kind of demigod who already had the answer within you. You need to practice the tests because you can’t know for sure what type of questions will be in them and how you can answer them. That’s why it’s a great idea to practice them until you’ve become familiar with them. 

  • Prepare with the apps

Once the practices you've done are synced within your intellect, you can apply what you've learned with the app versions which will not only help you be diverse on tackling the question types you'll see but also take note of the things that may appear in the actual tests. It'll also give you an idea of what mistakes you make and how you can improve in later practice runs. 

  • Take note of your weaknesses and improve on them

When you're practising the tests and using the apps, be vigilant in taking note of your weaknesses when it comes to the SAT and ACT tests. It's not some festival of being cynical, but it's more about noting what you might not be good with and improving on them. For example, if Math is a weakness for you, you can tackle question types that might be difficult and break them down with ease. In time, you'll be able to answer Math-related questions in the tests without breaking too much of a sweat. 

  • Join a class

Even with the convenience of practice tests and apps, you'll want to join a class that's taught by an expert. It'll not only help you learn more about the ACT and SAT tests, but it'll also help you see how the expert conquered the tests and give you insights on their tactics. 

  • Be confident and calm on the actual test day

When you're ready and set to take the test, be confident and calm on the day itself. All you need to do is take note of the questions, understand what's being asked, and answer with excellence. Remember that all you've practised and learned can now be applied.

14. View the acceptance rates that Northwestern University has for the world

While Northwestern University makes it easy for applicants out there to know what they're looking for by asking questions about the fit factor, it's challenging to get into this elite institute. Need some numbers? TopTier Admissions has you covered:

Northwestern University Acceptance Rates

The acceptance rate from 2017 was as high as 13.90%, and the rate went slowly down to 10.69% in 2020. It’s estimated it’ll lower a bit in 2022 but will rise by 2023. With the SAT and ACT test results being optional, it may see an increase in acceptance rates beyond 2023 but don’t take this as a sign that’ll be easy to be accepted into the university. You still got a lot of things to do before you can indeed be considered by Northwestern University.

15. Rev up your application 

Got everything you need for submission? Time to get started with your application and profile! While you’re getting started, here are things to remember:

  • Take the application advice from the university itself

Similar to how Tufts does it on their end, Northwestern University shares advice for applicants on their site as well. From choosing the early or regular decision to getting the letter of recommendation, Northwestern University is eager to help applicants navigate the application path. While you're visiting the page, you can also see their advice for what your academic way can be. 

  • Ace the essays 

When applying for Northwestern University, you'll be required to send your responses to the supplemental essays that'll be included. Don't worry; they give a bit of advice on how you can ace it here. You can also do these essays excellently by making sure that address your strengths and build the story that shows them you have the fit factor that they were talking about earlier.

  • Let the experts check your application out

Once you’re nearing your application’s completion, have a chat with the experts and let them see how it looks. By having a second opinion, you’ll find out what needs to be added, removed and changed. It’ll also give you an idea on what you missed out so when you finally submit, you got it all under wraps with perfection. 

  • Consider scheduling the alumni interview

If you're eager to boost your profile to the max, consider scheduling an alumni interview. It's optional and isn't required to send with your application. Still, if you want Northwestern University to know more about you on a personal level even before you've submitted your requirements, you can do this one. It'll also let Northwestern University recognize that you're the applicant who wants to know more about them and be eager to see what they can offer to you.

16. Submit everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best

Once you've got it all under wraps, make that submission, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. It's not a guarantee you'll get right in, and you can already see the acceptance rate is quite low that you got to hope. So it's all in the matter of patience.  

Not Accepted? 

After waiting for a time, you finally see the results of your application, and you fall into despair, but you find out you're not accepted. Therefore, Northwestern University doesn't consider you part of the crew. Does it mean you'll give up? No, not yet because there’s still another option to pursue. It's not the usual type, and it's no guarantee you'll get in, but you've already tried applying, so trying it out won’t be too much of a hassle. Here it is: 

Alternative Option: Appy for another college and transfer to Northwestern University later

You can try heading to another college and transferring to Northwestern University later. The requirements for transferring are here. You can even see the page is designed as an FAQ section when you'll find all the things you need to become a transfer student. It'll also be a surprise to know that the transfer acceptance rate is 15.27% according to Campus Reel, which is higher than the acceptance rate for regular applicants. But before you believe you have it under control with this option, remember that because you're applying as a transfer student, you'll already have some history with the Northwestern University admissions team which could mean they may already consider not taking you in. But you can use the time you'll spend in the other college to give Northwestern University a chance to see you've changed and achieved the "fit" factor they've meant to find in you.


"Start small, think big". That's a famous saying many utter when a person wants to start a business, but it can also be applied to many goals one wants to achieve. That's likely the mindset the men who began Northwestern University had when they made the institute. From its humble beginnings, it now becomes a top university that many find attractive and alluring to apply for. With its intricate designs, great accommodations and other spectacular offerings, Northwestern University emit the aura of charm and greatness to those who want to gain admission, especially you!



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