How to Get Into Northwestern: All You Need to Know

Monday, April 17, 2023


Northwestern is a top research university and liberal arts institution just outside of Chicago in the town of Evanston, Illinois. It’s known for its world-class school of journalism, Medill, as well as its top-notch, innovative programs across disciplines.

The university was founded in 1851 to serve the Northwest Territory, then a new part of the United States. Though it started with just 10 students, it has grown significantly—it now has over 8,000 undergraduate students in its 12 schools and colleges. Though it is well known for the Medill School of Journalism, it boasts many excellent majors within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Northwestern is a member of the Big Ten athletic conference, and the Northwestern Wildcats play sports at the highest level, NCAA Division I. Beyond sports, students have access to a huge array of extracurricular activities, adding to a vibrant student and campus life.

Read on to find out what you should do to prepare for admission to Northwestern University.

How to Get Into Northwestern: Table of Contents 

  1. When to Apply to Northwestern
  2. How Hard Is It to Get Into Northwestern: Early Prep
  3. How Do You Actually Get Into Northwestern: The Application
  4. Class Profile
  5. What Makes Northwestern Unique?

When to Apply to Northwestern

Northwestern Deadlines 

Northwestern University has admissions deadlines for each of its admission types. For the latest admission cycle, the Early Decision deadline is November 1 and the Regular Decision deadline is January 2.

Early, Rolling, and Regular Decision 

Northwestern University offers two different admissions options: Early Decision and Regular Decision. Early Decision is an early application with a binding agreement. This means you can only apply to one university Early Decision. If you are admitted to Northwestern Early Decision, you agree to withdraw any other active applications and enroll at Northwestern.

Regular Decision is a regular application without any kind of binding element. Students can apply to as many schools in the Regular Decision round as their counselor allows.

Waitlisted Applications 

Students who apply to Northwestern Regular Decision or who are considered in the Regular Decision round may get waitlisted. The waitlist is just one of the possible admissions decisions applicants can receive. Being waitlisted is neither an admission nor a rejection but rather a “maybe.”

If offered a spot on the waitlist, students may accept or deny the waitlist offer. If you accept your spot on the waitlist, there is a chance a spot will open during the summer and you may be given the opportunity to enroll at Northwestern. That said, you should commit to one of the schools that accepted you in case you don’t get off the waitlist.


Students may receive a deferral notification after applying to a college Early Decision, including Northwestern University. If you are deferred, your application will be reconsidered during the Regular Decision round.

Deferred students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the college’s policy on deferrals. Some schools ask for additional materials while others ask you not to submit additional materials. Most colleges will require deferred students to submit mid-year grades from the first semester of their senior year. This is additional academic information for your application, which will help a college make their final admission decision.

If you are deferred from Northwestern, pay close attention to communications from them. In the 2022-23 admissions cycle, Northwestern Undergraduate Admissions indicated they required no additional information other than a midyear transcript. However, deferred applicants were permitted to submit a letter of continued interest and other information in their portal if they desired.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Northwestern: Early Prep 

Admission to Northwestern University is very competitive. It is one of the most selective universities in the Midwest with a 7% admission rate. It’s one of the top schools in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. As a result, students interested in gaining admission to Northwestern must have very strong academic and holistic profiles.

Read on to find out how you can build and strengthen your profile to increase your chances of admission to Northwestern University.

Build Your Profile 

Northwestern is looking for bright, motivated, passionate students for its vibrant campus community. If you’re interested in attending Northwestern University, you should build your profile, whether you know exactly what you want to study or you’re undecided. Building your profile means making intentional course selection decisions, performing well academically, and becoming involved beyond the classroom.

Visit the Campus and a Class 

If you want to learn more about what it’s like to attend Northwestern, it’s a good idea to visit campus. There’s nothing like physically stepping foot on campus to get a feel for a university. However, universities understand that in-person visits aren’t always possible.

Luckily, most colleges, including Northwestern, still offer robust virtual visit opportunities if visiting campus is out of reach. Students can register for virtual information sessions, view a recorded information session, and/or register for online student panels. Students can also experience a virtual campus tour.

If planning to visit Northwestern’s physical campus, though, you should start at the Segal Visitors Center. At Segal, you can attend an in-person information session, depart for a campus tour, and sign up for other special programming for prospective students. It’s also your point of departure for attending many other on-campus tour offerings, like academic overview sessions with particular schools and colleges. Northwestern also offers specialized campus tours like the Indigenous Tour of Northwestern, the Block Campus Art Walk, the Northwestern History Tour, the Black Student Experience Tour, and the Feminist Campus Tour.

Finally, if you are interested in a more in-depth on-campus experience as a prospective student, you can sign up for a Purple Preview. The Purple Preview program matches prospective students with current undergraduates. The program includes spending the morning with a student, going to class, experiencing campus life, and having lunch.

Connect With a Student 

Connecting with a student is another excellent way of finding out if a school is right for you. You can connect with your student tour guides on campus tours, student speakers at information sessions, or even other students you may meet while you’re visiting campus. Talking to a current student is really one of the best ways to get to know a college.

Learn About Any Student Experiences 

Northwestern Admissions Online Student Panels are an excellent way for prospective students to learn about student experiences. Northwestern offers a few different kinds of student panels including the Black Student Panel and the Rural Experience Panel. The Admissions Office also offers virtual student office hours. During these office hours, current students are available to answer questions from prospective students.

How Do You Actually Get Into Northwestern: The Application 

To be seriously considered for admission to Northwestern, students must perform very well academically. In addition to having a high GPA, students should challenge themselves within the curriculum available to them at their high school. This means that students should display a high level of rigor in their coursework.

To be accepted into Northwestern, your high school coursework should demonstrate academic excellence. That said, Northwestern employs the holistic review admission process, meaning that admission decisions are based on a variety of factors. In addition to academics, students must demonstrate other capacities, including qualitative skills like strong essay writing.

GPA Requirements 

Although Northwestern doesn’t have any minimum GPA requirements, the students who are admitted to Northwestern tend to have strong high school GPAs. Northwestern did not publish data on the average high school GPA of its most recently matriculated students. Considering their 7% admission rate, it’s fair to say that to be competitive for Northwestern, you should be performing at an A- average or better.

SAT and ACT Scores 

Like most universities in the U.S., Northwestern become standardized test optional in the wake of COVID-19. Northwestern recently announced that it would continue to be test optional for the 2023-2024 admission cycle. This means students applying through the class of 2028 will not be required to submit standardized test scores for admission. However, many students who apply do still submit scores.

According to data from the class admitted in the 2021-2022 admission year, 93% of admitted students who submitted SAT scores had scores between 1400 and 1600. Additionally, 95% of admitted students who submitted ACT results scored between 30 and 36.

Personal Statement 

The Common Application Personal Statement is an important part of the Northwestern application. The Common Application gives students the option to choose between seven different prompts, ranging from specific to very open-ended. Students can write about virtually anything. A strong personal statement can be the ultimate “soft factor” in a student’s application. It’s an opportunity for applicants to introduce themselves to the admissions committee beyond the numbers.


Northwestern has one application supplement for all applicants. The prompt is for an essay of no more than 300 words. It asks students to describe specifically how they would engage with Northwestern and its larger community. This prompt is an excellent opportunity for applicants to expand on one of their existing interests or passions and explain how they intend to continue exploring it through Northwestern’s communities. Alternatively, it’s also an opportunity to write about the community-centric elements that genuinely make you want to attend Northwestern.

Letters of Recommendation 

Northwestern requires two letters of recommendation. One of those letters should be from your high school counselor. The other should be from a teacher who can speak to your capacity as a student within your high school.

Northwestern does accept additional letters of recommendation, though it does not encourage them. The college recommends that additional letters address different factors that go beyond what is already addressed in the two required letters.

Admission Interviews 

Interviews are not a part of Northwestern’s admission process. Non-evaluative informational interviews with alumni may be available in some cities. That said, these informational interviews do not weigh on admission decisions, nor would they negatively impact your admission chances.

Contribution to the Northwestern Community 

If you’re interested in attending Northwestern, it’s important to learn more about the Northwestern community. Students contribute to the Northwestern community in a myriad of ways, from their involvement in NCAA Division I sports as Wildcats, to their involvement in Northwestern’s Leadership and Community Engagement.

Students can get involved in several different community engagement programs, including off-campus programs in the Evanston and greater Chicago communities.

Class Profile  

Acceptance rate 7.2%
Class size 2,039
Undergraduate majors 38+

What Makes Northwestern Unique?

Northwestern University is unique because it was the first of its kind in the Midwest. It’s a pioneer in that part of the country and has since created a standard of excellence in research, teaching, and more. Northwestern University majors are ideal for students with varied interests who are looking for an interdisciplinary curriculum.

Northwestern is located in Evanston, a medium-sized town about 12 miles outside of Chicago. Because of its location, students have easy access to both suburban and urban environments.

Northwestern students are unique in their mix of academic prowess and other qualitative characteristics. Northwestern might consider that you’re a good fit for them if your application demonstrates academic growth and intellectual curiosity, involvement, and community engagement.

Admission Consulting 

To gain admission to a top university like Northwestern, most students could benefit from additional guidance.  A private admissions counselor is an invaluable resource for students looking to apply to highly selective colleges and universities. Counselors can guide students throughout the entire process, from building a competitive applicant strategy and balanced college list, to brainstorming strong essays and supplements. You should contact an admissions counselor if you’re ready for the challenge of the college admissions process.

If you’re interested in Northwestern and other highly selective schools, hiring a college admissions counselor may be the right choice for you. Why go through the process alone when you can do it with the guidance of an expert? College admissions counselors who are accredited, experienced, and knowledgeable in the field will provide key advice to set applicants up for success.

Getting into Northwestern can be tough. That’s why IvyWise’s admission experts are here to make it happen. Take the first step towards getting into your dream school and set an Initial Consultation.


Related Topics

Choosing a College, College Planning
Sign Up for the IvyWise Newsletter
 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code