Northwestern University Majors: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing Your Path

Thursday, August 17, 2023

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Do you have diverse areas of interest when it comes to academics? If so, Northwestern University may be a good fit for you due to its interdisciplinary curriculum and research opportunities. In fact, 73% of undergraduates combine at least two areas of study, making this a great school for students with varied interests. Keep reading to learn more about the majors you can pursue at Northwestern.  

Attending Northwestern University

Northwestern is consistently ranked among the top 10 universities nationally by U.S. News and World Report. If you’re wondering how to get into Northwestern, it’s important to understand that it’s highly selective with a current acceptance rate of 7%. 

Northwestern students benefit from an innovative and collaborative community, and the 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity to work closely with professors. Additionally, Northwestern’s proximity to Chicago means that students can obtain a world-class education while benefiting from the opportunities available in a large metropolitan area. 

What Is the Variety of Majors at Northwestern University?

Intellectually curious students enjoy the depth and breadth of academic offerings at Northwestern University, including the opportunity to customize their own programs of study. They can choose from more than 80 majors across the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and five specialty schools: the School of Communication, School of Education and Social Policy, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Medill School of Journalism, and Bienen School of Music.   

Undergraduate School Programs at Northwestern University

Northwestern emphasizes a liberal arts education, encouraging undergraduates in all majors to take courses in science, social sciences, mathematics and technology, history, the humanities, and fine and performing arts. The liberal arts curriculum comprises about one-third of a student’s undergraduate program, with another one-third being devoted to their major and the remainder for electives and minors. 

In-Depth Study in a Major Field of Choice

Students who select one major can expect to devote about one-third of their undergraduate coursework to this area of study. While many students start out at Northwestern knowing what they want to major in, others take time to explore their options. Northwestern requires students to declare a major by the end of their sophomore year. Once students choose their major, the school offering that major becomes their home school, though they are encouraged to take classes across all undergraduate schools.    

Double Majors and Adjunct Majors

Many undergraduates at Northwestern University choose to declare a double major so they can pursue two areas of academic interest. This means they decrease the number of electives they can take in order to complete requirements for both majors and graduate in four years. Students can typically double major within their home school, except for those enrolled in the School of Communication. Alternatively, students pursuing a major in any of the specialized schools can choose a second major from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. With the exception of dual degree programs, students cannot double major across schools.  

The Weinberg College at Northwestern offers adjunct majors, which include African studies, geography, global health studies, international studies, mathematical methods in the social sciences, and science in human culture. Students pursuing any of these majors are also required to pursue another major that is not designated as adjunct in order to graduate. 

Dual Degrees

A dual degree program allows students to pursue majors from two different schools, and they are conferred two degrees at graduation. Students who choose this option must complete a full set of requirements for two degrees, which typically takes five years. This is different from a double major, which requires students to choose two majors in the same school but only receive one bachelor’s degree. Students who double major only need to fulfill the requirements for one degree, though they must complete requirements for both majors.  

Minors

Minor programs of study present another option for students who wish to focus on another subject area, albeit on a smaller scale than a major. Though students are typically not allowed to major across schools, they can minor in a subject area in a different school from their home school. For example, a student majoring in computer science in the School of Engineering can minor in theatre in the School of Communication. 

Certificates

Northwestern offers certificates in areas of study not offered as majors or minors. These certificates are comprised of at least four units of coursework. Undergraduates can earn certificates through the Kellogg School of Management, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Medill School of Journalism, School of Education and Social Policy, and the School of Communication. Certificates are also available through the Center for Leadership and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy.   

What Is the Competitive Edge of Northwestern University Academic Programs?

As a nationally top-ranked university, Northwestern offers strong academic programs in a variety of fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The school is particularly well-known for its programs in communication and journalism, engineering and technology, business and economics, life sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. In addition to its academic programs, Northwestern University is also a leader in interdisciplinary research, associated with more than 100 institutes and centers that allow undergraduate and graduate students in all areas of study to supplement their classroom learning. 

Degree Programs Available to Undergraduate Students at Northwestern University

4-Year Degree Program Options

Northwestern confers three types of undergraduate degrees: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Music. The degree programs cover a variety of majors across five specialty schools and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Program options include:

  • The School of Communication: communication sciences and disorders, communication studies, performance studies, radio/television/film, theatre and dance 
  • School of Education and Social Policy: elementary teaching, human development in context, learning and organizational change, learning sciences, secondary teaching, social policy   
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: biomedical engineering, chemical and biological engineering, civil and environmental engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, engineering sciences and applied mathematics, industrial engineering and management sciences, materials sciences and engineering, mechanical engineering   
  • School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications: journalism
  • School of Music: brass; composition and music technology; jazz studies; music education; music theory and cognition; musicology; percussion; piano; strings, harp and guitar; voice and opera; woodwinds

 

Academic Degrees for Broader Study Requirements

Students wishing to pursue an interdisciplinary program can select a major from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. All degree programs within Weinberg College have distribution requirements, meaning students must complete two courses in each of six intellectual areas: natural sciences, empirical and deductive reasoning, social and behavioral sciences, historical studies, ethical and evaluative thinking, and literature and fine arts. These requirements, in addition to the other degree requirements, provide students with the liberal arts education valued by Northwestern.   

The Most Popular Majors at Northwestern University

Economics

Economics is a popular major at Northwestern University, and it’s no wonder. The Department of Economics at Northwestern is ranked among the top 10 globally. The doctoral degree program is particularly renowned, and the department boasts several fellows and award winners among its faculty. Undergraduates pursuing this major must complete six core courses and six upper-level courses in economics, as well as two related courses such as math or statistics. 

Psychology

Another popular major is psychology, and Northwestern offers a strong program that prepares students for various career paths or graduate study. Students pursuing this area of study must complete three core courses and eight additional courses in psychology, along with five related courses. Psychology majors also have opportunities to conduct research alongside faculty members.   

Journalism

The Medill School at Northwestern consistently ranks as one of the top journalism schools nationally. Medill’s stellar reputation makes journalism a popular major at the university. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree must complete six core courses and several electives in journalism and select an outside concentration. Part of the journalism core curriculum includes a quarter-long residency program that allows students to gain real-world experience with professional journalists.  

Neuroscience and Neurobiology

Students interested in studying the nervous system can choose a major in neuroscience, a program that Northwestern introduced in 2015 and has been rising in popularity since. The education requirements for this major include related coursework in other sciences, two neuroscience core courses, four neuroscience electives, four courses in an allied field, and a laboratory experience. 

Northwestern also offers a major in biological sciences with a neurobiology concentration. In addition to the required courses for the biological sciences major, students must complete three neurobiology courses.    

Political Science and Government

The political science department is one of the largest within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, with intellectually diverse faculty and a wide range of courses that examine politics from different perspectives. Political science majors must complete three gateway courses, one methodology course, a political research seminar, and seven upper-level political sciences courses for a total of 12 courses related to their major. Classes cover four major subfields: political theory, comparative politics, American politics, and international relations. 

Computer Science

Undergraduates wishing to pursue a computer science degree have two options. The School of Engineering offers a Bachelor of Science program, allowing students to study a computer science curriculum focused on engineering. The Bachelor of Arts program through the Weinberg College allows students to learn computer science within a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. The computer science courses are identical in both programs — it’s the non-major degree requirements that make them different.   

What is it like to be a computer science major at Northwestern University?

Computer science majors at Northwestern should expect rigorous courses, but the professors are helpful and supportive. Students frequently work in partners and groups. Several computer science-related clubs exist on campus, allowing students to use their skills and meet new people.  

How hard will it be to transfer to Northwestern University as a student majoring in computer science?

In general, transfer admission to Northwestern is extremely competitive. With just under 15% of transfer applicants gaining admission, the strongest applicants will have completed at least one academic year as a full-time college student, maintained at least a B average, and completed coursework that demonstrates a full range of liberal arts and sciences classes. No additional transfer requirements are listed for students majoring in computer science.  

Learn how to transfer to an Ivy League college.

Non-Business Majors Offered by the Undergraduate School

Northwestern University does not offer a business major, but students who wish to pursue a career in business or admission to an MBA program have several options. Students who don’t know what to major in for a career in business can choose any area of study they’re interested in and complete a minor in business institutions, which will give them a foundation in business and management as well as the social sciences and humanities. However, students interested in business may do well to consider majors like communication studies, economics, learning sciences, and learning and organizational change — areas of study that are applicable to business.    

Common Careers After Graduating From Northwestern University

Graduates of Northwestern University are prepared to work in a variety of fields and industries. Data from Northwestern undergraduate Classes of 2019–22 shows that 72% were employed within six months of graduation. Data was available for 81% of the total graduates from these years. The top industries among this group are:

  • Business and financial services: 19%
  • Consulting: 15%
  • Communications, marketing, and media: 13%
  • Engineering: 13% 

 

What are the strongest majors in terms of job prospects and what are the weakest majors at Northwestern University?

The strongest and weakest majors in terms of job prospects are basically the same at Northwestern as they are anywhere else. Students majoring in STEM disciplines and economics will typically find the highest-paying jobs. Those who major in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts are typically paid less. Continuing on to graduate school, regardless of your major, may further influence your career prospects and salary. 

Will You Get Into Northwestern University?

Northwestern is extremely competitive, and the admissions committee looks for prospective students who demonstrate academic growth and intellectual curiosity, are involved in their communities, and have personal qualities that make them a good fit. Even if you meet this criteria, you are not guaranteed admission. However, working with an experienced college admissions counselor can help you submit the most compelling application possible. To increase your chances of admission at Northwestern, consider working with a college counselor from IvyWise. 

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