Getting to Know: Northwestern University (IL)
I got to visit Northwestern University on a very nice day during my Chicago college tour. If I was to describe the campus in one sentence in “New Jersey terms,” it would be “Princeton with a beach.” Much of the architecture and the surrounding community (seen from a bus window) reminded me of Princeton. However, Northwestern has a significantly larger undergraduate student body. Northwestern has over 8,700 undergrads. Princeton has fewer than 6,000. I was fortunate to see the beachfront campus on a summer-like day.
However, as you might hear from student comments on YouTube, there is a “lakefront effect” to Northwestern winters, with wind gusts blasting through campus well into spring. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are waterfront cities. But there’s good reason why Chicago is called the Windy City. In addition, Evanston, home to Northwestern since 1851, became the first U.S. community to pass a reparations law in 2019.
I made a Pinterest page for you to check out this beautiful campus..The photo up top shows ‘The Rock’ that has likely been painted several times since I was on campus to highlight a cause important to the students. There are many clubs and organizations for causes and talents. Comedy is bigger in this college community than it will be at other schools. The Debate Society, the oldest such organization at a US college, is also high profile, as are student-run theater groups.
In 2002 there were approximately 13,300 applicants for a freshman class of just over 2,000, and a third got in. Twenty years later nearly 52,000 applied for about the same number of seats. Seven percent got in. The yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who deposit and enroll, went past 50 percent for the first time with the Class of 2020. It hit a high of 63 percent for the Class of 2025.
Like virtually any ultra-selective school, Northwestern has become test optional.
Less than half of the incoming Class of 2026 submitted ACT or SAT scores. Among those who submitted SATs, the middle 50 percent scored between 1500 and 1560. For those for submitted the ACT, the Composite range was between 33 and 35. It’s easy for prospective students to panic when they see narrow score ranges like this. But take them with a grain of salt when less than half of applicants submitted scores. Scoring at least 700 on each section of the SAT or at least 30 on each section of the ACT should still make one a viable candidate, provided that the grades, rigor, essays and extracurricular resume can leave a strong impression.
Those who can get in will get good financial aid if they qualify.
Northwestern meets 100 percent of demonstrated need. The average need-based scholarship for the Class of 2026 was nearly $63,000. Merit awards and talent-based scholarships are exceptionally limited. Only 19 freshmen received them. Less than 30 percent of the Class of 2022 had to take out loans to cover educational costs. However, those who borrowed owed, on average, over $34,000. Other Ivies and Ivy-likes might be less expensive options for some.
No Ivy or Ivy-like school is similarly structured across undergraduate education.
Northwestern is exceptionally well invested in engineering and the liberal arts. But the university also has undergraduate schools of communication, education and social policy, journalism, and music. The School of Communication hosts the performing arts programs as well as radio/televison film. Medill School of Journalism hosts only the Journalism major, which has a one-quarter resiodency at a news organization. Interestingly, only a third of Medill’s recent graduates worked in news reporting, though many entered consulting.
- No Ivy offers an undergraduate journalism major, though Cornell and Penn offer Communications programs. Journalism is also absent at other Ivy-like schools with high-profile athletics and single-digit acceptance rates. These schools include Duke, Vanderbilt, and Stanford, though Duke offers a Journalism minor.
- Northwestern has one of the most respected graduate business schools in the world. But it does not offer an undergraduate business program, just like Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford and every Ivy except Cornell and Penn.
- Like Duke and Princeton, Northwestern offers certificate programs that combine coursework in the liberal arts and engineering with pre-professional objectives in mind. Business-related certificates are offered at Kellogg, the business school (Financial Economics and Managerial Analytics) and Medill (Integrated Marketing Communications)
- There are more notable actors who have been educated at Northwestern than probably any Ivy or Ivy-like school. Stephen Colbert, Charlton Heston, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Richard Kind are only four examples of the talent produced by this university.
Northwestern’s academic calendar works on a quarter system, unlike the Ivies and aforementioned Ivy-likes, excluding Stanford.
The quarter system allows Northwestern students to take three more classes over the course of an academic year. This makes it easier to pursue more than one major or minor. It also means that the work goes faster than it would at a school that runs on semesters and summers are shorter The current academic calendar is structured like this:
- Fall: Classes begin September 19th (Northwestern Monday). Final exams end December 9 There’s a break from the day before to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
- Winter: Classes begin January 3rd. Final exams end March 19th. Students leave for Spring Break until March 25th.
- Spring: Classes begin March 26th. Final exams end on June 8th. No break this quarter, though there are no classes on Memorial Day.
Northwestern has a two-year residency requirement.
However, only 55 percent of the undergraduate student body lives on campus. By comparison, over 90 percent of Stanford undergrads live on campus as does nearly every undergrad at Princeton. So do 81 percent of Duke undergrads and 84 percent of Vanderbilt undergrads. Incoming freshmen live in traditional residence halls or residential colleges within four neighborhoods. Residential colleges are based around shared academic interests. Rents within walking distance of campus are quite high for a college town.
Twelve percent of the men and 13 percent of the women are involved in Greek life. But three former fraternity houses and three former sorority houses were converted into university residence halls for the 2021-22 academic year. Houses have come, but also closed on campus since 2000.
And what about athletics?
Northwestern is a founding member of the Big Ten, the oldest organized varsity scholarship (D-1) athletic conference in the U.S. The Northwestern Wildcats play 19 varsity sports, fewer than any Big Ten school, excluding Purdue. However, they finished 30th nationally and sixth in the Big Ten in the NCAA D-1 Director’s Cup standings across all sports in 2022-23. The five Big Ten schools that ranked ahead of Northwestern—Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska—also play at least four more sports. Northwestern’s women’s basketball team was conference champions in 2020. The women’s field hockey, lacrosse and softball teams have also been quite successful in this decade. Last season, the men’s basketball team finished second in the Big Ten, earning a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They beat 10th seed Boise State in their region before losing to UCLA.
The football program is weathering considerable controversy.
Northwestern has played in 13 bowl games since 2000, winning five. The Wildcats have won the Big Ten West twice (2018 and 2020) since the conference broke into divisions in 2014. However, the program has been badly tainted by a hazing scandal. The scandal was well reported in the Daily Northwestern, . You can also read a more thorough analysis of the costs to the athletic program and the university in Sports Illustrated. Town-gown relations became strained over proposals to renovate Ryan Field, the football stadium, and allow concerts to take place there. Evanston’s city counsel has voted in favor of Northwestern’s plans. However, local protests have not died down.
It’s really silly to give Northwestern a report card or write about the greatness of the academics or the alumni and career resources. They are great. To me this is the research university if you have the ambition to work in journalism, radio/TV/film or the arts. But you can get a great education and make connections in virtually any major. The Chicago area also offers more for college students to do than they would ever have time to do over four years. The decision to come to Northwestern should depend not only on academic opportunities but also whether you can handle the winter weather and a more spirited social life than you might find at selective schools where sports and Greek life have a lower profile.
Check out this talk: What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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