How to Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essays

Northwestern’s supplemental prompts are designed to get a sense about “how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.” Here is a guide to answering each of those questions!

“In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.”

While there’s no magic formula for answering this question, there are a few guidelines that we suggest you follow. Keep in mind that the key part of the admission’s advice is ‘the majority of the essay’s content should relate to your own interests or experiences’. 

The key to answering this supplemental essay question is to be as specific as possible, while also highlighting who you are. 
Firstly, your essay should demonstrate that your values fall in line with those of Northwestern. This part of your essay can be a bit more abstract as compared to the rest of your essay, where you’ll be as specific as possible. In order to do this, you need to research Northwestern’s values, and pick and choose those that speak to you.

Here’s an example:

Northwestern promotes academic flexibility, encouraging students to take classes within all six of its colleges and giving them the opportunity to earn dual degrees and double majors. 

You might write about your extremely curious nature, and that you believe you belong at a school that values curiosity and cultivates it through academic flexibility. Don’t leave it at that though—you’ll need to demonstrate this curious nature by writing about the past endeavors you’ve taken on in order to feed your curiosity.

Perhaps you know exactly what you want to study, and their flexible distribution requirements will allow you to delve deeper into biology as well as sample other interesting subjects, without forcing you to complete a rigid general education program.

If you do know exactly what you want to study, writing about it is a good segway into specificity. If you have a burning passion for biology, you could describe how it is that you fell in love with the subject, and find and write about a biology class you want to take, or a professor you’re particularly excited to learn from. You might write about a biology research project you completed over the summer or in school, which you presented at a statewide science competition. Be sure to reflect on what you gained from such experiences to show maturity and depth. Then, you can write that not only do you look forward to continuing to study biology at Northwestern, but that you additionally look forward to continuing biology research, and identify a specific laboratory you can see yourself working in. You can celebrate the fact that Northwestern considers research a critical component of the undergraduate experience and devotes 3.5 million dollars to undergraduate research each year.

If you have no idea what you want to study, fear not! There are plenty of other ways to demonstrate that you fit into the school. 

For example, maybe you don’t know what you want to study, but one of the experiences you learned the most from in high school was serving on the board of a fundraising committee, or working to cast and direct your school play, or assisting your school’s medical squad or athletic trainer. Use the supplemental essay as the space to reflect on what you learned from this experience. Next, find campus opportunities for you to become involved with at Northwestern that would be similarly enriching and fulfilling. You can also look through the list of student organizations and activities and identify and write about those you can see yourself becoming involved in once you get to campus.

Maybe Wednesday night is your absolute favorite night of the week because it’s when the mock trial students prepare for their next competition. You love researching a topic in depth – often it allows you to learn about another place and its culture – and you love debating the best way to present an argument so you’ll win. And it turns out that Northwestern has an active mock trial team. The admissions officers will learn a lot about you from your love of mock trial, and your essay will help them picture you thriving on campus. 

When writing any “Why this college?” essay, it’s important to highlight both the abstract and specific, tangible reasons you are a good fit. However, it’s important not to write only what you think the admission’s officer wants to read. In other words, don’t change yourself to fit the school, but rather present a genuine version of yourself that fits in with Northwestern’s campus culture and academic community. If you can’t do that, then maybe Northwestern isn’t a good match for you in the first place. But if it is, then following this advice is the best way to write a successful supplemental essay.  Good luck!