northwestern university supplemental essays guide

Not sure how to approach the Northwestern essay prompt? With tips from a Harvard graduate,’s guide to the Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 will show you how to write an engaging Northwestern University supplement essay that will maximize your admissions odds. If you need help crafting your Northwestern supplemental essays, create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 836-8250.

Northwestern Supplemental Essays — Quick Facts:

  • Northwestern has an acceptance rate of 9%—U.S. News ranks Northwestern as a most selective school.
  • We recommend answering the Northwestern essay prompt thoughtfully and thoroughly in order to increase your chances of admission.

Does Northwestern have supplemental essays?

Yes! In addition to the personal statement that you’ll write for the Common App or Coalition App, all applicants must respond to one Northwestern essay prompt. We will discuss this Northwestern supplement essay in detail later in this guide.

Note that students who apply to additional programs within Northwestern—such as Northwestern’s Integrated Science Program or Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences—may be asked to write additional Northwestern supplemental essays. For more information on these programs and their requirements, visit the Northwestern website. This guide, however, will focus on the primary Northwestern essay prompt required for all applicants.

What are the Northwestern supplemental essays?

The Northwestern essay prompt can be boiled down to one classic question—why Northwestern?

You’ve likely encountered similar prompts during your college process. However, while the Northwestern essay prompt might seem straightforward, that doesn’t make it any less important. Rather, this “Why Northwestern” essay can make or break your application. After all, admissions officers want to admit students who will attend their institutions. Strong Northwestern supplemental essays will demonstrate a genuine engagement with Northwestern and its offerings.

We’ll discuss the full Northwestern essay prompt in more detail later in this guide. Still, as you brainstorm for your Northwestern supplement essay, think about why you want to attend Northwestern. Your Northwestern University supplement essay should cite specific reasons why Northwestern is right for you. Once again, the best responses to the “Why Northwestern” essay will show that students have done their research.

Visit the Northwestern website, take a campus tour, or speak to current students about their experiences. Think about classes you’d like to take, professors who interest you, clubs you would like to join, and more. Strong Northwestern supplemental essays will reveal a deep engagement with the university and its offerings.

Is the Northwestern supplemental essay required?

Yes—all applicants must complete the Northwestern supplement essay to be considered for admission.

However, don’t let the “Why Northwestern” essay scare you. Instead, view the required Northwestern University supplement essay as a chance to introduce yourself to the admissions team. Your readers already know your grades and test scores. A great response to the Northwestern essay prompt can boost your candidate profile and help you stand out in the admissions process.

Remember, the Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 are your opportunity to show demonstrated interest (DI). DI is used by universities like Northwestern to determine how interested a student is in attending their school. Last year, there were over 39,000 applicants to Northwestern. Demonstrated interest, communicated through Northwestern supplemental essays can make the difference between two statistically similar students. The individual who has clearly demonstrated their enthusiasm about Northwestern in their “Why Northwestern” essay, beyond the obvious reasons for attending (prestige, reputation, etc.), is more likely to be admitted. As you approach the “Why Northwestern” essay, think about the fact that 13.7% of colleges said that DI was considerably important in freshman admissions, and another 25.5% said it was moderately important. Students with authentic, personal, and engaging Northwestern supplemental essays have a higher chance of admission!

How do I write the Northwestern supplemental essay?

So far, we’ve talked about the importance of research, engagement, and authenticity in the Northwestern University supplemental essay.

Completing the additional Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 for the science and social programs? Don’t worry—you can use the breakdown below for the “Why Northwestern” essay to help you craft engaging responses to those Northwestern supplemental essays as well. The science and social programs also ask for demonstrated interest in their prompts—specific reasons that draw you to that program and Northwestern University. The direction that we provide will help you articulate that clearly in all of your Northwestern supplemental essays 2021.

How to Write Northwestern Supplemental Essays — Question 1 (Required)

Now that we’ve discussed some elements of strong Northwestern supplemental essays, let’s break down the Northwestern essay prompt:

While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community. 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. (300-word maximum)

As we’ve discussed, this is a classic “Why Northwestern” essay. However, before we describe strategies for writing your Northwestern supplement essay, let’s focus on the language this Northwestern prompt uses.

Defining the Prompt:

This Northwestern essay prompt centers around engagement. Namely, it asks “how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community” as well as “how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities” at Northwestern. In evaluating the Northwestern supplemental essays 2021, the admissions team wants to identify students who will actively enrich the academic, artistic, cultural, and social communities at Northwestern. Your Northwestern University supplement essay allows you to show what impact you’d make on Northwestern’s campus.

As you brainstorm for your “Why Northwestern” essay, keep this idea of active engagement in mind. Northwestern doesn’t want to admit students who will passively experience campus life without offering their own contributions. Instead, they want students who will be active participants in the spaces they occupy.

Next, notice that the Northwestern supplemental essay asks for “specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities” that interest you. These Northwestern essay prompt categories are intentionally broad and could include clubs, classes, programs, libraries, and many other facets of Northwestern. No part of campus life is off-limits for your Northwestern University supplement essay!


We’ve unpacked the Northwestern supplemental essay—now, let’s start brainstorming.

Begin brainstorming for your “Why Northwestern” essay by researching the school. Think about what first attracted you to Northwestern. Was it the region? The campus? The programs? Any of these things could form the basis of your Northwestern University supplement essay.

Make a list of everything about Northwestern that interests you. Feel free to include broader topics—you likely won’t use these broader answers in your Northwestern supplement essay, but they can help you find specific topics that excite you. For instance, if you’re interested in exploring Chicago, write that down. Then, look into specific clubs at Northwestern that work within the community. For example, which of the two sentences, better reflects demonstrated interest in a Northwestern supplement essay?

Ex. 1. Since visiting at the age of five, I’ve always wanted to attend school in Chicago.


Ex. 2. I would love to join Northwestern’s Botany and Bees organization. Their work with the Evanston Environmental Association and other organizations in and around Chicago is one of the reasons that I decided to pursue a degree in environmental studies at Northwestern.

The second sentence is obviously a better answer to a “Why Northwestern” essay than the first. An admissions officer reading Northwestern supplemental essays would breeze right through the first applicant’s essay—there are many schools in Chicago—an applicant only looking to attend a school in the area could apply to any other college. The second sentence, however, is quite specific to Northwestern, you wouldn’t be able to miss the applicant’s interest.

Defining “community”:

Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 will answer the question of “how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.” Notice how the Northwestern supplement essay emphasizes community. Unlike some “Why school” essays, the “Why Northwestern” essay explicitly asks you not to think about yourself in isolation. Instead, successful Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 will emphasize how, in specific terms, you hope to relate to the communities—academic, social, extracurricular, or otherwise—that make up Northwestern University.

As you brainstorm your Northwestern supplement essay topics, remember that there are no wrong answers. While you’ll eventually want to reference specific professors, clubs, courses, and opportunities in your Northwestern University supplemental essay, use this brainstorming session to be honest with yourself. Strong Northwestern supplemental essays will come from authentic self-reflection.

Freewriting and reflection exercises

Once you’ve made this list, it’s time to get specific. Begin with a structured free-writing session. What that looks like: identify three of the resources, opportunities, and communities that most appealed to you from your research of Northwestern. Set a timer and write on each subject for 10 minutes, spending a total of 30 minutes writing. Were there any topics you wrote about easily? Any topics that you struggled to write about? Make note of these until you identify your strongest topics.

For more information on reflection exercises and choosing a topic for your supplemental essays, you can read our blog article.

Let’s look at another example. Say you were interested in studying sustainable energy and were particularly interested in Northwestern’s programs. This already gives you plenty to discuss in your Northwestern supplement essay. However, you could make your Northwestern essay prompt even stronger by including more specific details. You might use your “Why Northwestern” essay to talk about your interest in the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Research Center or your desire to assist certain key professors in their research. Strong Northwestern supplemental essays will show the admissions team that you’ve considered Northwestern’s offerings and that you care about making an impact on their community.

Additionally, the interest you write about should line up with the rest of your application. For instance, if you’ve written your personal statement on poetry and have spent little time engaging with STEM fields academically, it may not be wise to describe an interest in computer science—unless, of course, you can complement that interest with related classes and extracurriculars! Your Northwestern supplement essay should enrich your candidate profile, not muddle it.


Hopefully, after a thorough brainstorming session, you’ve found solid topics for your Northwestern supplement essay. These resources, opportunities, and communities should relate specifically to the Northwestern essay prompt—if you can swap out Northwestern for any other school and the essay works, then you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

Congratulations—you’ve begun crafting your Northwestern supplement essay! Now, it’s time to start writing.

Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 have a limit of 300 words. This isn’t a lot, so you’ll want to use each word wisely to maximize your essay’s impact. As you start to draft your Northwestern supplement essay, however, try not to get hung up on the word count. Save your stress for revisions—for now, focus on getting words on the page.

You might choose to open your essay with an anecdote. To return to the renewable energy example, you could write about your experience working with an environmental advocacy group. You could then connect that work to your desire to make a change using Northwestern’s resources. This can be an effective way to show your reader where your interests originate and how they’ve made you who you are. You can also discuss how Northwestern’s resources inform your educational and career goals.

Additionally, don’t lose sight of the Northwestern essay prompt’s emphasis on community. As you write, think about how your interests relate to your future professors and peers. Will joining a specific club help you find like-minded people? Do you hope to meet your future research partner in one of Northwestern’s labs? The best Northwestern supplemental essays will reveal a dedication to community as well as an engaging set of individual interests.

Word count

Once you’ve written your Northwestern supplement essay, you can start thinking about the word count. Look at each word and ask yourself whether it belongs. While cutting phrases, sentences, and even whole paragraphs might feel discouraging, careful editing will make your writing stronger!

Finally, the best Northwestern supplemental essays will tell a story. In reading your “Why Northwestern” essay, the admissions team should be able to determine what interests you, where these interests come from, and how these interests will inform your place in the Northwestern community.

Northwestern Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your Northwestern supplement essay draft mention specific resources, organizations, and/or opportunities you hope to pursue at Northwestern?
  • Do you emphasize the role community plays in your hopeful future at Northwestern?
  • Does your draft authentically reflect your interests?
  • Do you show you’ve done your research on Northwestern University and its offerings?
  • Does your draft complement the rest of your application?

Is the Northwestern supplemental essay important?

Yes! The Northwestern supplemental essays 2021, like previous years’ essays, have a major impact on admissions.

As a highly selective university, Northwestern receives thousands of applications from qualified candidates each year. In fact, their admissions rate is falling steadily. What does this mean? More students are applying, but the university’s open seats aren’t increasing. Candidates often have similar grades, test scores, and even extracurricular achievements. This can make it hard for any student to stand out. Don’t let this discourage you from applying. Use every available tool at your disposal, including the “Why Northwestern” essay to make a case for why you should be admitted.

Your Northwestern University supplement essay lets you show the admissions committee what makes you special. Essentially, your Northwestern supplement essay is an introduction and case for admission. Your readers don’t take this lightly, and neither should you!

Remember, the strongest Northwestern supplemental essays 2021 will allow the admissions team to visualize a particular student on Northwestern’s campus. Your Northwestern supplement essay has a lot of power—use it wisely.

Northwestern Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts

The Northwestern University supplement essay prompt might seem intimidating. However, don’t let this discourage you! As long as you approach your Northwestern supplement essay with consideration and planning, you can write an essay sure to stand out.

In the research phase of answering the Northwestern supplemental essay, make sure to check out our free webinar on Northwestern University. In this 60-minute panel with a Q&A session, two Northwestern alumni discuss their experiences applying to and attending the university.

A well-crafted Northwestern University supplement essay can make a huge difference to the admissions team. Use this guide to help you craft an engaging Northwestern essay that will boost your chances of admission. Finally, don’t forget to revise, edit, and proofread your final Northwestern supplement essay. You might also ask a parent, counselor, advisor, or other trusted adult for a second pair of eyes.

To see examples of essays written by our advisors who were admitted to Northwestern, check out last year’s blog article.

northwestern university supplemental essays

We hope this guide helped you gain a stronger understanding of the Northwestern supplemental essays 2021. Good luck!

This Northwestern supplemental essays guide was written by Abbie Sage, Harvard ’21. For more resources on Northwestern, click here. Want help crafting your Northwestern supplement essay? Visit to create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 836-8250.