Ticket for Admission
Getting into Northwestern requires commitment and attention to detail.
Now, almost 30 years after the parents graduated, their daughter, Abby, is a junior in the Medill School of Journalism, and their son Charlie will enroll in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science in the fall. They are part of the approximately 600 current undergraduates who are offspring of alumni.
Regarding the “legacy” factor, that is, the “plus” of having a family member who is an alumnus, Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for University enrollment, notes that it does play a role.
“Why does this advantage occur?” Dixon asks. “Often, applicants whose parents or siblings have attended Northwestern are more enthusiastic in their applications, have a better understanding of the University and the programs to which they are applying and, of course, are often very smart, just as their parents and siblings are. That suggests a good fit with Northwestern.”
Yet whether or not the applicant has family ties, Dixon says it’s never too soon to start researching options, even as early as the sophomore year of high school.
The next step is to visit schools. Dixon recommends starting trips in the summer after sophomore year or at the latest in the spring of junior year. “It really opens students up to what is out there,” she says.
The trips are usually followed by the PSAT standardized exam and then the SAT or the ACT. While Dixon emphasizes that there isn’t a minimum score that every student must achieve, Northwestern publishes the range of scores of each admitted class. The class of 2006 had a median ACT score range of 28 to 33, SAT verbal scores of 640 to 730 and SAT math scores of 660 to 750.
One helpful resource Dixon recommends is The College Board Handbook, which offers admissions statistics on two- and four-year colleges, including average test scores, grade point average and class rank. “It’s a reality check just to look at those SATs,” she says.
Toward the end of junior year most students should start requesting application forms. Northwestern’s application request forms are on the Office of Undergraduate Admission Web site (www.ugadm.northwestern.edu/freshman/applying).
From then on, the keys to success — in addition to having the basic qualifications, of course — are commitment and effort. Dixon emphasizes paying special attention to the essay. Another of her hints: include a résumé or for Medill applicants a few journalism clippings.
Increasingly, applicants are choosing the cybernetic route. In fact, 52 percent of this year’s incoming class used the Internet in the application process; however, Dixon adds, the same standards of accuracy and thoroughness apply as for those applying conventionally.
Northwestern has two application deadlines: Nov. 1 for those choosing the early-decision option and a regular deadline of Jan. 1. Early decision is a contractual agreement under which students apply early with the understanding that if they are accepted, they will withdraw all other college applications and come to Northwestern.
Typically, the admission rate for early-decision applicants is about 10 percent higher than for regular applicants. “They are the committed students,” Dixon says. “They often write better applications, and many are the children of alumni.”
For Abby and Charlie Hunt, the decision to apply for early acceptance was logical and strongly encouraged by their parents. “They came away with strong feelings about Northwestern,” Kris recalls, “so we said, ‘If this is your first choice, why not go for early admission?’”
Yet Dixon is quick to warn that early decision is not for everybody. “Those with uncertainty or the need to look around for financial aid may require those other schools for comparison,” she says. “I don’t think people should apply for early decision just because it’s currently a popular route to take.”
One thing, however, never becomes unpopular in the admission office: students with the confidence to be themselves.
“We want students who want to be here, who’ll be collegial, collaborative, who are interesting,” Dixon says. “That appeals to the faculty, and that appeals to us.”
— Rebecca Zeifman (J04)