Academic Life @NU

Understanding academic life and the multitude of resources available at Northwestern will help you support your student throughout his or her undergraduate career.

Overview of the Undergraduate Experience

Undergraduate teaching and learning have long been priorities of Northwestern University, though any generalization about undergraduate education is difficult to make because of the decentralized nature of the University: six separate schools, each with myriad undergraduate degree programs, each with varying degree requirements set with relative autonomy by its respective faculty. And while each school endeavors to ensure that students enjoy both breadth (general education) and depth (mastery of a particular field through the major), there is no core curriculum and no commonly shared set of academic requirements.

Deans collaborate to facilitate access to University resources across the various schools by creating interschool programs such as music theater, international studies, and cognitive science. Furthermore, academic advice is available for students considering a transfer between undergraduate schools in Northwestern (a relatively common phenomenon). A student who wishes to transfer from one undergraduate school to another must follow University guidelines and the guidelines stipulated by the desired school. The Office of the Registrar and the University Academic Advising Center offer assistance regarding transferring between undergraduate college; or contact the school into which the transfer is desired.

Northwestern's six undergraduate schools include:

About the Curriculum and Faculty

The curriculum of each of Northwestern's schools is determined by its faculty. This includes both the structure of the requirements for graduation and such matter as the approval of new programs of study and new courses. As a result, the schools may differ on matters such as the number of credits needed for a bachelor's degree or the need for “practical” off-campus experience. There are, however, a number of structural similarities: Each school mandates breadth through a program of general education requirements and depth through intensive course work in a major; and each school encourages its students to pursue independent study or creative work with a member of its faculty and recognizes exceptional intellectual achievement through graduation with “honors” or a similar designation. The University has special funds to defray costs of faculty-supervised student research during the academic year and in the summer.

In addition to credit-bearing independent study opportunities on campus under the supervision of faculty, Northwestern offers both credit-bearing and noncredit internship opportunities in the Chicago area and elsewhere. Through programs such as the Cooperative Engineering Education Program , the Civic Engagement Certificate Program in SESP,  Journalism Residency in Medill, Chicago Field Studies, and many other opportunities, students further linkages between the University and the outside world.

Northwestern's faculty consists of people with a wide variety of backgrounds. Most are the traditional teacher/scholar with a PhD or similar advanced degree in a particular field of specialty. Others are professionals with a terminal degree and significant professional accomplishment. For instance, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are on the faculty in the School of Music, working journalists teach in Medill, and theater and other arts professionals teach in the School of Communication. Faculty members have the responsibility to integrate their research or professional work into their classroom; this not only provides students with the latest information but also exposes them to the excitement of original research and the perspectives of professionals who are fully engaged in their field of work.