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Application Process

Before advising students about study abroad, please review the Steps to Study Abroad and familiarize yourself with what is required of students in the NU Study Abroad Application. These sections explain the application process, provide Northwestern’s expectations for student preparation and approval, and provide clear instructions for crafting a strong application.

At the following phases of the application process, you may play a key role in assisting students:

goal setting

While students may know that they want to study abroad, they may not have a clear idea of what they want to gain from the experience. During the application process they will need to articulate their study abroad goals and think critically about their expectations for study abroad, academically and personally. Encouraging students to reflect on these topics long before their study abroad experience will aid in their learning and growth on the program. Here are some ideas for discussion:

  • Ask:
    • What do they want to get out of the experience? Challenge their expectations and encourage them to be open-minded and accepting of a different reality.
    • How they will connect their experience abroad to their current studies or long-range goals? While study abroad does not have to have a direct link to a student's major, we want students to remember that this is an academic experience first, rather than a travel experience or vacation from NU.
    • How they can give back to the country in which they want to study. Encourage the ideas of reciprocity and having a positive impact on their host community.
  • Suggest ways that they can learn about the country in which they want to study, such as talking with NU faculty with an expertise in the region or by doing some independent research.
  • Encourage students to reflect on the more personal aspects of study abroad and to make a list of questions for their study abroad adviser. Our Identity and Diversity section is a good resource for this discussion.

How can I help students define their goals?

  • Review the application so that you know what is expected of students. Our Frequently Asked Questions page has some of the most common questions and answers.
  • Familiarize yourself with the types of questions that we ask (especially short essays), to better advise students on how to prepare to study abroad and how to explain their study abroad goals.

program Selection

Students may seek your guidance in choosing a program. Since there are more than 100 available programs, we don't expect you to be familiar with all of them. However, to gain a basic understanding, we recommended that you:

Unaffiliated study abroad programs: Students are strongly encouraged to apply to study abroad on our affiliated programs. We have close working relationships with these programs and deem them to be of high quality in terms of academic standards, housing, cultural immersion, and administrative support services. Additionally, students who receive financial aid while at Northwestern will not be able to use their aid on an unaffiliated program. Students may be granted permission to apply to an unaffiliated program or unaffiliated foreign institution only if they have a specialized academic need that cannot be met by one of our affiliated programs. For more information about this policy please read Studying Abroad on an Unaffiliated Program.

Choosing courses

The NU Study Abroad Application requires approval of departmental and/or school advisers, depending on the school.

  • Students are responsible for scheduling an in-person meeting to go over their study abroad course plan with you.
  • After reviewing their Preliminary Course Plan of Study you will determine if their proposed courses fit into the student's academic plans, are eligible for transfer to Northwestern, and meet the academic requirements for study abroad.
  • If your student is applying to a program taking place during the academic year (rather than the summer) and has a cumulative GPA below 2.5 at the time of application, his/her School Representative will also need to complete a School Representative Letter of Explanation. This supplemental section is required and information on this policy and the kind of feedback we request is detailed in the application.

serving as a Reference

As part of the NU Study Abroad Application, students whose cumulative GPA is 2.5 and above are required to list a reference who is familiar with the student and is either a faculty member, teaching assistant, or administrator at Northwestern. When reviewing NU Applications, the relevant study abroad office may contact the reference if more information is needed about a student’s ability and readiness to handle the challenges of study abroad.

Students are advised to contact references first to ask if they are willing to be listed.  You are more than welcome to require an in-person meeting before agreeing to serve as a reference.

If you agree to serve as a reference for a student and are contacted by the relevant study abroad office, we will likely ask you the following:

  • In what capacity and for what length of time have you known the applicant?
  • What course(s) did the applicant take with you and how did they perform academically? (if applicable)
  • Are there any special considerations of which we should be aware?
  • How suitable do you think the applicant is for study abroad in terms of stability, independence of mind, creative ability, response to feedback and authority, ability to work in groups, and motivation?

Students with a GPA below 2.5

A letter of recommendation is required for students whose cumulative GPA is below 2.5 at the time of application.  It is the student’s responsibility to request the recommendation at least four weeks prior to their application deadline.  Letters may be submitted directly to the Study Abroad Adviser via email.

If you agree to write a recommendation for a student, you may wish to use the following as guidelines:

  • In what capacity and for what length of time have you known the applicant?
  • What course(s) did the applicant take with you?
  • How would you rate this applicant's intellectual motivation?
  • How would you describe the quality of academic work prepared by the applicant?
  • Are there any special considerations of which we should be aware?
  • How suitable to you think the applicant is for study abroad in terms of stability, independence of mind, creative ability, response to feedback and authority, ability to work in groups, and motivation?

Generally, recommendation letters are three to four paragraphs long and no longer than one page.

Recommendation letters for Oxford, King's College, and University College London: Recommendation letters are particularly important for students applying to these competitive programs. All of these universities -- particularly Oxford -- are looking for stellar recommendations from faculty members (not teaching assistants) that focus on the student's academic abilities and achievements and refer to specific examples and skills. Oxford is also looking for students who work well with their mentors and are cooperative.