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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:

Articulating goals

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 students to articulate their expectations for study abroad: 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.
  • Ask students 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.
  • Ask students how they will connect their study abroad experience to their current studies or long-range goals. While study abroad does not have to link directly to a student's major, we want students to remember that this is a learning experience worthy of academic credit, rather than a travel experience or a vacation from NU.
  • 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 you can help students articulate their goals on the NU application:

  • Review the application so that you know what is expected of students. Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page for 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.

Choosing a program

In addition to going to the Study Abroad Office, students may come to you for some 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:

A note about unaffiliated study abroad programs: We strongly encourage students 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.

Reviewing and approving course plans

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.

Writing letters of recommendation

As part of the NU Study Abroad Application, students are required to request a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or teaching assistant who has had them in class at Northwestern. We place high value on recommendation letters from faculty and teaching assistants. Partially based on these letters, we determine a student's ability and readiness to handle the challenges of study abroad, as well as their academic commitment.

Guidelines for recommenders
Students are advised to request letters of recommendation at least four weeks prior to their application deadline. If you agree to write a recommendation letter 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?
  • Discuss the quality of academic work prepared by the applicant.
  • List any special considerations of which we should be aware.
  • If possible, comment on the applicant's suitability for study abroad in terms of personal factors, such as stability, independence of mind, creative ability, responsiveness 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.

Submitting letters of recommendation
It is the student's responsibility to submit a letter of recommendation request through their online Northwestern Study Abroad Application. Once requested, you will receive an email notification with instructions on how to submit your letter of recommendation. For technical assistance, please refer to the How-To Guide: For Recommenders (pdf).

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.