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Unaffiliated Programs

Northwestern strongly encourages students to apply to study abroad on Northwestern-sponsored or affiliated programs, which have been vetted and approved by the University Study Abroad Committee and the Study Abroad Risk Assessment Committee. We have close working relationships with affiliated programs and deem them to be of high quality in terms of academic standards, housing, cultural immersion, and administrative support services.

If you have have specialized academic needs that cannot be met by one of our many options, you may be granted permission to apply to an unaffiliated program or foreign institution during the academic year if you find a program that meets the standards above, present a compelling academic rationale, and we can determine that credit will be eligible to transfer back to Northwestern.

Please note that Northwestern is more likely to grant permission to apply to unaffiliated programs run by universities/organizations that sponsor programs on our affiliated list than those run by other universities/organizations. Students are not permitted to apply to more than one unaffiliated program or unaffiliated foreign institution, and the unaffiliated option must be their first choice.

This web page covers:

If you wish to study abroad in the summer on a Non-NU Summer program, refer to the page Summer Programs for important information and application materials. The unaffiliated process only applies to programs that take place during the academic year.

Unaffiliated application process

Step 1: Email the Study Abroad Office

The email must include:

  1. The name of the program/institution, its location, a link to it's website, and the term that you are interested in studying abroad
  2. Your contact information, including a telephone number

Your email will be forwarded to the appropriate Study Abroad Adviser, who will work with the Associate Director to determine whether or not it will be possible to allow you to proceed with the unaffiliated application process.  In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain a sample transcript for review by the Study Abroad Office and Office of the Registrar.

Step 2: Send an academic rationale to your Study Abroad Adviser

Your academic rationale should describe how studying on the unaffiliated program or at the unaffiliated foreign institution will enhance your academic career at Northwestern.  Be as specific as possible about your academic goals and the courses you are interested in taking, and how these courses will fit in with your degree program.  Please also comment on any personal and/or pre-professional goals that pertain to the program and its location. If the option is in a country or, especially, a city where Northwestern offers an affiliated option, explain why you wish to study on that program or at that institution as opposed to the affiliated program(s). Non-academic reasons include, but are not limited to: following a family tradition, studying abroad with a friend from another institution, seeking less expensive options, and having a desire to live in a different part of a country.  While the Study Abroad Office recognizes that these may be important aspects of a study abroad experience, they are not sufficient to override the combination of criteria that we have evaluated and approved in our Northwestern-sponsored and affiliated programs.

Your Study Abroad Adviser will evaluate your request in collaboration with the Associate Director and the Director of the Study Abroad Office. If approved, your adviser will send you Part 1 of the unaffiliated application.

Step 3: Complete Part 1 of the unaffiliated application

Part 1 requires you to do a significant amount of research into the academic, financial, and student services aspects of the program or foreign institution to help us vet it and help you ensure that it will be a good fit for you. This research includes contacting 2-3 alums of the program (if NU students haven't participated in the past, you'll be asked to contact the program/institution to request contact information). Your Study Abroad Adviser will review Part 1 with the Associate Director and the Director of the Study Abroad Office.

Step 4: Complete Part 2 of the unaffiliated application online

If Part 1 is approved, your Study Abroad Adviser will give you instructions for completing the second part online by the appropriate application deadline.  In addition to applying for permission to study abroad on the unaffiliated option through Northwestern, you will also need to apply directly to the program/institution by its deadline.


You must submit the initial email at least 6 weeks prior to the appropriate study abroad application deadline. In some cases, particularly if you are interested in applying directly to an unaffiliated foreign institution, the Study Abroad Office may need to work with the Office of the Registrar and possibly an outside consultant to determine whether or not Northwestern will accept credit in transfer from the institution, and this process can take several weeks.

Financial Considerations

No financial assistance (including federal loans, federal grants, Northwestern scholarships, National Merit scholarships, private loans, and other forms of aid) is available through Northwestern for students who participate in unaffiliated study abroad programs or attend unaffiliated foreign institutions, and students are not eligible for payment plans (e.g., 9-Pay) offered by Northwestern. Northwestern will not enter into any kind of financial or consortium agreement with another institution for the purposes of processing federal aid for unaffiliated study abroad programs.

Additionally, any education loans currently in deferment may enter repayment while a student is attending an unaffiliated program. If you have any questions about how attending an unaffiliated program might impact your existing aid or loans, please contact Krista Buda Bethel, Assistant Director of Study Abroad Financial Services.

Students receiving financial assistance are strongly encouraged to apply to Northwestern-sponsored and affiliated programs, and the Study Abroad Office staff is more than happy to advise them on which programs meet their academic needs and personal goals.

Transferring Credit Upon Return

Like students who participate in affiliated study abroad programs, students who have been approved to participate in unaffiliated programs or attend unaffiliated foreign institutions will have their study abroad credit treated as transfer credit, to be assigned when they return to campus upon review of their transcripts. Read more about Credit Transfer Procedures.