Skip to main content

Unaffiliated Academic Year Programs

Before you begin the unaffiliated academic year program request process, consider the following:

  • You cannot use your financial aid (including all forms of scholarships, grants, and loans) to participate in an unaffiliated program or attend an unaffiliated foreign institution.
  • You must pay the Northwestern Study Abroad Administrative Fee (SAAF) for any quarter(s) on the program. The SAAF rate for Fall 2020-Spring 2021 is $4,200. Visit the SAAF page to check the current academic year rate.
  • Read more about financial considerations for unaffiliated academic year programs at the bottom of this page.
  • Since pursuing an unaffiliated academic year program requires significant review from the office and requires you to do a significant amount of research, you must appeal for permission well in advance of the regular Northwestern study abroad deadlines. Deadlines to appeal for permission to do an unaffiliated academic year program:
    • Fall Quarter, Fall-Winter Quarters, and Full Year programs: December 20
    • Winter Quarter Programs: April 20
    • Winter-Spring Quarters Programs: July 20
    • Spring Quarter programs: September 20
  • If you have questions about participating in an unaffiliated academic year program, contact the Unaffiliated Programs Adviser, Whitney Bennett.


Northwestern strongly encourages students to apply to study abroad on Northwestern programs or affiliated programs, which have been vetted and approved by the University Study Abroad Committee (USAC) and the Office of Global Safety and Security (OGSS). We have close working relationships with affiliated programs and deem them to be of high quality in terms of academic standards, housing, cultural immersion, administrative support services, health, safety, and security. USAC’s lengthy vetting process for these programs includes consultation with relevant departments to assess academic rigor and fit as well as OGSS to evaluate student services. Our affiliated programs are run by other universities and non-profit organizations that are recognized for offering high-quality programs in the field of education abroad. Our affiliation agreement with their programs binds us to work closely together, and our partners communicate regularly with us, including during times of crisis. Given today's global environment, we value these close relationships more than ever.

If you have specialized academic needs that cannot be met by one of our many Northwestern and affiliated 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. 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, or having a desire to live in a specific city. While GLO 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 and affiliated programs. Similarly, it's unlikely that permission will be granted to apply to an unaffiliated program in a country, and especially a city, in which we offer affiliated program option(s).

Please note: 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, for the reasons described in the first paragraph above. 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. Multi-location programs, such as Semester at Sea, are rarely approved on an unaffiliated basis.

Unaffiliated Application Process

Step 1: Submit the Unaffiliated Academic Year Program Petition

2020-21: Please contact Whitney Bennett, Unaffiliated Programs Adviser, for more information. 


After thoroughly reviewing this webpage, complete the Unaffiliated Academic Year Program Petition by the appropriate deadline:

  • Fall, Fall-Winter Quarters and Full Year programs: December 20
  • Winter Quarter Programs: April 20
  • Winter-Spring Quarters Programs: July 20
  • Spring Quarter programs: September 20

The petition requires you to:

  • Submit a minimum 3-paragraph rationale describing how studying on the unaffiliated program or at the unaffiliated foreign institution will enhance your academic career at Northwestern.
  • Do a significant amount of research into the academic, financial, and student services aspects of the program or foreign institution to help you ensure that it will be a good fit for you. 
  • Financial aid recipients to obtain a signature from the Manager of Study Abroad Financial Services in the Financial Aid Office after meeting to discuss financial considerations (see below).

The petition is only required for academic year programs. Please visit the unaffiliated summer program page for the summer process.

Your request will be reviewed by Whitney Bennett, Unaffiliated Programs Adviser, and you will receive a decision as soon as possible.

Step 2: Complete the Northwestern study abroad application

If part 1 is approved, you will be given instructions for completing the second part 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 or institution by its deadline.

Step 3: Apply to your study abroad program by their published deadline

It is your responsibility to apply to your selected program by their deadline.


Financial Considerations

Students who are considering or approved to attend unaffiliated study abroad programs during the academic year should consider all of the financial implications and plan accordingly.

Study Abroad Fee & Billing

Students who attend unaffiliated study abroad programs must pay the Northwestern Study Abroad Administrative Fee (SAAF) for all quarter(s) on the program. The SAAF will be billed on the regular Northwestern quarterly invoice schedule.

Students will not be billed for Northwestern tuition while attending unaffiliated study abroad programs. Study abroad tuition and all other program expenses must be paid directly to the program sponsor or host institution.

NU-SHIP Insurance

Because you are not considered enrolled at Northwestern during unaffiliated study abroad, you may not be eligible to enroll in the NU-SHIP health plan, particularly if your program will be (or begin) during the NU fall quarter. In this case, you may contact the NU health insurance office directly to inquire about enrolling in the health plan beginning in January; your charges may be prorated for your 9-month enrollment in the plan.

Note: This is Northwestern's domestic student health plan. You will still be required to meet Northwestern's international study abroad health insurance requirements while abroad.

Financial Aid & Loans

Students who attend unaffiliated study abroad programs are not considered enrolled in any credits at Northwestern while abroad. Financial aid cannot be processed for students who are not enrolled; as a result, no financial assistance is available through Northwestern for students who participate in unaffiliated programs or attend unaffiliated foreign institutions. This includes (but is not limited to): federal loans, federal/state grants, Northwestern scholarships, National Merit scholarships, athletic scholarships, outside scholarships, parent/private loans, and other forms of aid. It is not possible to grant any exceptions to this policy under any circumstances.

Additionally, any previous education loans currently in deferment may enter repayment while attending an unaffiliated program (see below).

Loan Repayment

Because you will not be considered enrolled at Northwestern while attending an unaffiliated program, any previous student or parent education loans currently in deferment may enter repayment while you are away.

  • Federal Direct Subsidized & Unsubsidized student loans have a grace period of 6 months. If you will not be enrolled at Northwestern for two consecutive quarters (including summer – e.g., June through December), you will likely exhaust your full 6-month grace period.
  • The Federal Perkins Loan has a grace period of 9 months. If you will not be enrolled at Northwestern for three consecutive quarters (including summer), you will likely exhaust your full 9-month grace period.
  • For information on your Federal Parent PLUS Loan or private loans, contact your loan servicer directly.
  • You can always view your most current federal loan amounts and repayment status in the National Student Loan Data System.

When you re-enroll at Northwestern, your loans should again be eligible for "in-school deferment," meaning that you would not need to make loan payments while enrolled at least half-time. However, keep in mind that if you exhaust your full grace period, you may be required to make payments on your loans during any future periods of non-enrollment (including summer), and you will likely need to begin making payments immediately after you graduate.

Students receiving financial assistance are strongly encouraged to apply to Northwestern and affiliated programs. Your study abroad and financial aid advisers are more than happy to advise you on which programs meet their academic needs and personal goals.

If you have any questions about how attending an unaffiliated program might impact your existing aid or loans, please contact Krista Bethel in the financial aid office.

Transferring Credit upon Return

Like students who participate in affiliated study abroad programs, study abroad credit is treated as transfer credit for students who have been approved to participate in unaffiliated programs or attend unaffiliated foreign institutions. The Office of the Registrar will review the program/foreign institution transcript and assign general, elective credit as long as students enrolled in transferable courses, took courses for official letter grades (not Pass/Fail), and earned the equivalent of a "C" or above. Read more about credit transfer procedures.