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FAQs | Pre-Orientation Programs

POP Frequently Asked Questions

Below are questions you may have as you think about registering for a Pre-Orientation Program. Once you learn of your POP placement in June you will then receive more specific detail related to your program.

Who is eligible to participate in POP?

All first year Northwestern students (that means first-year college and transfer students) are eligible to participate. Regardless of socioeconomic status, we are committed to ensuring program fees do not inhibit your ability to participate; fee waivers are available for many of those who receive need-based aid from the University.


How many students participate in POP?

Approximately 220 students participate across the 3 programs. Below is an estimated breakdown by program. 

  • Alternative Student Break: 38 students
  • CATalyst: 104 students
  • Chicago Undergraduate Program: 78 students

Is there financial assistance available for POP?

Yes, we're committed to ensuring financial standing does not impact your experiences while at Northwestern! Financial assistance is offered in the form of fee waivers for many of those receiving need-based aid from Northwestern; you will find information on the Registration and Fee Waiver page. There is a place within the POP application to mark if you wish to be considered for a fee waiver. When you receive your POP assignment email on June 22, you will also learn of your fee waiver status.


How many trips do I have to rank?

You can rank only 1 or up to all 3 POPs in your application. You will only be considered for the programs you list in your application. If you include only 1 program in your preference, there is a small possibility you will not be assigned to any POP due to capacity. In previous years, the majority of students were placed into their top 2 preferenced programs. You certainly are more likely to be placed into a POP by maximizing the number of programs you list; however, by ranking a program, you are agreeing to participate in it if placed.


What does it mean to register for POP?

Your registration for POP is where you will provide your program preference(s) by June 11; payment is not required until after you learn your placement and is due on July 1. By registering, you are agreeing that you will participate in the program to which you are assigned as you will only be assigned to a program you preference (you are encouraged to only rank programs in which you are interested in participating).

Listing only 1 program in your preferences or listing the same program multiple times does not increase your chances of being placed into that program.


I've completed my registration or application. Now what?

You will submit your application (along with preferences) by June 11 at 11:59 p.m. CDT; you should receive a confirmation email noting your submission. On June 22 you will receive your POP assignment notification and information on how to pay (payment due by July 1).

Upon payment, you'll receive a welcome email and a guide of what your next steps will be for the summer. In many instances you may be asked to submit additional paperwork (such as medical) along with your payment by July 1 or you may be asked to complete additional forms during the summer to help the POP organizers plan for your participation. You should expect to receive monthly updates via email over the summer.


How are students assigned to POP?

You are asked to rank anywhere from 1 to 3 of the trips to be considered for your placement. Only rank the programs in which you are interested in attending as it is possible to be placed to any ranked program. Though applications are not entirely time-sensitive (i.e. first-come, first-served), the time at which you submit your application may be considered when students are being placed into programs, so we encourage you to submit as early as possible.

Though you are encouraged to only rank programs of interest, ranking just 1 program does not give you a greater likelihood of being placed into that program; it is possible you may not be placed in any program depending on capacities.


What if I am not assigned to a POP?

On June 22, applicants will receive their placement notification. Due to trip capacities, it is possible an applicant may not be placed into any program they ranked. Students who are not originally placed will have the opportunity to sign up for the POP Waitlist; this form allows students to re-rank programs for which they would like to be considered. The completion of the Waitlist form is time sensitive. 

Students initially placed into POP who do not complete their trip payment by the July 1 deadline, or must cancel their participation for another reason, will have their spot forfeited to a student on the POP Waitlist. Students on the POP Waitlist could receive a placement notification between July 1 - August 1.


When do I pay for my POP?

You will first submit your registration (along with preferences) by June 11. You will receive your POP placement notification by June 22 and will be asked to submit your payment for that program by July 1 online (only online payments can be accepted, no cash or check). Those who do not submit their payment by July 1 at 11:59 p.m. CDT will lose their spot which will be filled by any student on the POP waitlist.


What does the POP fee include??

The fee associated with each POP experience is all encompassing, meaning there are no other costs associated while on the trip. It covers participant housing, meals, transportation during the program, all programming costs, and a program shirt!

How do I get to campus to check-in for my POP?

If you plan to fly to Chicago, there is no transportation provided by the University to get from the airport to campus.  You will be responsible for coordinating your own transportation to campus. 

In July or August, your POP may connect you with other participants who are flying in around the same time as you if you wish to share transportation to campus. 

Both Midway and O'Hare airports are accessible to campus. 

  • Midway: Driving is 75 minutes to campus, CTA "L" is 90 minutes ($2.50)
  • O'Hare: Driving is 45 minutes, CTA "L" is 90 minutes ($2.50)

Can I move into my residence hall if participate in POP?

No, students are not able to move in prior to new student move-in day on Monday, September 16, 2019. Most POP experiences will be finished the morning of September 16 so move-in can begin at that point. POP participants are encouraged not to select on a move-in time for any earlier than 10 a.m.

If needed, we have limited storage space for ASB-POP and CATalyst participants and can hold one piece of luggage per student while you are on your POP.  All bags will be marked, stored, and locked up before you start your program and will be accessible the morning of move-in day. We suggest not to leave any valuables in this bag, to be safe. If you are participating in CUP, storage accommodations can be made for those in need, but we have limited space available.  

Where can I store my luggage while on POP?

You'll learn more about this once you have completed your POP payment. Due to limited space, participants are not able to bring all items that they hope to move into their residence on September 16 at the time they arrive for their POP. Participants will need to coordinate with family members or friends to have move-in day items brought to campus on September 16 (move-in day). Or, you can utilize the vendor Northwestern partners with to have items shipped directly to your room so it is waiting there on move-in day; find more information on the University and Student Services Website.


Where will I be sleeping on my POP?

  • Alternative Student Breaks - POP: This depends on your assigned site though all participants will stay in a retreat center near the non-profit site. The cities you will be staying in are Madison, WI, South Bend, IN, and Chicago, IL. Exact locations will be given upon placement in the program.
  • CATalyst: Enclosed sleeping cabins at Camp Hickory in Ingleside, Illinois
  • Chicago Undergraduate Program: At Hostelling International in Chicago (the Loop to be exact)

What do I pack for my POP?

After you receive your POP placement notification, you will have access to the participant website that will provide robust information on anything and everything you need to know about your POP. This page will also include a list of items to pack specifically for your program.


Can I get a refund if I can no longer attend my POP?

Your payment is non-refundable, unless in times of emergency. Contact New Student and Family Programs at


Parents/Families: Is POP something I should let my student do?

Students have participated in POP and feel as if they have a network of peers before they even start Wildcat Welcome (which is the time when the entire class comes together and they begin to form a network). Their POP network is something that persists throughout their first year, along with the network they build in Wildcat Welcome and then in their Residence Hall. From a social standpoint, it is an additional way to build connections.

You may be thinking about safety. We've got you covered. The leaders of each POP are thoroughly trained to hand a myriad of situations and we have protocols in place so we can be prepared for anything. New Student & Family Programs and the Campus Life office work closely with all POP leaders to ensure students are safe on these experiences while building a comprehensive communication infrastructure so offices stay well informed throughout the trips. 

If you (the family member) need to get in contact with your student during the trip in case of emergency, you will have the direct contact information for the Campus Life office and New Student and Family Programs to ensure we can connect you quickly. 


Are there accommodations for gender non-conforming students on POP?

There are accommodation options on all 3 POP trips in order to ensure all participants feel comfortable and safe, regardless of their gender identity. There will be an opportunity to elaborate on specific accommodation preferences on your application form. If you have any questions about specific programs please contact our office at so that we can provide you with all of the details you need.

What if I have dietary restrictions or allergies?

Participants with dietary restrictions, including those who are vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, and allergic to certain food products, will have food provided for them. There will be an opportunity to elaborate on specific dietary restrictions on your application form.