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Unaffiliated Academic Year

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 (USAC) and the International Risk Assessment Committee (IRAC). 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 the International Risk Assessment Committee 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-Sponsored 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 specifc city.  While ULA 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 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, 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.

This web page covers:

Unaffiliated application process

Step 1: Submit the Unaffiliated Program Request Form

Complete the Unaffiliated Program Request Form by the appropriate deadline: 

  • Fall and Full Year Programs: December 20
  • Winter and Winter/Spring Programs: August 20
  • Spring Programs: September 20

Your request will be reviewed by the Unaffiliated Programs Adviser, Whitney Bennett, and you will receive a response for more information or approval to move to step 2 as soon as possible.

Multi-location programs, such as Semester at Sea, are rarely approved on an unaffiliated basis.

NOTE: The form is only required for Academic Year Programs. Please visit the Unaffiliated Summer Program page for the summer process. 

Step 2: Complete Part 1 of the Unaffiliated Application

Part 1 requires you to describe how studying on the unaffiliated program or at the unaffiliated foreign institution will enhance your academic career at Northwestern and also 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 Northwestern students haven't participated in the past, you'll be asked to contact the program/institution to request contact information).

Part 1 also requires 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 Unaffiliated Programs Adviser will review Part 1 and let you know when you are approved to move forward with step 3. 

Step 3: Complete Part 2 of the Unaffiliated Application Online

If Part 1 is approved, your will be given 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, ULA 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


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.

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

Financial Aid & Loans

Students who attend unaffiliated study abroad programs are not considered enrolled at Northwestern while abroad, and financial aid cannot be processed for students who are not enrolled. As a result, no financial assistance is available through Northwestern (including all forms of scholarships, grants, and loans) for students who participate in unaffiliated programs or attend unaffiliated foreign institutions. 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. Click here to review additional financial considerations.

If you have any questions about how attending an unaffiliated program might impact your existing aid or loans, please contact Krista Bethel, Manager, Study Abroad Financial Services.

Students receiving financial assistance are strongly encouraged to apply to Northwestern-sponsored and affiliated programs, and ULA staff are 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, 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.