Northwestern University

College review by Lisa Bleich

Northwestern University was the second school I visited on my Chicago trip.  NU is considerably larger than U Chicago with almost 8,500 undergraduates enrolled in six undergraduate schools.   The campus is set on the shores of Lake Michigan in the upscale suburb of Evanston.  The campus does not have one overall “look”; it is a mix of different architectural styles.   NU takes a practical + theoretical approach to education across all disciplines.  Admission to all of the schools is based on academic performance.  Bienen School of Music, however, does require an audition.  Northwestern operates on a quarter system.

Northwestern Norris student center

The largest of the undergraduate schools is Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, home to 50% of NU’s undergraduates.  Weinberg is set up like a liberal arts college.  Students participate in two freshman seminars that have approximately 15 students to one professor.

The next largest school is the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with 1,400 undergraduates.  An interesting program to note, “Engineering First,” gives students the opportunity to work with real engineers early on giving them a hands-on experience right from the start.

There is an optional 5-year co-op program where students get placed (and paid!) for a year in the field.  Approximately 30% of undergraduate engineering students participate in the co-op.

School of Communication takes a broad view of the communication field.  There are 6 majors in this school, ranging from the most scientific (human communication sciences) to the most artistic (theater).  I attended a special School of Communication info session and gathered more detail about the programs available.

Theater students may participate in a 3-year acting intensive, where they are placed in a cohort of 15-20 students working with one professor over the course of the 3 years.  This cohort becomes your professional network. (David Schwimmer, of Friends fame, formed the Lookingglass Theatre Company with friends from his cohort.)  The School’s EPICS office (External Programs, Internships, and Career Services) is a great resource for students who are looking for internships and post-graduate positions.

The Medill School of Journalism has its foundation in storytelling and uncovering the truth.  Stressing the hand-on approach to learning, students at Medill must complete an internship or “journalism residency” as part of their program.

The Bienen School of Music is a conservatory-style school that is fully engaged with other parts of the university.  Students in Bienen can earn a Bachelor of Music or a Bachelor of Arts degree.  They can double major or can pursue a 5-year dual degree program.  There are numerous performance opportunities with 3 levels of orchestras, numerous bands and ensembles.  An audition is required for admission.

The smallest of the undergraduate schools, the School of Education and Social Policy, is a place for students who are passionate about making a change in the world.

There is no undergraduate business school at NU nor is there a business major at NU.  Business Institutions is a popular minor and certificate programs in Financial Economics and Managerial Analytics are available to undergraduates in conjunction with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Northwestern tour guide

25% of NU students switch from the college where they originally enrolled.  It is very easy to move from one of the small schools to the big school (Weinberg), but it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to transfer into one of the small schools from Weinberg or one of the other small schools.

Our tour guide, Chris, was a super high energy theater and economics double major who is president of his fraternity, plays club lacrosse, and sings in an a cappella group.  In some ways he was a typical NU student – passionate and involved.  He was flying to NYC the following day for some auditions that he had gotten through his professors and NU alums working in the field. 

Connections to working professionals are a big selling point at NU.  I also met with two other students – Zach, a sophomore econ major from NJ who is actively involved in residence life, captain of his club soccer team and in a fraternity, and Louie, a junior radio/TV/film major from Massachusetts who is living off campus.  

They claim there is no “typical” NU student, but what I concluded is that NU students are smart, engaged in many activities, often leaders, and are passionate about what they do.  They seem to seek out activities outside the classroom to balance their academic pursuits.  Looking at the students on campus there was a wide variety of styles — nerdy chic, casual jock, preppy, pretty, sloppy.

They are known to be the worst of the Big Ten – but school spirit and sports fever is a big part of campus life.  NU was on a hot streak with basketball when I was visiting and the campus was gearing up for a big game the following night.  

Social life for some revolves around sports but for others it is based on the numerous performances happening on campus.  Spring Awakening, a mainstage production, was unfortunately sold out for the night I was visiting.  We were told there were a number of other smaller performances happening on campus, but we were too exhausted to venture back to campus after grabbing some deep-dish pizza for dinner in Evanston.  There is a sizeable Greek presence on campus; about 40% of undergraduates are in fraternities or sororities.

Northwestern has the whole package – great academics, sports, school spirit, arts, culture, and easy access to a big city.  It is easy to see why so many students are attracted to NU and could find a fit there.  Students, who are serious about their academics, have a pre-professional bent, and who are also serious about their other activities could happily find a place at NU.

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