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How to Write the "Why Northwestern" Essay and the "Describe an Activity" Northwestern Supplement Essay

At Northwestern University, a high-ranking private research university located just outside Chicago, all applicants submit a personal statement, but there are also two “optional” Northwestern supplement essays that we strongly recommend writing—and the school’s admissions officers do too!

The “Why Northwestern” essay lets you show readers exactly why you belong at Northwestern as opposed to any other school, and the “Elaborate on an activity” essay is a great opportunity to show how you engage meaningfully with things apart from your schoolwork.

Let’s delve into the prompts for the “Why Northwestern” essay and the other Northwestern supplement.

''Why Northwestern'' Statement (completion strongly recommended):

Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you'll make use of specific resources and opportunities here.

They also include this question and exhortation:

Do you plan to complete the ''Why Northwestern'' Statement?

(We HIGHLY recommend you complete this essay.)

All caps—they must be serious! And we agree: DON’T SKIP THIS ESSAY!

Why is this “optional” supplement so important? While the rest of your application may show why you’re a stellar college candidate in general, this essay shows readers why you and Northwestern are an ideal fit for one another.

With only 300 words, it pays to be direct and specific. So what should you focus on?

Avoid telling Northwestern admissions readers what they already know, what you think they want to hear, or what anyone else might also say. Try this: imagine you’re telling your good friend—a friend who knows your personality and all your quirky interests—about all the ways Northwestern is going to rock your world! Write down the conversation (you could even imagine your friend asking you some insightful questions). This way you’ll be more likely to describe things you’re truly “stoked” about and more likely to surprise readers by what you write. Of course, you’ll want to do plenty of research about Northwestern so you have specific things to tell your friend.

Once you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have lots of material to draw from for your “Why Northwestern” essay!

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (250 words)

We recommend submitting this supplement as well; it’s your chance to show how your extracurricular experiences have impacted your life.

But how do you go about choosing which activity or work experience to write about?

First, think about what you’re super excited to do at Northwestern (and in its surrounding areas); it could be academic or extracurricular. (For example, maybe you’re excited to research birds of Lake Michigan.) Now, list your current and past extracurriculars or work experiences—see if any of them jump out as connecting to your Northwestern aspirations. (Maybe you’re the founder of your high school’s birdwatching club.)

When you go to write your essay, be as concise as possible conveying the key “technical” details of what your job or activity entailed; dedicate most of your 250 words to memorable interactions you had, lessons you learned, or realizations you gained. Then briefly look towards your future Northwestern experience. (“That’s why at Northwestern I hope to study X/join club Y/volunteer at Z.”) Overall, your response should focus on showing why your chosen experience was so meaningful to you.

With these Northwestern supplement essays, you can not only show readers more of who you are, but also connect your personality and interests directly to Northwestern’s opportunities. This is information that Northwestern wants to hear, so although these essays are technically “optional”—they’re really not!


Click here for our guide to writing the Common App Essay

Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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