Welcome to the Northwestern supplemental essay for the 2019-2020 application cycle! You've got just one question to respond to, and it's probably the most common supplemental essay question: "Why Us?" Here's how Northwestern puts it:
Other parts of your application give us a sense of how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. Help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here. (We highly recommend you complete this essay.) (300 words)
First off, everyone has understood that this essay isn’t actually optional, right? Great.
Let’s break down this “Why This College?” prompt.
“Other parts of your application give us a sense of how you might contribute to Northwestern.” Right—your transcript, activities list, and college essay all make a strong case for why you’re an awesome candidate for any great school. BUT!…
“But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals.” In other words: you’re a great applicant who will bring a great deal to whichever school you end up at. But why should that school be Northwestern? Can you make a case for wanting to attend Northwestern beyond the fact that it’s extremely highly ranked and selective, and that you’ll be psyched to be putting it on your resume even ten or twenty years from now?
“Help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here.” Basically, Northwestern seems to be saying: this one is about us. What’s so great about us? Have you done your homework? Do you have a solid grasp of all the terrific resources and opportunities that we can provide you with?
You need to answer these questions. But, contrary to what Northwestern seems to be saying, this question is not all about them—it’s also very much about you. In fact, if you do some snooping around their website you'll find this helpful tidbit:
"This question is intentionally open-ended. You may choose one or several aspects of Northwestern to focus your writing, though the majority of the essay’s content should relate to your own interests or experiences."
So, first: you absolutely need to show Northwestern that you have done your homework, and that you know exactly which resources and opportunities you will take advantage of as a Northwestern student. This means that:
You know what you want to study (make up a major if you’re actually undecided—just choose what makes most sense based on your past experiences);
You can talk about some upper-level classes you’d like to take at Northwestern (in line with your academic direction. Don’t mention anything that’s readily available at other universities—pick something interesting and unusual);
You can mention a few professors you’d be interested in working with (again, who teach in a subject related to your academic path. These should be tenured professors, or at least professors you suspect will be there for the next four years. Not sure how the vicious academic hierarchy works? Ask us);
You have a sense of which extracurricular clubs and organizations you’d like to be a part of (do your research—the clubs you choose to discuss should be a logical extension of your past academic and extracurricular achievements);
You have identified any other academic or extracurricular opportunities that Northwestern and the area will provide you with.
Second: you need to make sure that, as you are answering these questions, you are highlighting your past achievements, and demonstrating how you are uniquely qualified to take advantage of the resources and opportunities available at Northwestern.
As Northwestern says, they already know (from your transcripts, activities list, and college essay) what’s so great about you. And now they want to know why you’re into them. But they also want to know that the reasons for your interest are authentic and personal. So it’s not enough simply to say that you want to take courses a, b, and c, and join clubs x, y, and z. You need to make it personal. Show, briefly, how your plans for your education at Northwestern are based in past experiences and accomplishments. Your past achievements are the best indicators of your future success.
As always, we're here to help. Don't hesitate to reach out.