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Last updated March 22, 2024

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How to Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essays (With Examples)

Key Takeaway

Northwestern doesn't have too many supplemental essays, but they're serious about students demonstrating a connection to the school. Focus on values and academic connections to craft strong answers to the Northwestern Supplemental Essays. 

How to Write the Northwestern Supplemental Essays

With an acceptance rate hovering around 7%, getting into Northwestern isn’t easy. For 93% of students, it just doesn’t happen.

In the admissions process, so much seems out of your control. So what steps can you take to help you beat the odds?

One word: essays.

Like all highly-selective schools, Northwestern requires students to exceed expectations when it comes to factors like GPA, course rigor, extracurricular achievement, and letters of recommendation. You’ve worked diligently over the past three and a half years to cultivate each of these areas of your life. But at this point in the admissions process, there isn’t much left for you to control.

What you can control, however, are your essays. From your personal statement to the Northwestern supplemental essay, you have the chance to make your case for admission.

In this post, we’ll cover how to approach your Northwestern supplemental essay so you can increase your chance of getting in.

''Why Northwestern'' Statement

Let’s start by taking a look at the prompt itself. As far as supplemental prompts go, it’s pretty straightforward:

*While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.

In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.*

Now we’ll break the prompt down, piece by piece.

Northwestern Supplemental Prompt Breakdown

As you already know if you’ve read our supplemental essay guide, the first step in writing any supplemental essay is breaking down what the prompt is asking you to do. The Northwestern supplemental essay is a classic “Why Us” supplemental prompt. While it may be straightforward, it does have a lot of parts. We’ll take a look at each.

  1. While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.

    In this short preface to the prompt, Northwestern tells us specifically that this supplemental essay should tell them “about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.” That means that your supplemental essay should focus specifically on engagement and community.

  2. In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here.

    This part tells us a few things that you’ll need to do.

    #1: Your essay should be 300 or fewer words.

    #2: The goal of your essay should be to help your admissions officers understand how you would engage with specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities at Northwestern.

    #3: All of this means that you’ll need to do some research. Specifically, you’ll need to find particular resources, opportunities, and communities that you can see yourself being involved with if you were to attend Northwestern.

    The “and/or” part of the prompt also tells you that you can choose to focus on only one of these areas, or you can write about two to three of them.

  3. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.

    The last sentence of the prompt gives us a couple more vital details.

    #1: We learn that you need to explicitly state the specific parts of campus life you want to engage with. Sentences like, “I’m looking forward to participating in the academic community at Northwestern” just won’t cut it. They want specifics.

    #2: We also learn that your focus should be on enrichment, during your time as a student as well as your life after you graduate.

In short, all of this combined tells us that our Northwestern supplemental essay should…

a) be 300 words or fewer.

b) reference specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities that you can engage with.

c) discuss how these specific parts of campus would enrich your life as a student and after you graduate.

Now that we’ve broken down the prompt and know what’s expected of us, it’s time to discuss how to do effective research that will help you write the best supplemental essay possible.

How to Do Northwestern School Research


We always recommend that you start by researching the school’s values. You can do this by googling the school’s motto and mission statement.

A simple google search of “Northwestern” + “Motto” (or “Mission Statement”) will tell you everything you need to know.

From this search, we learn that Northwestern’s motto is, "Whatsoever things are true.” And the mission statement is, “Northwestern is committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.”

Now we can incorporate ideas like truth, teaching, innovation, research, personal and academic growth, diversity, and academic community into our essay.


Once you’ve gotten ahold of the values, you’ll need to find the specific details the prompt asks of you.

To begin, it’s a good idea to start with your academic area of interest. Poke around on the website and look for faculty members, syllabi, course offerings, research labs, past research projects, internships, and academic groups or clubs. All of these areas are rich with details and connections that you can draw from in your essays.

Once you have a couple of those pinned down, take a look at any relevant extracurricular offerings you can find. Focus specifically on activities you’ve been involved with in high school and are looking forward to continuing in college. Alternatively, you can look for activities that interest you that you haven’t yet had access to as a high school student.

After gathering your details, feel free to start writing.

3 Tips for Writing the Northwestern Supplemental Essay

Writing supplemental essays is hard. Here are three tips that can help as you navigate your response to the Northwestern prompt.

  1. Find specific details that connect with your own background and goals.

    Recall from our supplemental guide that the goal of supplemental essays is to convey school fit. That means showing admissions officers that you belong on campus and in the classroom of the school you’re applying to.

    The easiest way to do this is to connect things you’ve already done—classes, accomplishments, particular academic goals—with what is offered at a school.

    If you’re accomplished in robotics and have an interest in disabilities studies, then maybe you reference the Assistive and Rehabilitation Robotics Lab. If you love volunteering at your local historical society, then bringing up the Leopold Fellowship might be a good idea.

    Whatever you bring to the table, try to select specific academic and community resources that allow you to seamlessly connect your background with what your life would look like at Northwestern. Doing this will show admissions officers that you’re a natural fit.

  2. Remember that you and your story should still be at the heart of your essay.

    Although supplemental essays aren’t typically as personal or vulnerable as your personal statement, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be front and center. The point of a supplemental is, after all, to show admissions officers why you are a good fit for the school.

    So as you’re writing about school resources or values, remember to describe how they relate to your own story and values.

  3. Don’t neglect the very last part of the prompt: “enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.”

    One of the easiest mistakes to make when writing any supplemental essay is to accidentally ignore part of the prompt. In Northwestern’s case, this last bit at the end can slip through the cracks.

    Even though this detail is at the end, it’s actually one of the most important parts of the prompts. Admissions officers at Northwestern aren’t just interested in knowing which resources and opportunities are relevant to you. They want to know how they’ll make you a better student and person, and they’re curious how you think access to these resources will shape your future.

    This is a time to focus on your academic and career goals and plans. Make a case that Northwestern’s resources are the best way to get you where you want and need to go.

Northwestern Supplemental Essay Example + Annotations

Before my seventh birthday, the only people who could understand what I said were immediate family members((Attention-grabbing hook.). Because of complex factors like gender and socioeconomic status, I didn’t get the speech therapy I needed until second grade. This delay impacted my academic and social development, and it’s one of the main reasons I want to take my secondary education in a Northwestern Direction((Clever connection to a NW-based slogan. Shows research.)).

It wasn’t until I happened upon the Human Development in Context((Specific connection to a Northwestern academic offering.)) major that I realized how interconnected my speech delays were with other intersections of my identity. My teachers and parents thought that I was just shy, and my school didn’t have adequate speech resources to help me regardless. I’ve already learned so much from Northwestern’s offerings, and I am eager to connect with faculty and students to learn even more.

As a Human Development in Context major, I would be able to think multi-dimensionally about how human development intersects with social systems. Participating in Dr. Haase’s Lifespan Development Lab would help me develop my research skills to prepare me for graduate school, and working in the Pediatric Development Center for my practicum internship would set me off on my career helping kids who are just like me.((Explicit connection to the prompt -- very important!))

Courses like Language Development and Usage and Culture, Language, & Identity will advance my interdisciplinary interests. And outside the classroom, participating in clubs like Project Sunshine and the Undergraduate Psychology Association or living in the GREEN house will help me connect with like-minded friends.

Out of everything, what excites me most about the classroom experience at Northwestern is the “rigorous but empathetic((Another values-based connection.))” approach to education. Because of my speech background, I haven’t always felt at home in the classroom. But with empathy and rigor, I know that whatsoever things are true, I’ll be there learning alongside my classmates and professors.

(Looking for more supplemental examples? Check out our college essay examples post.)

Key Takeaways

No matter how stellar a student and person you are, applying to Northwestern is always a gamble. It’s the reality of the numbers.

But writing your essays, especially the supplemental, strategically can set you apart from the 93% of applicants who end up in the “deny” pile.

Focus on answering the prompt, doing thorough and values-based school research, and weaving in your own story.

You’ve got this! If you want more Vanderbilt application strategy, hop on over to our Northwestern Common Data Set post and How to Get into Northwestern guide.

And if you're looking for even more essay help, consider joining the Essay Academy for exclusive access to a comprehensive college essay writing video course.



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