How to Get Into Northwestern: Acceptance Rate and Strategies

May 23, 2023

northwestern acceptance rate, how to get into

Located in Evanston, Illinois, near the desirable city of Chicago, Northwestern University is home to 8,500 brilliant undergraduates and a number of the top academic programs in the world. The notion of Northwestern being a highly-selective school is nothing new, but—as with most elite institutions in 2023—getting into Northwestern and becoming a Wildcat is more challenging than ever before. The Northwestern acceptance rate has remained sub-9% the last five years (the ED acceptance rate is much higher).

Wind back the clock to 1993 and 42% of applicants to Northwestern were welcomed aboard; even in 2009, a solid 27% of those who submitted an application ultimately received good news. Some simple math tells us that getting into this powerhouse private Midwestern research university is three-to-four times more challenging in 2023-24 than roughly a decade ago. Given this turn toward increased selectivity over the past decade, you’ll need every advantage you can get. The purpose of this blog is to provide you with an overview of the following:

  • Northwestern acceptance rate – Class of 2027
  • Northwestern ED acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Northwestern University applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2027
  • The demographics of current Northwestern University undergraduates
  • Northwestern University’s yield rate
  • How Northwestern’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • Tips for applying to Northwestern
  • Essay Tips for the Northwestern Supplement 
  • How to assess whether applying to Northwestern is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)

Many students applying to Northwestern may also find the following blogs to be of interest:

How to Get Into:

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Northwestern Acceptance Rate – Class of 2027

In creating the 2022-23 freshman class, Northwestern received 52,000+ applications. The Northwestern acceptance rate was 7%. Recent historical Northwestern acceptance rates are as follows:

  • Class of 2026: 7%
  • 2025: 7%
  • 2024: 9%

Northwestern ED Acceptance Rate

The university plucks approximately 50% of their incoming freshman class from the ED round. No official Northwestern ED acceptance rate for Class of 2027 has been released, but the Director of Admissions did state that there were roughly 5,200 applicants and around 1,000 students accepted. This works out to an estimated ED acceptance rate of 20%.  The conclusion is obvious: Those who are serious about attending Northwestern should definitely consider applying via binding early decision.

Northwestern University Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

Those enrolled in the Class of 2024 (most recent official stats available), sported median standardized test scores of 1520 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT. An astonishing 95% of Class of 2026 members placed in the top decile of their graduating high school class and 99% landed in the top quartile.

Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2026 & 2027)

  • There were 667 more applications submitted in 2022-23 than in the previous cycle.
  • 15% of those in the Class of 2026 are first-generation college students up from 13% the previous year.
  • Undergraduates now come from 100 countries and speak 60+ languages.
  • 60% of current undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance.
  • 22% of Class of 2026 members were Pell Grant recipients.

Who Actually Gets Into Northwestern University?

Let’s look at the demographics of the Northwestern University Class of 2026:

  • 10% of incoming students are international, double the figure from a decade ago.

For domestic students, the greatest percentage come from the following states:

  1. Illinois
  2. California
  3. New York
  4. Florida
  5. Texas
  6. New Jersey
  7. Ohio
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Michigan

As at any highly-selective university, competition is toughest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (New York, California, Massachusetts). If you come from a less populated state like Alaska, North Dakota, or Montana, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances.

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of one recent freshman class:

  • Asian American: 25%
  • Hispanic: 17%
  • African American: 12%
  • White: 52%

The breakdown by gender of all current undergraduates is as follows:

  • Male: 47%
  • Female: 53%

Yield Rate

Northwestern University’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 63% for the Class of 2026. For comparison, other top-ranked private schools have the following yield rates: Duke (57%), WashU (49%), and Rice University (45%).

How the University Rates Applicants

There are four factors that Northwestern University ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, and standardized test scores (test-optional through at least 2024). An additional five factors are considered to be “important”: essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, character/personal qualities, and talent/ability. “Considered” items are an optional alumni interview, first-generation status, alumni relation (legacy), racial/ethnic status, volunteer work, paid work, and the level of an applicant’s interest in Northwestern.

In the admissions office’s own words: “Northwestern evaluates applications holistically. We seek to develop a contextual understanding of a student based on different sources of information.” Elaborating on this process, the Dean of Undergraduate Admission recently stated the following:

“Our review process is extremely thorough, taking into account the vast differences between student experiences represented in our applicant pool. Every student’s achievements, talents, and skills are considered within the context of her or his high school and community setting. Our decisions are not based upon any particular formula or quota. Northwestern has the resources to meet the full financial need of all admitted students. If you applied for financial aid as a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or undocumented U.S. high school student, your financial need did not factor into our final decision.”

It definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of Northwestern University’s 19 Division I sports teams; there are presently around 500 varsity athletes at the school.

Tips for Applying to Northwestern University

If you plan on joining the 52,000+ Wildcat hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • Northwestern University expects to see evidence of advanced coursework in high school. Taking multiple advanced classes, particularly within your area of academic interest is a must.
  • You must apply to one of the six academic schools on your application. Some have different admissions requirements and standards. The schools are: 1) The College of Arts & Sciences 2) the School of Engineering and Applied Science 3) the School of Communication 4) the School of Education and Social Policy 5) the School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications 6) the School of Music.
  • Northwestern University does offer optional alumni interviews.
  • Northwestern University weighs “demonstrated interest” in the admissions process. Therefore, you will be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit (in non-pandemic times), contacted an admissions officer, etc.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay offered by Northwestern. In the 2021-22 cycle, the prompt is as follows:

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.

  • We should note that Northwestern’s supplement essay is technically “optional,” but skipping the prompt would be a huge mistake. In the school’s own words, “We strongly encourage a response, as your answer will help us connect the dots across your application to imagine what kind of college student you might become.)”
  • The key to addressing the prompt is to learn everything you can about Northwestern and communicate genuine reasons why it is the right place for you. For more, read our blog entitled Mastering the “Why This College?” Essay.
  • For detailed advice on how to write the Northwestern essay, visit our blog: Northwestern University Supplemental Essay Prompt and Tips.

Northwestern University Acceptance Rate – Final Thought

With acceptance rates of 7-9% in recent years, Northwestern is a school that is looking for students that are at (or above) the 98th percentile on standardized tests and who placed toward the very top of their high school class. Just about all “A”s in an AP-heavy curriculum is expected. If Northwestern University is your aim, make sure to also have a rock-solid backup plan. All students need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll definitely want to get your counselor’s input during this process.