The Ivy Coach Daily

August 7, 2023

2023-2024 Northwestern University Supplemental Essay Prompts

Northwestern's Deering Library
Northwestern has multiple supplemental essay prompts for applicants to its Class of 2028 (photo credit: Madcoverboy).

Northwestern University has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. And, unlike over the last several years, Northwestern is asking multiple essay questions of applicants — in addition to The Common Application’s Personal Statement. So what are this year’s Northwestern essay prompts? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 Northwestern Essay Topics and Questions

Required Essay

The first essay prompt, which is required of all applicants to Northwestern’s Class of 2028, reads as follows:

We want to be sure we’re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences: What aspects of your background, your identity, or your school, community, and/or household settings have most shaped how you see yourself engaging in Northwestern’s community, be it academically, extracurricularly, culturally, politically, socially, or otherwise? 

As, for years, Northwestern asked a “Why College” essay question as its only supplemental essay prompt, it can only be inferred that this year’s required prompt is a direct response to the Supreme Court’s outlawing of Affirmative Action — because the ruling left an opening for colleges to consider a student’s race and background in college admissions essays.

As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “At the same time, as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

Herein lies that opportunity for Northwestern applicants. And remember, students do not need to be an underrepresented minority to answer this question powerfully. Students, for instance, can focus on something interesting about their family or community in their response.

Optional Essays

In addition to the required essay prompt, Northwestern has posed five optional essay prompts to applicants this year. Applicants are encouraged to answer at least one of the essays and up to two in 200 words or fewer.

Translation: applicants should write two 200-word essays in addition to the aforementioned required essay on the Northwestern supplement because (1) that which is optional in elite college admissions should never be considered optional and (2) it gives applicants more real estate to make their case for admission.

1)  Painting “The Rock” is a tradition at Northwestern that invites all forms of expression—students promote campus events or extracurricular groups, support social or activist causes, show their Wildcat spirit (what we call “Purple Pride”), celebrate their culture, and more. What would you paint on The Rock, and why?

This prompt offers students a chance to pepper in some genuine Northwestern specifics into their application that do not apply to any other university — particularly since Northwestern is no longer asking the typically required “Why Northwestern?” essay prompt. Students should demonstrate, through their singular hook that they hope to contribute to Northwestern (rather than well-roundedness) how they hope to get involved in activities and causes on Northwestern’s campus. So if a student is an environmental activist, how they paint The Rock should reflect that passion.

2)  Northwestern fosters a distinctively interdisciplinary culture. We believe discovery and innovation thrive at the intersection of diverse ideas, perspectives, and academic interests. Within this setting, if you could dream up an undergraduate class, research project, or creative effort (a start-up, a design prototype, a performance, etc.), what would it be? Who might be some ideal classmates or collaborators?

This prompt offers students the chance to create a pithy course name or research project and explain why it would be meaningful to them. It should, of course, be a course or project that’s consistent with the hook the student has demonstrated through their activities and other essays. While students should never tell the same story twice, they should highlight different angles of their interest to showcase how they’re abounding in ideas related to their singular pursuit.

3) Community and belonging matter at Northwestern. Tell us about one or more communities, networks, or student groups you see yourself connecting with on campus.

This prompt is a Why College essay focusing on extracurricular activities and/or communities. As such, applicants should cite specific activities or communities (no more than two) and then include examples of how they hope to be engaged on Northwestern’s campus through the activity or community. Simply writing that an applicant wants to get involved in an activity without highlighting what Northwestern students have been doing through this activity would fail to showcase that a student has done their homework on Northwestern. It’s all about the small specifics. In their response, applicants should aim to teach Northwestern admissions officers stuff they don’t know about their own school.

4)  Northwestern’s location is special: on the shore of Lake Michigan, steps from downtown Evanston, just a few miles from Chicago. What aspects of our location are most compelling to you, and why?

This prompt is also a Why College essay prompt, but this particular prompt focuses on location. As such, students need to cite specifics about how the site of Northwestern — and, no, writing vague sentences about Evanston’s beauty or deep dish Chicago pizza will not suffice — will allow them to pursue their ideally singular interest (rather than well-roundedness). In short, students should showcase, by citing specific examples, how they hope to leave their mark through their hook on Northwestern’s surrounding community.

5)  Northwestern is a place where people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world can study, live, and talk with one another. This range of experiences and viewpoints immeasurably enriches learning. How might your individual background contribute to this diversity of perspectives in Northwestern’s classrooms and around our campus?

As this essay prompt is essentially a different way of saying the same question posed in Northwestern’s required supplemental essay, we would advise students to choose one of the previous four prompts unless they have another story to tell related to their background or community that they didn’t share previously.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Northwestern 2023-2024 Supplemental Essays

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