Skip to main content

Attracting, welcoming and supporting the brightest, most diverse students: What to know about admissions at Northwestern

The University has created a list of questions and answers
race-conscious admissions
Although the Supreme Court’s ruling impacts the use of race in admissions, it does not affect Northwestern’s ability to define its mission, including the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that ended race-conscious admissions programs at colleges and universities across the country, Northwestern leaders had already begun the process of engaging students, faculty and staff to assess current practices, consider new strategies and ensure the University adheres to federal law while continuing to support diversity, inclusion and belonging on its three campuses.

Below is an extensive series of questions and answers about how Northwestern is approaching the issue now:

How has Northwestern approached admissions leading up to and following the Supreme Court ruling?

A working group of University leaders, convened by Provost Kathleen Hagerty, has spent months examining Northwestern’s current undergraduate, graduate and professional admissions practices and developing strategies for Northwestern to adapt its practices to ensure the University remains in compliance with the law while still protecting and supporting its institutional commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging. Northwestern’s working group engaged with students, faculty, staff and administrators to ensure it considers a variety of perspectives.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) shared guidance that noted: “The Court made clear that ‘nothing in [its] 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.’ ... This means that universities may continue to embrace appropriate considerations through holistic application-review processes and (for example) provide opportunities to assess how applicants’ individual backgrounds and attributes — including those related to their race, experiences of racial discrimination, or the racial composition of their neighborhoods and schools — position them to contribute to campus in unique ways.”

In alignment with federal guidance, Northwestern’s working group continues to meet as schools and units implement and carry out revised admissions practices. To assist the University’s admissions professionals, the University has arranged trainings for admissions professionals and revised training materials that ensure alignment with the University’s guidance.

How will Northwestern continue to support diversity, inclusion and belonging through outreach, recruitment, pathways, and retention and cultural programs?

Although the Supreme Court’s ruling impacts the use of race in admissions, it does not affect the University’s ability to define its mission, including the importance of diversity and inclusion.

The DOE guidance notes: “To promote and maintain a diverse student applicant pool, institutions may continue to pursue targeted outreach, recruitment, and pipeline or pathway programs. ... These programs allow institutions to take active steps to ensure that they connect with a broad range of prospective students — including those who might otherwise not learn about these institutions and their educational programs or envision themselves as potential candidates for admission.”

In recent years, Northwestern has made a dedicated effort to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. The incoming Class of 2027 is the most diverse group of undergraduates ever to enroll at Northwestern. This accomplishment — the latest in many years of increasing success that is mirrored in our graduate and professional student population — is attributable to intentional institutional strategy and the individual hard work of faculty, students and staff.

President Michael Schill detailed many examples of Northwestern’s commitment to diversity in his May 18 community message. The University will intensify its efforts along many dimensions, including:

  • Facilitating connections between prospective students and current undergraduate, graduate and professional students through a variety of methods including diverse student recruitment teams.
  • Hosting private sessions for large groups, the majority of which are affiliated with college-access organizations or initiatives, or that represent high schools with greater populations of first-generation and low-income students.
  • Providing travel subsidies to qualifying admitted undergraduate, graduate and professional students for certain in-person programming.
  • Offering generous financial aid to students to eliminate financial barriers.
  • Hosting digital programming for prospective students, including panels, tours and tutorials, that specifically address multicultural aspects of the Northwestern community and culture. Examples are a First-gen Student Panel, Indigenous Student Experience Panel and Black House Feature Tour.
  • Offering application fee waivers to qualifying undergraduate, graduate and professional students.
  • Operating pathway programs such as Arch Scholars and NU Path that facilitate student success and belonging.
  • Participating as active members in national organizations such as QuestBridge and The Posse Foundation that bring new populations into contact with Northwestern.
  • Reinforcing our commitment and connection to the Morton Schapiro Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools, which is designed to increase access and successful matriculation of underrepresented students to top-tier colleges and universities.

In his community message, President Schill said, “None of these initiatives is successful in a vacuum, but combined, they contribute to an environment that attracts, welcomes and supports the brightest, most diverse students to our campuses. And if they prove ineffective, we will work collaboratively with our faculty and students to develop new initiatives until we succeed.”

How will Northwestern assess applications?

Beyond the use of race as a specific criterion, the Supreme Court ruling does not otherwise affect the use of holistic review to evaluate applicants. Schools and programs will continue to utilize holistic review of prospective students. This continued process considers a broad range of criteria such as extracurricular activities and work experience.

In addition, consistent with the majority opinion, our admissions process will take into consideration how race has affected applicants’ lives “through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” We will take into consideration in our admissions decisions the obstacles students have surmounted as well as how their experiences can contribute to our academic community.

Northwestern’s undergraduate admissions are handled by an undergraduate admissions committee that practices holistic review to best understand every candidate’s academic and personal context in the process of evaluating their application materials. The process is built to take into account the diversity of experiences, circumstances and backgrounds reflected across the applicant pool. We view a candidate’s academic performance in the context of their secondary school setting as foundational to our review. Beyond academics, we consider candidates’ engagement outside the classroom — extracurriculars, family obligations, work experience — and read their essays to gain further insight into their personal context, interests, values, goals, etc. and to assess whether their vision for college aligns with Northwestern’s institutional values, academic culture and campus community. Recommendations from secondary school teachers and counselors add additional perspective on their qualities as a student, classmate and community member.

Admissions for The Graduate School programs and the professional schools are likewise grounded in comprehensive holistic review of applicants. Individual schools and programs form discipline-specific admissions committees that consider elements including academic preparedness, relevant experience, statements and essays, letters of recommendation, alignment with program goals and interviews.

Should students disclose race/ethnicity in their short-answer questions on their applications?

Students are never required to disclose demographic information, including race/ethnicity, anywhere on an application. That said, this Supreme Court decision in no way prohibits students from discussing or disclosing race/ethnicity in their essays.

Is there an advantage or disadvantage to disclosing race/ethnicity in the application?

There is not one “right” or “best” way to present materials or respond to application questions. We value the diversity of experiences, circumstances and backgrounds reflected across our applicant pool, and students should complete their application to foreground the personal experiences, qualities and goals they most want to share with the admissions committee.

How will Northwestern handle information an applicant voluntarily includes in short-answer questions?

Northwestern will continue to review candidates’ short-answer questions. The Supreme Court decision does not prohibit colleges’ consideration of any personal information discussed or disclosed in the context of an admissions essay so long as that information is tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university. Northwestern’s holistic process has always considered essay responses within the context of an applicant’s individual experiences, values, character, achievements, goals, etc., and we will continue to review essays in this manner as one component in our holistic review.

Can students list membership, leadership, affiliation(s) with identity-based or cultural organizations in their applications?

Yes, students may continue to list membership, leadership and/or affiliations with identity-based or cultural organizations.

How does the Supreme Court decision impact financial aid at Northwestern?

The Supreme Court decision does not impact the manner in which undergraduate financial aid is administered at Northwestern. Our no-loan financial aid packages for undergraduate students continue to meet 100% of all students’ demonstrated need.

How does the Supreme Court ruling affect international students?

The Supreme Court ruling does not affect how we evaluate international students. Northwestern reviews international applicants for first-year and transfer admission just as it does all undergraduate candidates — through holistic review that considers every candidate’s academic and personal context in the process of evaluating their application materials. Similarly for graduate and professional students, the holistic review processes in place continues for international student applicants. Our process is built to take into account the diversity of experiences, circumstances and backgrounds reflected across our applicant pool.

Will Northwestern continue to collect data on race, ethnicity and other characteristics during the application process?

DOE guidance notes: “In collecting and using data, institutions should ensure that the racial demographics of the applicant pool do not influence admissions decisions. ... Admissions officers need not be prevented from learning an individual applicant’s race if, for example, the applicant discussed in an application essay how race affected their life. However, the Court criticized the practice of institutions adjusting their admissions priorities dynamically in response to demographic data on the race of students in the admitted class.”

Northwestern continues to collect applicants’ race/ethnicity data for historical assessment and required reporting to the federal government and accrediting bodies, but admissions decision-makers no longer see this information when reviewing applications, nor are they permitted to address race or ethnicity when discussing admissions decisions except insofar as the Supreme Court decision expressly allows. Additionally, prospective undergraduate students may still indicate race/ethnicity on forms related to their college search prior to applying. Candidates also may continue to identify their race/ethnicity via the Common Application, Coalition Application with Scoir or QuestBridge application checkboxes.

How will this ruling and Northwestern’s changes to admissions practices affect the diversity of the student body?

Universities that have been prohibited from using race in their admissions processes have reported a measurable impact on the racial and ethnic diversity of their student bodies. While we expect the ruling could affect the makeup of future incoming classes of students at Northwestern, there is no way to predict those results. Northwestern will review the data in coming years and continue to adjust its practices, within the law, to ensure a diverse student body.

How does the Supreme Court ruling affect diversity offices, affinity-based programs and student support services?

According to DOE guidance: “It is important that students — particularly those who are underrepresented — feel a sense of belonging and support once on campus. An institution may, consistent with the federal laws the Departments of Justice and Education enforce, foster this sense of belonging and support through its office of diversity, campus cultural centers, and other campus resources if these support services are available to all students. An institution may also offer or support clubs, activities, and affinity groups — including those that have a race-related theme — to ensure that students have a space to celebrate their shared identities, interests, and experiences, so long as the clubs, activities, and affinity groups are open to all students regardless of race.”

Northwestern will continue to operate and maintain offices and units that specifically focus on the mission of diversity, equity and inclusion. Northwestern recognizes the value of these offices and programs as we continue to build an environment that is not only diverse, but also equitable and inclusive.

As part of its efforts to build and maintain an inclusive and welcoming campus climate, the University and its student organizations may continue to provide programs that focus on the experience of students of diverse backgrounds, provided that these programs are open and accessible to all. These programs may continue to be supported through offices and units that specifically focus on the mission of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Does the Supreme Court ruling have any effect on teaching and learning?

The decision does not affect the ability to teach and learn about race and diversity. Academic freedom to teach, research, explore and study issues related to race remains unaffected by the ruling and will be protected by the University to the full extent of the law.

How does the Supreme Court ruling affect faculty and/or staff hiring?

The ruling did not address employment practices such as hiring and retention of faculty and staff. Under established law, the consideration of protected characteristics such as race in the employment context already is prohibited under Title VII.