‘Why Northwestern’: NU seniors reflect on college experiences


Illustration by Ziye Wang

McCormick senior Wing Chow said he arrived at NU expecting to study mechanical engineering. Instead, he plans to graduate with a degree in industrial engineering and economics.

Beatrice Villaflor, Reporter

High school seniors and prospective students across the globe have been eagerly awaiting college decision letters for the past few months. For those applying to Northwestern University, hopefuls likely wrote up to 300 words tackling the “Why Northwestern” essay, an optional prompt. 

Today, seniors who will soon be graduating look back on whether their time at NU reflected their original supplemental essay. 

McCormick senior Wing Chow said he arrived at NU expecting to study mechanical engineering. Instead, he plans to graduate with a degree in industrial engineering and economics. 

In his “Why Northwestern” essay, Chow originally wrote about joining the NU Solar Car Team and the marching band, he said. However, he left NUSolar after a few quarters and never even joined the marching band. 

Chow also switched his engineering focus and learned about consulting — his future career plan — from a family friend as a sophomore. He then became involved with student group Consultants Advising Student Enterprises. 

“Everything just aligned and pushed me (toward) consulting,” Chow said. “It was quite a drastic shift from what I originally wanted to do.” 

Due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most members of the Class of 2023 could not live on campus for the full two-year requirement. As a result, Chow said he felt he lost out on a lot of social interaction when he was an underclassman. 

He said he wishes he focused less on academics his freshman year and more on his social life.

“At the end of the day, you can only get such good grades, but there’s never really a limit on how many people you can meet,” Chow said. 

Weinberg senior Grace Doakes said NU opened many doors for her academically and professionally, which she expected of the institution when writing her “Why Northwestern” essay as a high school senior. 

But, like Chow, Doakes felt the COVID-19 pandemic impeded her ability to cultivate a closer community at NU. 

“The Black community is very small at Northwestern, so we have events geared just (toward) the community,” Doakes said. “With (COVID-19), you couldn’t really have that.” 

In her supplemental essay, Medill senior Jenny Huh said she wrote about friends she made in the Medill Cherubs program, but her essay largely emphasized academics — making the affinity space she found at NU an even more unexpected.

Huh said because NU is a predominantly white institution, she did not expect to find her largest group of Korean friends at the University. 

She was also surprised academically. While she wrote about journalism with a focus in print in her essay, she ended up falling in love with broadcast journalism after joining Northwestern News Network her freshman year. 

On a similar note, Medill senior Vanessa Kjeldsen wrote about hands-on journalism opportunities available at NU in her “Why Northwestern” essay as a transfer applicant. 

“I loved the idea that you get to learn by doing, and I also loved the ‘AND is in our DNA’ of that (learning),” said Kjeldsen, who transferred from Boston University before her sophomore year. 

Kjeldsen said she is grateful for the endless learning opportunities Northwestern has to offer, both in and out of the classroom.

She added that she feels lucky to have learned from her peers and the passion they have for their studies. 

“Everyone is doing such cool things at this school, and so many people are excited about what they’re doing and they work incredibly hard,” Kjeldsen said. “That’s a very inspiring environment to get to be surrounded by all of the time.” 

Looking back at her first-year self, Doakes recommends incoming students focus on progress, not perfection.

Similarly, Huh said she would tell her first-year self to stop stressing about the little things and place energy and happiness elsewhere. 

“I would just like to savor every single moment, the good and the bad, the stressful and the carefree moments. All of that,” Huh said. “I’d like to relive it, honestly. I’d give anything to relive my past four years here.”

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Twitter: @beatricedvilla

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