Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Northwestern adapts new application process in wake of Supreme Court affirmative action ruling

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Illustration by Shveta Shah
The University’s new application asks applicants which backgrounds and identities have impacted how they see themselves engaging with the NU community.

For the first time in more than a decade, Northwestern’s undergraduate admissions application will not feature a version of the perennial “Why Northwestern” essay this 2023-24 admissions cycle.

The signature prompt, which asked students to share what drew them to NU and what resources they would prioritize on campus if admitted, is a common supplemental essay prompt at competitive colleges and universities. 

This year, all Common Application and Coalition with Scoir applicants will be required to answer a new 300-word essay prompt asking them which aspects of their background, identity or community have impacted how they see themselves engaging in the NU community.

The revised NU application also includes five optional essays — of which applicants are encouraged to submit one or two. These less formal questions ask prospective students how they envision themselves participating in various aspects of campus culture including academics, student groups and painting The Rock.

The change comes after the Supreme Court barred universities from considering race as a factor in the admissions process in June. The justices did not prohibit universities from considering how race or ethnicity have impacted a prospective students’ life in their supplemental essays and overall application, however.

“Universities may continue to embrace appropriate considerations through holistic application-review processes and 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,” the Education and Justice Departments explained in an August memo for universities.

Hilary Hurd Anyaso, NU’s director of media relations, told The Daily that NU chose to replace the old prompt with more specific questions, since the “Why Northwestern” essay was not always effective given its broad framing.

“Our new supplemental questions are designed to focus responses on areas we consider most important to our holistic review: How candidates’ personal experiences have shaped various ways they see themselves engaging at Northwestern, and how their vision for college aligns with Northwestern’s institutional values, academic culture, and campus community,” Anyaso said in a statement to The Daily.

Cathleen Sheils, a college counselor based in New York, said the Supreme Court decision has undoubtedly impacted the college admissions process. She expects to see larger process changes in the coming years.

Sheils, who previously led the admissions office at Cornell University, said the application update intends to put students’ applications into a greater context ― which is why she advises her clients to consider the question carefully.

“We read through it, and we think about their personal experiences and what aspect they want to bring to life in answering that question that may not be fully articulated in other parts of the application,” Sheils said.

Sanjana Shah is a junior at Johns Creek High School in Johns Creek, Georgia, and plans to apply to NU her senior year.

“I definitely think that (the new essay) is a step in the right direction,” Shah said. “My whole life, my culture (has) played a large part in shaping who I am. I would definitely want to let colleges know about that … By bringing part of that diversity into a student’s essay, you’re really showing exactly how your race or your ethnicity is going to bring more color into the university as a whole.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lmschroeder_

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