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Why choose Northwestern Engineering over other highly selective schools?

Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
edited August 24 in Northwestern University
My daughter absolutely loves Northwestern. She wants to study engineering/STEM and has toured the schools and met with reps. She’s considering majoring in ChemE, MechE, BioMed, Materials, or possibly another STEM major, along with double music major/minor. She will audition at the music school as part of her application.

One concern we have is that she is considering applying ED at Northwestern over other schools on her list that have “higher rankings” in some of the Engineering fields as well as IMO possibly more state-of-the-art labs/research facilities (e.g. U of Chicago, U of IL, Michigan, Purdue, MIT, Penn, Stanford, Princeton, Cornell...).

I would appreciate input on why a student would want to choose Northwestern for engineering over applying to some of these other powerhouse schools? What are the pros/cons of Northwestern?

Here are the pros my D came up with (do you agree with her assessment?):

- both great engineering and music schools
- engineering school offers more breadth of disciplines over some other schools (e.g. Harvard, Princeton)
- engineering school offers great co-op program and research opportunities
- beautiful campus in an area she loves
- opportunities for musical gigs on campus and around Chicago
- a social fit that feels just right, not too much of a party school (her opinion of Wisconsin), nor too much of a “constantly studying with zero social life/college experience” school (her opinion of U of Chicago, MIT).
- Some flexibility to change majors. You are not as “locked into” the major to which you apply (e.g. compared to U of IL, Berkeley). Important to her because she’s not sure of her major.
- Smaller Big 10 school with more 1:1 attention from professors/counselors, but still some Big 10 sports/social life
- environment that balances STEM with the liberal arts (she loves both and seeks a balanced education).
- she likes the quarter system
- feels there’s a more collaborative, less cutthroat environment than some other schools (won’t name names)
- grades are not deflated (possibly curved up?) which is important for graduate school admissions
- ability to possibly matriculate into Northwestern business, law, medical schools.
- Closer to home in a city she wants to work in, where she already has a social/employment network

She loves Northwestern, but doesn’t know if she should go all in and apply ED... She also likes MIT, Cornell, Penn, Princeton... Should she put all her eggs in one basket with Northwestern ED?

And she may still get into Northwestern with RD without closing off other schools? Yes, we know the RD acceptance % is much, much less but her stats are good..

She has very strong academics/extracurriculars... E.g. 4.6+ GPA, SAT 1580, Math 2 800, Chem 790, PSAT National Merit, high # AP (all with 5 scores). She has taken the highest level of classes in a high-performing HS with all A’s... She is currently taking AP Physics C, and Calc 2/linear algebra. She also has leadership, extracurriculars, sports (state champion team), music (top state/natl recognition) , philanthropy (Presidential Volunteer, Girl Scout Gold, Int’l mission, student boards...), Math/WYSE awards, and a summer engineering co. internship.. I think she would be a good candidate for some schools with higher ranked STEM/engineering than Northwestern... but I am probably falling for the trap of putting too much weight on rankings?

Can someone here provide some more clarity on this and why Northwestern possibly may be the best school for my daughter? I think her heart is telling her that’s the direction to go...
edited August 24
61 replies
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Replies to: Why choose Northwestern Engineering over other highly selective schools?

  • osuprofosuprof 427 replies28 threadsRegistered User Member
    Besides strengths that have been mentioned, let me add a couple more:
    1. Compared to top state schools for engineering, smaller class sizes, flexibility.
    2. Compared to schools like Princeton, Cornell, and Columbia: more practical bent on engineering: I feel curriculum is better designed towards workplace, as opposed to assuming that everyone wants to head to the PhD program.
    3. It seems like a place that values undergrad curriculum design: their EA and DTC sequences are good examples. It is not true everywhere: there are schools that draw their prestige from being research powerhouses.
    4. It is more generous with AP credit (especially for english/history kind of classes) provided one is getting 5s in AP exam. This makes it easier to graduate early, do a double major, or even get a BS and MS in less than 5 years
    5. Humanities requirements are structured such that one can focus on one area (e.g. up to 5 out of 7 classes can be in one area), making it very easy to double major in something like economics.
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  • IWannaHelpIWannaHelp 412 replies2 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 24
    U of Chicago shouldn’t be on the list anyway. It doesn’t even have engineering. I heard they got some bioengineering started but it’d be unproven and it’d be just one discipline anyway.

    Based on your post, it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in big state schools so I am skipping those.

    Except MIT/Stanford, the other schools (Penn/Cornell/Princeton) are not ranked higher across the board (NU mat sci is ranked second while chemistry is sixth, for example). Penn/Cornell aren’t superior while their RD admission are reach for anyone. If you take music into consideration, NU is hands down better. I wouldn’t waste ED on those. MIT is too STEM focused for her. That leaves you with Stanford/Princeton vs using the ED. These would be the only schools for which I would give up ED AND top level music program. However, the odds of getting into these two schools are extremely small. Now it’s just a matter of how willing you are going to risk it and nobody can answer that for you.
    edited August 24
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  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 1084 replies2 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Sounds like she loves NU and can articulate all the reasons why it checks all of her needs/wants. Sounds like the definition of when/why to go ED.
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  • MOM2TXMOM2TX 30 replies6 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    DS graduated from NU with BS/MS in engineering recently. I agree with all the points that @osuprof mentioned above.

    The opportunity to be around people and activities that weren't "all engineering" was particularly important to DS, and was a key factor in his choice of NU over two public universities that are both highly ranked in engineering. For him, it was the right decision.

    A particular benefit for my son was the ability to explore engineering before making a final decision on major. Several of the schools he was admitted to required him to choose a specific major in engineering on the application. In some cases, transfers to other majors were highly competitive or limited. At NU, he was able to take the freshman DTC and EA courses, as well as introductory courses in a couple of specific fields, before deciding on a major. His chosen major was not one he had seriously considered before enrollment. Thanks to AP credit, he still graduated with both BS and MS in 4 years.

    I strongly encourage attending the Engineering info session as part of a campus visit. There is also good information about NU's Whole-Brain Engineering approach and curriculum on their website. I think NU prepared my son to be a technically strong, collaborative, problem-solving engineer.

    My only slight concern about his NU experience was that I felt that the engineering career office was not as robust and helpful, with a narrower range of industry contacts, when compared to career placement at a school with a larger engineering program. That opinion is likely influenced by how much job recruitment in general has changed since I finished engineering school 40 years ago.

    NU is expensive, and gives almost exclusively need-based aid. Be sure to run the NPC before committing to Early Decision if that's a concern.

    I would encourage you to contact NU Engineering staff if your daughter has questions about the program. During the time DS was there, they were incredibly helpful and approachable. He had a great working relationship with professors, advisers, and administrators. I had mostly the same results with Financial Aid and other departments. I think that's one of the benefits of a smaller university and engineering program.




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  • CU123CU123 3591 replies68 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    U of Chicago shouldn’t be on the list anyway. It doesn’t even have engineering.
    this is why you have to watch out for random people posting things when they have no idea what they are talking about.

    https://ime.uchicago.edu
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7289 replies56 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    U of Chicago's undergraduate engineering program is not ABET accredited. For many people that's a deal breaker. It didn't make my D's list to even visit.
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  • CU123CU123 3591 replies68 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 25
    Well I guess you wouldn't consider Caltech, MIT or Stanford all of which have engineering majors that are not ABET accredited. Having an engineering degree myself I am acutely aware of when ABET is a good thing and when it doesn't matter at all. Still, the statement that UChicago has no engineering program is blatantly false.
    edited August 25
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  • CU123CU123 3591 replies68 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Back to the original question.
    The answer seems to be in your first sentence. My daughter absolutely loves Northwestern.
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  • IWannaHelpIWannaHelp 412 replies2 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 25
    @CU123

    Please read further what I wrote about “bioengineering”. It’s just one discipline anyway. OP is interested in multiple areas. It’s too new, too one dimensional and is simply not in the same league when one is interested in multiple disciplines of engineering.
    edited August 25
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  • Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited August 25
    Thank you everyone for such excellent insights. I really appreciate the information. I’ll try to respond to some of the ?’s/comments...

    @momofsenior1 - Ability to double major in Engr/Music is what draws her to NU. We looked at other schools that offered this (e.g. Johns Hopkins/Peabody Music) and the fit didn’t seem as good as NU.

    @osuprof - (btw my son is currently a student at Ohio State if that’s what your moniker stands for?). Thank you for your specific points about the Engr program. I like the more “real-world” slant vs “research” slant you mentioned. D is looking for a more “hands-on” engr experience vs moving into research fields. She’s expressed she doesn’t want to be stuck in a lab, but is interested in being in the field working with people on solving problems.

    At the NU Engr info session they mentioned their students start co-op early on by working with patients/systems from a local medical/rehabilitation institute (can’t remember the name), and my D was really interested in that. She also liked, as you mentioned, that she could take courses in different Engr disciplines before deciding on a specific major. It seemed like the quarter system made it easier to do that.

    I can also appreciate the benefits of AP credit acceptance. She will have quite a few AP tests with 5 scores. I never considered this for my son when evaluating schools (was always told “many schools won’t even take his AP scores as credit”), yet he was able to start Ohio State with enough AP credits to be a 2nd semester sophomore and is able to add a double Finance/Economics degree and still graduate in 4 years..

    I will respond to more comments in another post...
    edited August 25
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  • Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited August 25
    @IWannaHelp - Thank you for the breakdown on individual schools. As was mentioned, she had UChicago on the list because of the new Pritzker bioengineering program. She is interested in this field (and materials, nano) and there has recently been a big $ investment in the UC program. However, she does think the UC Engr school options are too limited. She also says this about Harvard (“good Biomed, but no ChemE”) and even Princeton (“good ChemE, MechE, but there’s no medical school for BioMed”).

    She likes that NU has a medical school and the opportunities it presents. She has not ruled out medical school. She was considering UIUC due to the path they have from Engineering to their medical school. She has attended several UIUC women in Engr summer programs and likes the professors/school (and they have really been marketing to her - handwritten letters, etc) , but she can not get over the fact she has to freshman direct admit to a specific Engr major there....

    We have visited all the schools you mentioned. I think NU and MIT are tied for her... MIT is why she is not sure about NU ED... At MIT, she looked different from everyone else on the Engr tour (caucasian female not wearing a Robotic league t-shirt - kidding... kind of) and in the MIT info session they really stressed they also look for creative thinking, writing, fine arts, cross-subject discipline (things that describe her), along with the scores (and believe it or not her SAT/subject test scores are above the mean at MIT). She also met with the music school rep and saw some opportunities for her there, which she liked.

    However, MIT Orchestra does not compare to NU orchestra. The MIT and Harvard orchestras would be a step down for her on skill levels. At MIT, she’d probably audition for one of the high level Boston symphonies and have to find her own private teacher in the Boston area (same thing applies to Harvard). At NU, she could perform on campus with a high-level orchestra and be instructed by music professors she has already performed with around the U.S. Teachers who already know her, and I believe, really like her (and she likes them).

    If MIT hadn’t been so darn awe-inspiring, this would have been a much easier decision for her.

    As far as Stanford goes, she just did not really like the vibe or west coast schools in general - not sure why. She quickly crossed off CalTech, Berkeley, UCLA, Irvine from her list after visiting these schools. She did really like U of Washington though..

    Cornell, Penn, Colombia, and Carnegie Mellon are her next favorites. She also really liked the vibe at Dartmouth, but I’m not too sure about the Engr school there (due to rankings and the fact they said it was a “5 year program”)... She also looked at Yale and Harvard and really did not like how they grade inflate. I think they told us there are 3-4 different Engr school paths (easy to hard) and students can “move down difficulty levels throughout the term so they don’t get below a “B” grade.”

    My daughter wants to compete, because she can. She doesn’t want her STEM grades/abilities watered down..

    There is something about Princeton that she didn’t like... She felt it was “pretentious and suburban” (her teenager words!). It may have just been the admission reps/fellow students in our group.

    She does like urban area campuses - MIT, Columbia, Penn, CMU.... and back to NU!

    Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness...

    I will respond to other comments in another post...
    edited August 25
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  • IWannaHelpIWannaHelp 412 replies2 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 25
    If anyone should be doing ED over other “higher ranked” schools, she would be the poster child for it. The only reason I put Stanford/Princeton potentially “above” NU earlier was that I didn’t know how she felt about those two. So I didn’t want to assume anything. Honestly at that level, the most important factor is fit. For example, I turned down Berkeley to go to Stanford for grad school and while I enjoyed the the curriculum very much, I probably would have made the opposite decision if given the choice again. I liked Berkeley’s proximity to SF and Berkeley downtown was just right down the street with more budget retails and and ethnic restaurants. I prefer a more urban setting but Stanford was too much of a bubble and inconvenient to get even simple things.

    As for MIT, I’d researched more what opportunities they really offer. It’s one thing they look for more diverse students (it’s why I think she, being a female student, would have a better shot than there Stanford/Princeton) but do they offer diverse curriculum? Do many students really major or take many courses in something other than engineering? Their offering probably depends a lot on interest or demand from the students.
    edited August 25
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  • DCCAWAMIIAILDCCAWAMIIAIL 125 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Has she considered Rice? Great engineering and music programs, urban location.

    Our DD has similar stats to yours but interest in the intersection of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. She narrowed it down to Wash U, Northwestern and Rice for ED ... ended up applying to and getting into Rice. She starts classes tomorrow.

    But based on everything you said, Northwestern seems the obvious choice for fit!
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  • RiversiderRiversider 847 replies101 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 25
    It’s fine to pick any top 1% college because you like it or because they give you more aid or merit, it’s not like she is picking between a top 20 college and 188th ranked college. She’ll have a great undergrad education at any college of that level, minor differences aren’t more important than good fit and happiness. Make sure you can afford her ED college.
    edited August 25
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  • Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited August 25
    @MOM2TX - Thanks for your feedback. My DD sounds like your DS. She really wants the flexibility to explore majors and the “college experience” in associating with students of all disciplines.

    But I also wonder about the job placement. How will she compete for jobs with kids who graduated from MIT, UIUC, etc. who may have a stronger network/pipeline to top engineering jobs/salaries? Will she regret if she can’t attend these schools if she goes NU ED?

    But then I think I’m splitting hairs when we are talking about NORTHWESTERN, one of the top schools in the country. As @Riversider pointed out, I am comparing schools that are all in the top 1%... I compared avg starting salaries of ChemE (I think she’s leaning there) from NU, MIT, Cornell (I think her 3 top schools), and there was not a substantial difference on that..

    We did attend the Engr info session and will email the Engr admissions rep with more ?’s (really liked her)...
    edited August 25
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 4250 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @Scubaski1. NW is a known school for engineering also. Comparing schools is fruitless since those figures depend on where she starts working and the local cost of living. Getting a job in Minnesota will pay less but cost of living is less also. Getting a job in Silicon Valley will pay more but apartments could be $4,000/month. So it's all relative to some degree.
    At many companies there are first year engineering graduates from Michigan, UIUC, Georgia Tech, Illinois Institute of technology, Kettering and Alabama all making the same /similar starting salaries.
    MIT might be the outlier here
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  • Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @DCCAWAMIIAIL - congrats on your daughter! I know Rice is a great school for Engr/Music. Through music clinics, etc. we’ve met some great music professors from there.

    I think my D only wants to attend schools in the north where it snows/freezes (crazy huh?). I think this is why she has not included some great schools in Texas, California, etc. on her list. Specifically, she wants the ability to play club/rec hockey at indoor and/or outdoor rinks. I think this is one of the reasons Cornell and Dartmouth are high on her list. They have big ice rinks on campus and hockey club/rec teams, which is her main sport/ form of exercising/socializing/stress relief...

    She has mentioned several times that she “really can’t believe NU has a men’s NCAA hockey team and not a women’s team.” She has even mentioned that if she attends NU, maybe she can start an NU women’s club team at one of the Chicago rinks... She’s really thinking ahead there - another indication she prob wants to do NU ED... Either way, in Chicago, Boston, Pitt, Philly, NY she’d be able to find city non-check leagues where she could play....

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  • Scubaski1Scubaski1 79 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited August 25
    @Knowsstuff - Thanks for that perspective.

    @MOM2TX and @Riversider - Yes, we are running the net price calculations. We expect to get zero needs-based aid, but possibly a Natl. Merit scholarship ($2500) may be available? She has a 1500 PSAT/226 index, so may qualify. NU is a school on the Natl. Merit school list. I think she can also take on the small FAFSA loan that my other kids have. No music scholarships available at NU, right?

    At least we’ll save $ on airfare.

    I know above is just a small drop in the NU price tag...
    edited August 25
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 6727 replies57 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    TRUST HER.
    Her list of reasons is strong.
    The difference in her employment prospects will be zero, and the differences in the rankings at that level are negligible. Fit will matter so, so, so much more.
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