Freshman interested in attending Northwestern

Hi! I’m a freshman in high school right now and attending Northwestern has been, probably, one of my biggest goals since the beginning of my 8th-grade year. My high school doesn’t have that many opportunities for weighted classes (there is one honors class, no APs or IBs, and limited truly difficult classes) but I’m not letting that get me down. I understand how incredibly competitive Northwestern is to get into, so I’ve been mentally prepared for a rejection letter in the future for a long time. I’ve been up to the Chicagoland area so many times and I’ve always been drawn to Evanston’s community in particular.

Currently, I’m at no risk of getting anything other than a 4.0 unweighted GPA in my entire freshman year. My biggest problem is extracurriculars. Because my school is so small and offers so little in terms of academics, you can also assume that there’s very little in terms of non-athletic extracurriculars as well. I’m not an athletic person at all and have no interest in participating in athletics either. I want to eventually double major in creative writing and journalism, so I’ve considered out-of-state writing ECs like the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio (which, even though I’m a 9th grader, I will be applying for in January) and Kenyon College’s Young Writers’ Workshop. My main problem is that they’re expensive and I’m not exactly from the richest family. My school has a newspaper, but there’s talk of getting rid of it before my sophomore year, so that would be difficult.

What do you think I should do over the coming years in order to help with my chances of getting into Northwestern? (I’m not interested in people trying to talk me out of it.) I already plan on applying ED and taking the most difficult classes that are available to me. What extracurriculars do you recommend? Should I try and get an athletic EC to stick onto my common application even though I’m not passionate whatsoever about athletics?

No matter what gets recommended to me here, I will still be going as above and beyond as I possibly can. My family couldn’t afford boarding schools, even with financial aid, so I’m almost certainly stuck here.

Thanks in advance for any feedback. I’m using all of the resources that I can to help me here if you couldn’t tell. Don’t think for a second that I don’t have plans outside of getting into Northwestern! My father is a disabled veteran so I have a full ride to any state university in Illinois and I have my eyes on a few other universities around the country.

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In terms of ECs, my first reaction would be for you to think about what would make your high school experience more interesting for you and for your fellow students. Alternately, what would help people in your community?

If there are not activities in your school that are interesting to you, then what activities would be interesting? Would there be other student who are interested in a chess club, or an outing club, or something else? Would there be any good reason to try to save your schools newspaper?

I’m not sure how it works, but isn’t northwestern a private university?

I dont know the summer programs you are applying to but have you looked into Interlochen. It is expensive but I know that they offer financial aid and there is no harm in applying. Also if you love writing look into YoungArts for next year for creative writing. This is a national program that you would enter next fall and each year throughout high school. And I agree DadTwoGirls to think about making your high school career better first and college second.

First off you congrats on thinking about what you want to do and wanting to be proactive in preparing yourself.

  1. Set aside thoughts of Northwestern or any specific college until after Sophomore year. Remember your interest in NW is based on your limited exposure to what’s out there. If you’re interested in learning more, check out some other schools Online. Look at some LACs, look at all your state universities, look at schools in the city or out in the country. Think about what you like and don’t like about each one.

  2. Keep up your grades! This is your number one priority right now. It’s OK that your school doesn’t offer many high level classes, but make sure you are taking the appropriate classes. Even if you want to be a writer, most schools want to see that you took 4 years of science (2 labs), 4 years of math, 3-4 years of a language…

  3. Pursue your passions, this does not mean you have to pay to attend some summer workshop. If you are interested in Journalism? Write for your school newspaper, or write for your local paper, tie in your family and do research on struggles of veterans in the Chicago area… If you are interested in creative writing, maybe look to see if your local community college hosts and workshops or summer classes that would be cheap. Submit your writings to writing contests, magazines.

  4. Do something that is purely for you! Whether that’s a sport, collecting butterflies, binging on cheesy sci-fi movies, eating pizza.

  5. Read, read, read. This is outside of any books required for school. It will help improve your writing, help prepare you for standardized testing, helps you with your college essays, and exposes you to different thoughts and ideas.


Thank you for these great tips! I really appreciate them and will take them into consideration over these next couple of years! <3

Thank you for all of your responses! Luckily for me, my parents have agreed to foot half the cost of any summer program I want to attend (as long as I get in first) and I’ve already got a decent pile of savings! I appreciate all the help I can get in terms of figuring out what to make of my own situation over the coming years.

As far as activities go, the best bet is to get involved in what you’re interested in outside of school. Rest asssured, many kids get into amazing colleges without ever playing a sport.

Colleges won’t be interested in the reasons you don’t have many extra curriculars. If you’re the type of student who is talented enough to attend a top college, you will make your opportunities happen. If you like sewing, sew quilts for senior citizens or homeless shelters. If you love to cook, get some friends together, start a cooking group, and teach yourself how to make exotic foods. If you’re interested in gardening, get involved with a community garden. And then go beyond that.

Offer cooking classes to little kids, or donate prepared meals to families in need. Arrange a zoom session with a quilting instructor using donated/collected cloth scraps to make quilts. Grown vegetables in the community garden and distribute them to food pantries.

If your school doesn’t offer much, you need to think outside the box. You can of course create your own after school club. Find out if there is any money in your school’s budget to encourage a teacher mentor. (Teachers are often given a small amount of money to head up such clubs.) A meeting with your guidance counselor at school could be a first step to that.

It might be a good idea to put aside your “dream school” ideation for now. Who knows how astronomical college fees will be in three years’ time. Unforeseen circumstances might arise. It’s much better to think “Northwestern would be great, but my goal is to graduate college with a hard-earned degree.”


Only spend money on summer programs that make sense for you- the summer programs that will impress AOs are not the ones you have to pay for.

Read this- it’s from MIT admissions, but it applies just as much to NU:

Figure out what, exactly, it is you want from NU (more than just liking the idea of living in Evanston/being part of that community). You may be 100% gunning for NU now, and it is possible you won’t change your mind in 3 years, BUT it would be irrational to only apply to a school that denies 91% of applicants!

So first, figure out your budget. Then, think about what you see as the best things about NU and work on finding other schools with at least some of those characteristics. For example, if journalism is key for you, UIUC is a great in-state option and Syracuse is a great private option (if affordable). Can you afford Kenyon’s amazing creative writing program? and so on.

Lucky you, even if your school doesn’t have much in the way of ECs for you, as writer with internet there are a world of ways for you to have really interesting ECs! Collegekid1 was a paid blogger in HS & college for an organization in her field of interest. Collegekid2 was regularly involved with creative writing outlets online, and ended up winning some nice prizes. And so on. It’s not that it will be easy to find a good path- it’s that it is possible, and as it is something you really enjoy the journey can have some fun parts as well as the sloggy bits!

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Part time jobs count as important EC’s. Plus, you can save money for college.

Libraries love volunteers! It’s a great EC! As are senior centers, food banks, soup kitchens, tutoring, and the like.

Do you have scouts in your area? They have great projects.

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maybe check out this really cool program that NU offers! 2019 – Medill Cherubs – Northwestern University high school journalism program it’s called the Medill Cherubs, and you get an inside look into journalism as a high schooler. I think you can only do it the summer of your junior year, and it’s pretty expensive, however they have financial aid and merit aid options.

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Great you are thinking about college. Challenge yourself academically as best you can but don’t over stretch. There’s wonderful journalism colleges and if you make Northwestern or otherwise you can have a great career.

Find activities of interest. Walk dogs. Get a job. Ref youth soccer. Do meals on wheels. Have your family help a refugee family. Whatever piques your interest - get involved. Two or three things.

If you have a community newspaper, Approaxh the editor. Maybe they’d let you shadow or even write articles covering sports or school board meeting, even if voluntary.

There’s a lot for you to get involved in. Think the larger picture. Find what would allow you to make an impact and give personal satisfaction. Don’t worry about relation to a major etc.

It’s great you have goals. You’re already on a great path. Good luck.