Northwestern v Vanderbilt

Hi, I’m trying to make my decision now that all of my letters are in. I’m really struggling between these two. Weather isn’t much of a factor for me and they’re equally far from home. Also, financial aid is roughly the same.

I’m looking to double major in Public Policy (Vandy)/Social Policy (NW) and Spanish, with maybe a triple in Sociology at Vandy.

Some stereotypes/conceptions I have of the schools: (and please correct me if I’m wrong)

  • Equally rigorous
  • NW students are a little more down to Earth? (just based off my reviews and interactions)
  • NW is more business focused rather than on its SESP or Arts&Sciences, where as Vandy puts a greater emphasis on Liberal Arts
    - With this, what are your thoughts on NW’s Social Policy program being in its own
    school, where Vandy’s Public Policy is in Arts&Sciences?

I’m also concerned about the extra month or so of classes that I’d have at Northwestern.

Thank you in advance for any help or advice you can give me!

Personally, I wouldn’t let the quarter system scare you at NW, especially if you want to try out a bunch of different classes/have a lot of interests. Its not actually an extra month because it starts a month later too. Essentially personal preference for you.

Academically I would agree with you that they are pretty similar and both good for the programs you applied for. I wouldn’t say northwestern is more business focused necessarily because they don’t have an undergrad business school - also journalism and comm are big programs there as well.

I would consider location too. 30 min outside Chicago vs campus in Nashville - two very different environments. There will overall be more midwestern kids at northwestern than there would be at Vanderbilt.

I would start by talking with other prospective admits from both schools and see which students you vibe with better. After all, I don’t think you’re making the wrong decision either way.

The extra month of classes at Northwestern University may have an effect on some internships, but NU students do quite well in the job market.

SESP (School of Education & Social Policy) is the best in the nation. Many refer to it as the equivalent of earning a bachelors & masters degree in one program. Small with lots of individualized attention. Essentially a super elite LAC within a medium sized university setting.

Easy to double or triple major at Northwestern University.

Somewhat ashamed to write that I see these two schools as in different leagues. Although I can easily be proven wrong, I view Northwestern as the more rigorous & more prestigious school. I view SESP as in a league of its own.

Vanderbilt University has a beautiful campus with moderate weather, but Northwestern’s beaches offer an interesting respite from demanding academics.

I love The South, but I view Northwestern University as a national academic powerhouse with significant impact in the job marketplace.

For most, selecting between Northwestern University & Vanderbilt University, the focus would be on weather and on quarter/trimester system versus semesters. I see a lot more vale in trimester/quarter systems than in the traditional 15 week semester system. While academically more intense due to pace, the quarter system at NU allows for a greater variety of courses.

I see Northwestern as more rigorous academically as does The Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020. (Fiske awards Northwestern 5 Pens for academics while skipping two ratings and awarding 4 Pens to Vanderbilt. There is another rating of 4.5 pens.)

Although there is no wrong choice between the two, in your case there is clearly a superior option as you were admitted to SESP–the best school of its type in the world.

I could understand the “quality of life” assessment favoring either school, but when comparing SESP to Vanderbilt, quality of life favors Northwestern University as SESP is a bit of an intimate & cozy environment with all the advantages of a super-elite mid-sized university in a gorgeous Great Lakes beachfront setting in an upscale suburb with access to a dynamic, major US city.

Of course, Vanderbilt has Nashville & The Grand Ole Opry. Plus a beautiful campus & moderate weather.

FWIW: The Fiske Guide To Colleges lists overlap schools for each university as:

Northwestern University overlaps: Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Michigan, Penn, Princeton, WashUStL, & Duke.

Vanderbilt University overlaps: Duke, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Cornell, Stanford, WashUStL, & Princeton.

The only difference is Michigan versus Cornell.

The social policy being in its own school means more personalization within the smaller school while at the same time, you are still part of the bigger university, especially if you have a second major. I heard the advising at the SESP is amazing. I don’t know about triple-major in Vandy per se but in general, it’s easier to do that in schools with the quarter system such as Northwestern. I suggest you to check out “Live from Nortwestern” series on YouTube.

If you look at USN rankings, NU actually is ranked higher in almost all liberal arts fields. These rankings may not have direct relationship with the quality of undergrad education but they are strong indication that NU is as focused on putting resources to attract the best scholars in those fields, if not more.

The stereotype is understandable because most well-known programs at Northwestern have the preprofessional feel. Even with econ, the first things that comes to many people’s mind may be the dollar signs and business even though it’s technically a social science/liberal arts field. What’s less mentioned is the fact that its liberal arts are pretty good. I bet most people would be surprised to learn that its chemistry is ranked #6, behind only CalTech, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley.

I’m at Vanderbilt (or was, because coronavirus rippp) once a week for a high school STEM program, and I love the place.

Vandy is a kind of catch-all where you could practically be any type of person with brains and you’d be happy there. I’ve met extroverts, introverts, budding scientists and philosophers, small-town southerners, New Yorkers, people of every race, people of every political persuasion, party-animals, bookworms, athletes, frat “bros,” and hipsters. It’s one of few colleges in my opinion which has true diversity in this sense.

Students by and large are DEFINITELY down-to-earth. Vandy has good pre-professional programs, too. Other than that, the stereotypes you listed may have some truth to them.

I am a Northwestern grad and my two daughters are Vanderbilt students.

I’d say the biggest difference is Vanderbilt builds in a diversity of opinions. Northwestern has a very liberal faculty, departments, course offerings and student body and it continues to climb in most liberal rankings, so if you want that group think, then it is the place for you.

Vanderbilt faculty definitely leans left albeit not as one-sided as Northwestern, but in the last survey the student body was 1/3 liberal, 1/3 conservative and 1/3 self-identifying as centrist or uninterested in politics. So, if you value and respect diversity of opinions as well as other diversity issues, then Vanderbilt is likely the better choice for you.


Northwestern University does not limit discussions to only liberal, or to any other, viewpoints.

From the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020:

“Northwestern occupies a unique niche in U.S. higher education. It has the academics of the Ivies, the spirited atmosphere of the Big Ten publics, and, along with Duke, Stanford, and perhaps Vanderbilt, combines success in Division I sports with quality instruction.”

“It’s really easy to have interesting conversations and learn from each other.”

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I have never visited Northwestern, so cannot speak to anything there that you can’t read online somewhere. However my D is VU2022 and I know a good bit about Nashville and Vanderbilt. One being that there is a good bit of diversity on campus. Stats still put it at over 50% white but when you walk campus that’s not what you see. You can check out the Vanderbilt website for specific numbers (just google Vanderbilt Demographics) but the states with the most representation (outside of TN which has about 600+) are Cali, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas with 400+ students/state calling those states home (Georgia and New Jersey are really close as well in upper 300). My daughter’s roommate is from NY; we are from AL.

Nashville may be a southern town and known for country music (as far as the most well-known music scene) but there are definitely other acts that come to Nashville and especially on Vanderbilt’s campus! The city itself is growing and is extremely diverse… there are fantastic authentic food options if you are a foodie! (So.many.great.eateries!) The neat thing about Vanderbilt is you get this very campus feel while on campus, but just a few blocks in any direction and you are in a city… tons of things to do. It’s not just a college town. Also the airport is pretty easy to get in and out of to just about anywhere in the world.

Academically both schools have strong reputations. Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education and Human Development is consistently rank as a top 5 education for both undergraduate as well as graduate programs. Because the VUMedical Center is also located right on campus there are great opportunities for research.

Obviously you can’t go wrong with either school - both are tops! Visiting during covid is also not going to give you a great impression as Vanderbilt is only partially in person classes although a majority of their students have returned to Nashville, most upperclassmen are living off campus (which isn’t typical… it’s usually only a few and Vandy prefers all students do 4 years on campus to build community!) However you could still get the ‘feel’ of campus and Nashville. Good luck!

“google Vanderbilt Demographics”

I did that and found a site that compared diversity of all colleges, and Vanderbilt was 10th and NU 19th. So the OP would have to decide if that’s a big difference or not. Vanderbilt does have better racial diversity though, so it’s possible that NU has other forms of diversity for it to be ranked in the top-20. This site looked at ethnic, racial, gender, states, maybe international as well.

Folks, the OP posted back in March, so presumably s/he made a decision already.