Torn Between Northwestern and USC

Hey everyone! I have a dilemma, albeit one that I feel exceptionally lucky to have in the first place: I’ve been accepted at both Northwestern and USC (the University of Southern California, not South Carolina), and I’m really struggling to choose between the two. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to communicate the thoughts about both schools that have been flying around my head lately, and I think it would probably be easiest if I just laid out the best possible arguments for both schools.

Starting with Northwestern: I was admitted to the Medill School of Journalism, which is consistently ranked as the best journalism school in the country. Journalism has been a large part of my high school experience – I started writing for my school’s paper during my freshman year, and I now serve as its head editor. It’s been a long-time career interest of mine, too, and having a journalism degree from Northwestern might make it a lot more viable. Many journalism students also have second majors, largely thanks to the fact that Medill apparently makes double-majoring considerably easier than at most other schools. This means that I could pick up a second major better suited to the pre-law track (one of my main ambitions is to go to law school). I’ve heard great things about Northwestern’s Legal Studies major – although apparently this buzz has made it fairly competitive, with many well-qualified applicants for the major being rejected. In spite of the sub-zero winters, I feel quite drawn to Northwestern. When I had the chance to tour it during my junior year, I felt an instant connection to the campus; it felt like somewhere I belonged. I think it’s safe to say that I would probably get a more focused, individualized, and potentially advantageous education at Northwestern than at USC. If quality of education were my only concern, that would be enough for me to start buying purple clothes today – but there are some things about the alternative that make me hesitate.

The case for Northwestern is based largely on pragmatic reasoning with some sentimentality sprinkled in. The case for USC, on the other hand, is more about intuition. I’ve never had the chance to visit USC’s campus, but I still somehow feel connected to it in a way similar to Northwestern. This isn’t a feeling I get often – I only got it with UCLA, Northwestern, and, now, USC. There’s probably some sentimentality at play there; I was born in Los Angeles, lived there for the first seven years of my life, and then moved to the other side of the country. I’ve always wanted to move back back, and the idea of going to college there seems like the perfect way to get that experience if I don’t have another chance at it later in life (UCLA, ironically, was my first choice). When I think about where I’d like to spend the next four years of my life, I’ll admit that Los Angeles sounds a lot more appealing than the Chicago suburbs, especially when I start thinking about winter temperatures. Based on an extremely surface-level analysis of the vibes there, I also feel like it would probably be easier to find “my people” at USC – looking at the class of '25 Instagram accounts for both schools seem to back this up (although I only take this with a grain of salt. Maybe two; my gut has a decent track record here). Is it possible that my feelings are largely the product of the confirmation bias imposed by my inner child who just wants to move back to L.A., drink overpriced coffee at comically hip cafes, and take classes with pretty girls? Definitely. But I think there might be some legitimacy to my feelings here – after all, I have some concerns that a generous reader might almost consider practical. As much as I want my college experience to be academically rigorous, I want to have fun, too. I’m sure I’d have the chance to go to plenty of parties at Northwestern, but it seems like pretty much any school would be hard-pressed to compete with USC in the fun department. Niche gives it the #1 ranking for quality of student life; it’s in the middle of an incredible city, and there are a million great things to do on and off-campus. I wouldn’t be a journalism student there, but that’s okay – I don’t know if I really have the passion for it I once did, and I think I’m really more interested in law. USC’s Politics, Philosophy, and Law major sounds perfect for me, and I think I could do really well with it. It’s not like I would have to give up journalism entirely, either, since I could still write for the Daily Trojan.

I’ve said a ridiculous amount already, so I’ll try and synthesize all of that into one overarching question. I think it would be fair to say that I would get a better education at Northwestern, but I would be considerably happier at USC. So, which one should I sacrifice for the other? I think I made a good decision a while back when I sacrificed the former for the latter, deciding that I would rather go to Northwestern than UChicago – but I can’t decide whether it would be wise to make that choice again.

I think the answer to that question depends, in part, on the answer to another: for law school, would I be doing myself a disservice by choosing USC over Northwestern? Assuming I did equally well at both schools, would attending one over the other improve my chances of being admitted to the likes of Yale, Stanford, and Harvard’s law schools? (I know those schools are unbelievably hard to get into, but please humor me.)

A million thanks to everybody who read all of that. I’d appreciate any and all thoughts/advice!

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  • Not sure if this will help since I’m a Freshman in High school, but my sister committed to Northwestern (McCormick) this year, and I live in the Illinois region.

I know that a lot of factors like weather, etc. matter for colleges. However, in terms of pure academics, go to the school that will benefit your future more. Honestly, I think that is Northwestern, ESPECIALLY if you’re going to be in journalism. You mentioned law schools, and even if its not those top schools you mentioned, Northwestern’s Pritzker and UChicago’s law school consistently rank one of the best in the nation, topping most schools, even in California.

This is just my pure opinion academically speaking, but both are good schools. Not everything is prestige and rankings (which Northwestern would be superior). Btw: the weather is as horrible here as everybody says it is, but it really is beautiful and great in the summer. Especially Northwestern’s campus. I’ve been there near Kellogg’s building, and the Northwestern Campus is SO modern and beautiful, especially since it faces Lake Michigan, and Evanston isn’t even that far from Chicago.


I would say, first, that either school will prepare you very well for law school. Majoring in legal studies as an undergraduate would not, in fact, necessarily be a plus. Law schools at the level you are talking about (I am a graduate of one of the schools you mention) are looking for analytical skiils, writing skills, general excellence, not legal skills. Journalism, for one, would be a fine major for someone interested in law, and Medill is great. On the other hand, if you decide you really want to be a journalist after majoring in something else, Medill might be a grad school option instead. So I don’t think you need to focus overmuch on these pragmatic points. I don’t know that much about Northwestern, but my husband was a professor at USC for a few years, and I have some experience there. I share your enthusiasm for Los Angeles, and USC is an excellent school. I sort of had the University of Spoiled Children image of the school, coming from the East Coast, but USC, like LA in general, is very diverse. And although I found Tommy Trojan to be a bit much, the over-the-top school spirit and big time college sports experience was fun. Make sure you understand the neighborhood the school is in. It has improved a lot in recent years, but it is not Westwood.

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Congrats on two amazing options! IMO you can’t make a wrong choice but if you truly had a passion for journalism, I’d choose NU if it’s affordable.

Are the costs the same? Affordable without loans?

I live in Evanston, so close to campus there is a university blue light on my street. Students seem happy, even during exam times. There is a ton going on both in Evanston and Chicago (there is a free bus for students to the city to NU’s Gold Coast campus). Yes we have winter but that’s what boots and heavier coats are for. Yesterday it was almost 70 degrees and students were in hammocks on the lakefront, playing games, and hanging out.

It is super easy and encouraged to double major at NU. That was one of the benefits they stressed when we toured with our D. The arts scene is very strong. Sports? Well…NU football is getting stronger but student attendance isn’t the best. They do play in the big 10 so there are some great games. It’s also easy and free for students to get tickets.


FYI: They are both A+ for best student life on niche. Over 90 colleges were assigned that grade on niche.

I lived in LA before. I’d suggest you to visit LA/USC to get a feel if you haven’t gone back since childhood. Many people I’ve met either love it or hate it (stuck there because they got professional ties to the entertainment industry). I now live in NorCal and I love it here much better.

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Northwestern on all counts. Journalism would be a great degree for applying to law school with.


I went to grad school at USC and am always happy to hype it, but please don’t pick a school because you think you’ll have more fun. I did that when I graduated from high school, and it was a terrible mistake. I transferred after my freshman year. I was having so much fun that I never studied.

If your first priority is journalism and you got into Medill, go there. If you’d also been admitted to Annenberg at USC -or- aren’t sure about journalism, then pick the school you’re more comfortable at. It would help if you could visit USC before you made your decision. You might fall in love with it or want nothing to do with it. (Although I rarely hear people saying the latter.)

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Huge thanks to everyone who’s given their thoughts so far. All really helpful information/advice!

College is not a destination, it is a way station, a stop along the way to your ultimate goal. But you’re talking about as if it is the destination. That’s not how you got this far.

And btw, there is overpriced coffee in Chicago, there are hip cafes in Chicago, and for sure there are pretty girls at Northwestern.


Northwestern has for the most part well met our expectations.Staff beyond expectations. Ongoing problem with activities/satisfaction of many kids (yes, they are kids)

Many clubs interview students and pick who they want to include, Often kids who party - for instance the sailing club. It is not at all about teaching/developing skills - however, info and tours of the campus highlight the club and what a wonderful opportunity for all students. I’ve heard six really not nice stories about sororities, in which girls leave and literally take any other housing offered. Similar stories for business clubs/ arts organizations - WaaMu SHow, MeeOw Improv, Dillo Day, etc… are all hyped by admissions and yet only accept a few students. Aside from a potential “we like you or we don’t aspect” there is also the question of experience. Not all students will have direct experience at this point, but they all will have some thing to offer - that’s why they are here. The kids interviewing them don’t have the experience/want to understand this - an adult will. Leads to next point. Adult staff of the school state that “while organizations used to be able to select who they want to join, this is not allowed any more - unless if it is for an acapella group (of course!), instrumental. etc…”) When I spoke to older undergrads and grad students they all said, exclusion goes on all the time and the problem is that faculty/admin are not /barely involved. Of course - this is not brain surgery. So - let staff take a more active part - yes a few students will be upset by this - but many, many more will be happy. Oh, yeah, and it will be so much more fair.

Arguments will be that they only allow a few students because SOOOOOO many students will join who just want to put the club/ organization on their resume and do not plan on participating. So? If a student doesn’t show up to say 3 commitments - bye bye - try again next year. The can put it on their resume regardless.

Another argument is that this helps kids develop skills, build resiliency, etc… No - it allows some kids to develop skills and others not. Everyone should have equal opportunities to join and participate in any organization. Those with leadership skills will become leaders no matter what. Everyone should have the same opportunity to develop theirs.

Greek life and many of these clubs are all about keeping people out. It is great that there are multicultural, etc…clubs gaining traction and getting funding , but that only does so much and just for those particular groups. If a kid wants to develop skills in an area or be exposed to something new, they should be able to do so at college with nothing in their way. Northwestern limits much. Even research opportunities and jobs - for almost all of them, especially the meaningful ones, you have to have work-study. The school provides funds for (all?) the organizations I mentioned - that means the parents pay for these club, etc… even the ones our kids cannot participate in.

So many of the kids are lonely and unable to meet people because they cannot get into the clubs and organizations. Yes, there are things that kids can join - but it may have no interest to them, very few of the kids join (because they think no one else will join - vicious circle), and many disappear or don’t do anything. These clubs could also benefit from staff involvement. Many more robust. interesting, well-funded activities needed for kids who don’t drink, but are social, outgoing, and like to have fun. All dorms should have many ongoing activities - put RDs in all the buildings- even the small ones. Kids do not want to go to another dorm in their neighborhood to participate - it is awkward

There are many unhappy kids a the school … Many parents and students do not want to “put it out there” because they want the school to maintain its excellent reputation.

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Wow. Disheartening info for a family considering Northwestern. What about school spirit/football. Is that a bonding experience? Unclear how it has met/exceeded expectations given this? Do you feel the quality of academics truly makes up for the isolation? This seems like more of a cultural problem — something beyond administration inattention.

Much of this is inline with feedback on NU from current/recently graduated students (we live in the local area so lots of kids from our HS attend, and I am an alum of Kellogg).

I didn’t know most research gigs are for work-study students only which is perplexing. Another factor that impacts number of research opportunities is that there are MANY local HS students doing research at various labs at NU, both in Evanston and Chicago campuses…and this is real research, not washing beakers. My D worked for over a year in a lab her junior/sr year of HS, along side 3 IMSA students and two NU students. Probably an area the school could better rationalize/standardize.

For the OP that’s not relevant as a Medill admit though. It’s tough to beat Medill in terms of name and academic cred, but all other factors seem to point to USC as a better fit for OP.

No, most (if not all) research opportunities are NOT tied to work-study. I was an international student and all I did was to approach professors if they got any projects that could accomodate me. I knew many people who did the same. Mine was unfunded (I will touch on the funded ones below) but I could register as a “independent study” course and got academic credit for it. The kind of work-study I knew/heard about was more like working in libraries or administrative tasks like doing surveys and something tedious that research team wouldn’t mind paying someone else to do.

NU allocates over $3M for undergrad/independent research. You can apply for grants by writing a research proposal for something original and independent. Never wrote a proposal before? No worries, the office of undergrduate research provides training and coaching. The typical success rate for that is 60-70%, based solely on the merit of that proposal, not competition from peers. There’s also funded research assistant program. The number is capped so the success rate is less (20-30%) but this is already better than many other colleges I have observed. For details, you can pull up their annual report on the office of undergrad reseach website. It specificly states that funding is based solely on merit, without regard to financial need. This totally contradicts what that poster claimed. In fact, whatever he/she posted just didn’t make any sense and is totally contradicting to what I know based on my own experience. Even your kids got the opportunities as high school students as you said.

Regarding the clubs, the most popular clubs are going to be competitive. That happens everywhere, not just NU. Same thing for frats/sororities. I did not hear people getting shut out of most other clubs. If anything, many people may be involved in too many things. I don’t want to get into debate with that poster in accordance with the CC rules. People on here should take each post with a grain of salt. Also, on YouTube, there are many videos on Northwestern Admissions channel in which people can find a lot of info about the school from current students; I encourage people to check them out.

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See my response above.

Full caveat: I will be biased here, because I have 10+ family members who attended NU across 3 generations (undergrad and graduate programs), all of whom loved their NU experience and have gone on to successful careers.

As long as you can handle cold weather, you should definitely go to NU. It is highly regarded in almost every discipline it offers, has one of the prettiest campuses in America, is located in a quiet and safe town only 30 minutes from Chicago, and is filled with capable, friendly staff as well as an intelligent and diverse student body. It also has strong Division 1 sports if you enjoy tailgate parties (ironically, the NU Wildcats only made one appearance to the Rose Bowl in the last 3 decades - they traveled all the way to Pasadena, only to be defeated by USC Trojans, back in 1996). The basketball program is also on the rise - they made it to the NCAA 16 last year.

It’s interesting that you mentioned the prospects of entering an elite law school. To achieve that goal, I think you would need a decent undergraduate GPA (3.7+), a good LSAT score, and 2-3 strong rec letters from your professors/summer employers. All other things equal, I think a degree from NU would give you an edge over USC in the eyes of law school admission officers.

The yields on freshmen admits are also telling. The number for NU has been around 60% in recent years, compared to 36% for USC. Another important consideration is the financial resources: NU has an endowment of $12 billion over 21,000 students. USC has $5.7 billion but it has to be shared by 46,000 students. The math is simple.

I believe you still have 2 weeks to decide. In case you haven’t done it, you should reach out to current students and alumni, so you can get their honest feedback. The admission officer can connect you if you ask them.

The only factor that might place USC above NU, IMHO, is the weather in SoCal. Then again, you can always go there for vacations or work later on. Therefore, unless you have trouble with snow, definitely commit to NU.

You will get into a top law school from either place with a high GPA and LSAT score. Law schools don’t differentiate between undergrad institutions much. In fact, go to the websites of the law schools you’re interested in and look at the undergrad schools represented. And, USC is a highly regarded school - don’t just look at rankings!

Our S was considering NU, albeit for a different major, and after talking to several kids, decided not to apply. They described an extremely heavy and fast-paced course schedule (NU is 1/4 system but you still take 4 classes each quarter), with profs “trying to fail them,” though they didn’t fail when they got their grades. They also told him about cut-throat clubs. He wanted to have SOME fun in college, and these descriptions plus the freezing cold weather turned him off.

It ultimately comes down to preference. The rankings differences don’t matter. But, if you know for sure you want to be a journalist NU’s program is tops. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a journalist coming out of USC.


Besides weather, another factor in USC’s favor is their fervent school spirit. You know the whole Tommy Trojan and “Fight On” thing. NU has difficulty getting students to sporting events even with giving away free tickets.

In regards to Medill vs. Annenberg, I would rate USC Annenberg over Northwestern Medill for broadcast journalism, though not necessarily for print journalism.

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USC’s undergrad population is more than twice the size of NU but its football attendance in 2019 was 59,358 vs 37,736 for NU. Its football attendance is longer like it once was. Its other sports have even worse attendance. As it has become one of the top schools (no longer “university of spoiled children”), its student body has become less into athletics to me. For comparison, NU’s football attendance is almost the same as Stanford’s. Football attendance tend to be great for huge state schools in college towns that are far away from big cities. There are many other things to do when you are near/in a big city. There are other factors that affect football attendance, not just school spirit.

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First of all, the football attendance figures you’re quoting, and I’m assuming they’re correct, is not just for students, but includes everyone.

Secondly, USC is located in a big city with a cross town rival, UCLA. NU doesn’t have a cross town rival competing for student support.

Thirdly, there are more schools sports that receive student support including basketball. How’s the NU basketball doing?

Lastly, USC doesn’t give away free tickets to students in order to get them to come to games.