Transfer- Deciding between Northwestern and Vandy

Our S20 is a Sophomore deciding between NWU and Vandy as a transfer going in as a Junior. He is leaning towards Northwestern. We feel we have a good insight into the academic environment at Vandy but not as much at NWU. Certainly understand that both schools are academically rigorous.

We have been hearing that NWU can be pretty intense. I would like to see if anyone can provide specific feedback on the academic environment at NWU? Again we realize a school like this will be rigorous and competitive; just trying to gauge if it is overly intense.

What is his major?

Econ, business minor

I think I must be feeling especially feisty today, but I am going to say that you probably should not be more than a bystander in this conversation- even if he is asking for your help. Listen, obviously. Ask open questions, if you think that he is overlooking something, or being overly optimistic / cautious, or falling into a familiar thinking trap. But not (unless he is 16 or younger) gathering or giving advice for him.

He is a sophomore in college, gone through not landing happily at his first uni(unless this ia transfer from a CC), and strong enough academically to have been accepted for transfer to two great schools. He knows why he is leaving, and what he wants from his next experience. He needs to own this for himself.

Anyway, even the most informed CC poster can’t answer your question, because the only- only- person who can tell if NU is too academically intense for your son IS your son. I can tell you that it would be for some of the Collegekids- but not for others.

Two great choices, congrats to your S.

IMO no one can really answer this unless they’ve attended both schools. My n=1 opinion…I hear more NU students complain about the academic stress than Vandy students, BUT some students at NU don’t feel academically stressed and some at Vandy do.

IMO again, NU econ is stronger than Vandy’s, and the ability to get a Kellogg certificate another NU positive differentiator in your S’s desired area. Good luck to your S.


Thanks! This is helpful info.


I agree that perception of academic environment is very subjective. I have a family member starting at NU next Fall and she met recently with two friends just ahead of an exam week. One friend was stressed about her tests, the other totally laid back and unconcerned.

My $0.02 is that if your child is smart enough to be accepted to these two schools, they’ll be fine with their choice.



Thanks. He is actively looking for our advice and wants us to be very involved in this process. Just trying to have him be informed as possible so he can make the best decision.


I get that! and I know that I don’t know anything about any of you, or anything beyond this narrow sliver of the puzzle. I am just very attuned to the anxiety kids at this stage can have about ‘getting it right’, and how hard it is for them to learn that they can- and need to- trust themselves (esp if they think that they are fixing a 'mistake", which is sometimes the case in transfers). You know your son, and he knows a lot about himself: if he is concerned about intensity, maybe ask him questions about how intense he is, how he has reacted to intense academic experiences in the past, etc.

Has he visited both? Imo the vibe is pretty different- did he respond viscerally to one or the other? that’s the one I would go for. Over and over I see students trying to rationalize a gut feeling- when their gut is actually a perfectly fine gauge!

(aka, been there, done that)

My D had a similar decision last year between ND and Vandy. Loved both schools but in the end it turned out to be mostly non-academic factors that influenced the decision: on campus housing availability, number of gen ed requirements, generosity of transfer credits, ease of travel, the weather, city vibe, ease of changing majors and transferring between schools. Also the transfer orientation at Vandy was much better organized and robust. Perhaps some of those factors might tilt in favor of one vs the other?

Also does he have any preference on the quarter vs semester system?

Academically there is no correct answer. These are both great schools and unless you are able to talk to the current study in your son’s field it will be hard to judge the rigor. I am a sophomore transfer as well and my advisor told me to do these things.

  • Go to niche and read the positive and negative reviews
  • Would you son rather live in Nashville (urban setting) or Evanston
  • How does each school treat transfer students regarding housing, classes, and social events
  • How big is the transfer class? Will it be difficult to meet other kids?
  • Compare financials.

All in all look at the school holistically, not just academically. Transferring to a different school is so, so mentally taxing and honestly if he works hard he will succeed anywhere. I would personally not want to be shoved in an overly competitive and elitist environment as a junior transfer.

He seems to like the idea of the quarter system because he believes it will give him more of a chance to add extra classes if he needs to catch up on credits or major requirements. In addition, he has a close friend at Vandy and got to spend a little time on the campus in the fall when school was in session, and that was probably the impetus for him to transfer in the first place.

As he put it at Vandy, the kids were academically serious and academically interested. At his current school, for the most part, kids are academically serious but not necessarily so interested in what they are studying. Also, with Vandy, he felt there was enough of the so-called work-life balance. He did not apply to schools with the reputation of not having that balance.

With NU specifically, he believed it was a school that was going to be rigorous but not an ultra-competitive environment. However, since he got accepted, we have heard from several friends that it may be more of a pressure cooker than certain other schools at this level.

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First of all Congratulations! Our family has a real soft spot for the private institutions in the Power 5 Athletic Conferences. I graduated from Northwestern and my two daughters very recently graduated from Vanderbilt University - one in Economics with a Business minor and the other in Psychology with minors in Business and Scientific Computing. They absolutely love Vanderbilt. They had amazing experiences. I confess that I lean towards Vanderbilt now.

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He decided on NU. Both great schools