Vanderbilt vs Northwestern

Hi everyone, I’m a rising senior in High School. I am currently deciding whether to ED at Vandy or Northwestern. I just visited both campuses and they were both beautiful. I really can’t choose. I’m worried about the quarter system being stressful at Northwestern, and I am also concerned about the cold weather. However, I am worried about the social scene at Vandy. I’ve heard it can be a little more cliquey and your social status is based on what sorority/frat you are in (but this is just what I have heard). Could someone help me make a decision/offer insight?

Broadly speaking, I think that your assessments are accurate, but not universal.

The quarter system at Northwestern University can be stressful for procrastinators. There is little to no wasted time when taking four courses during a quarter at Northwestern. And, yes, NU students experience cold weather.

Vanderbilt University’s social scene is more cliquey than that found at Northwestern. But Vanderbilt has more Southern Charm while also providing outstanding educational / academic opportunities. If you prefer warm weather, then Vanderbilt beats Northwestern in this respect.

I cannot recommend one over the other for you without more information such as intended area of study.

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Northwestern is more prestigious but Vanderbilt is more fun.

How many NU students actually hang out in Chicago?

Whereas in Nashville just about every single neighborhood in the city offers a unique, cool vibe…there seem to be new cutting edge restaurants, music venues and locally owned shops opening up around town almost every day.

In the Vanderbilt vicinity alone you have Hillsboro Village, Green Hills, Music Row and 12 South…about 5 miles away there’s the “Brooklyn of Nashville” aka East Nashville while Germantown (Northeast Nashville is booming.

Frats and Sororities at VU are popular but there are plenty of other organizations one can join that offer similar social activities

We just visited Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago, and while the campus is beautiful, I found it noisy and stressful to walk around. There seemed to be a lot of traffic and people everywhere—the med school, hospital, gigantic parking garages, and the construction around campus didn’t help. Even in an area where we were away from a road, there was a big loud generator that destroyed the peaceful setting. I don’t think I would enjoy having to navigate all of that everyday.

I haven’t been to Northwestern. So, unfortunately, I can’t compare the two, but I can say that we toured UChicago immediately following Vanderbilt. While UChicago is in an urban neighborhood as well, I did not notice any of the noise issues I found at Vanderbilt.

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The freshman dorm at Vandy is awful, very small.

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I toured Vanderbilt 2 years ago when attending PreVU (I think that was the name). We were so excited to see the campus but were honestly let down. Even then, the construction/remodeling was obvious and that was bothersome. Everything needed a refresh. I asked our tour guide why she picked Vanderbilt and she couldn’t answer the question- obvious it was not her first choice. Nashville was ok- Although there are lots of neighborhoods that apparently have their own character- it is not walkable like a bigger city. We were taking Ubers everywhere. We stayed at a very nice hotel in the Gulch section based on a recommendation, but I felt that the area (and maybe all these little neighborhoods) “gets old” real fast.

We also visited Northwestern and preferred it. The location on the lake is stunning. The sports facility is exceptional and the department buildings especially on south campus were pretty. Plenty to do at Northwestern and the El is right there for a real city experience.


I seem to remember feeling the medical school location was smack in the middle of campus-- so lots of larger/busier streets cutting through. At least at Northwestern, it’s crossing the street on Sheridan road.

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It’s more walkable around NU. Evanston may be a suburb but it’s a pretty urban and compact one that borders Chicago. If you are in downtown, which is next to NU campus, you’d feel like you are inside a mini city; instead of seeing lots of cars in a typical suburb, you’d see many pedestrians on sidewalks. If you want to go to Chicago, NU campus is within walking distance from not one, but three subway stations. Even though Vandy is within Nashville, it’s actually less walkable and harder to get around without a car. To be exact, the West End neighborhood, which includes Vandy, has a walkscore of 73 whereas the area around NU including downtown Evanston has a walkscore of over 90. I have been to Vandy twice by the way, so I can attest that based on my own visits, not just from googling. While many NU students do not go to Chicago often, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Evanston has a lot to offer. For example, it’s considered the dining capital of the Chicago’s North Shore.


I know both NU and Vandy really well, and have just spent time in Evanston and Nashville this past summer.

These two schools are similar in many ways yet also are quite different in quite a few others. Let me try and offer my two cents.

  • Academics: Both are quite strong and well respected in academia. NU is known for quite a few disciplines, such as materials science, journalism/comm/performing arts, and conventional engineering. They offer quite a few honors programs that almost guarantee you a job before you even start your senior year. In that sense, NU is a lot more pre-professional.

Vandy’s strength is in econ (it hosts many important scholars, and top ranking officers often tap into them at Vandy), history and other humanities. You also have a chance to take classes from the business school (Owen), but the same can be said of NU (Kellogg) if that is of interest. Both schools allow you to double major or switch majors quite late, which is great.

  • Lifestyle/vibe: The vibe at Vandy is definitely much more relaxed than at NU. There is an unmistakable Southern, fun-loving atmosphere on and around campus, and plenty of stuff to do. NU also offers a lot of great activities but students seem to care more about academics and their future careers.

Greek life is ubiquitous on both campuses - if you visited, you probably already saw how much campus space is occupied by Greek houses at Vandy. NU’s Greek houses are more spread out, but the culture is still vibrant.

Some students also ask about food and groceries. In the center of Evanston, there is a Whole Foods and quite a few Asian eateries - very convenient when you don’t have time to cook or have long sit-down meals. There’s also a Trader Joe’s and a few ethnic groceries. Around West End/Vandy, the selection is more limited outside spicy chicken, BBQ or Mexican food.

  • Campus: Vandy campus is a certified arboretum and certainly beautiful, while NU sits along the shores of Lake Michigan. Vandy architecture is more uniform and historic, whereas NU has an interesting mix of gothic and very modern buildings. Vandy campus is quite big (over 300 acres) but driving is NOT feasible. Most students travel on scooters, bicycles, or on foot. NU campus, albeit smaller, comes with quite a few parking lots on campus.

  • Weather: FWIW, Nashville can be hot and humid in the summer, although most students might be off campus during that time. Evanston is heaven on earth between April and November. It rarely snows in Nashville, but you should expect heavy snow in Evanston between December and March.

  • Financials: NU has a bigger endowment thanks to phenomenal campaigns led by current president Morty Schapiro. Its endowment is now over $14Bn, which allows the school to fund many new programs and dole out financial aid packages. Vandy’s endowment is also very respectable at about $10Bn, which is why they have been able to bankroll A LOT of construction around campus.

  • Leadership: It’s probably not talked about too much on this board, but I happen to know both NU president and Vandy chancellor, so I will share a little insight.

Morty Schapiro has announced that this is his last year at NU, and the search committee has not found a good replacement yet. It is going to be challenging, because Schapiro is really one of a kind. Morty has done great things for NU on all fronts - fundraising, expanding undergrad programs, making NU affordable to many, etc. His legacy will be remembered for a long time.

Daniel Diermeier is relatively new to Vandy, but is already doing great stuff. Diermeier, as some here may know, was a superstar professor at Northwestern’s prestigious Kellogg School of Management for almost 20 years. Around 2013, he went across town to UChicago, where he turned around several programs as dean and then provost. I was not surprised when I heard that he was poached by the very powerful and ambitious board at Vandy in 2019. I also have no questions in my mind that he will do great stuff for Vandy.

Bottomline: Both schools are great great choices all around. It probably boils down to campus vibe/quarter vs. semester/weather. All other differences seem relatively minor, and both schools are well respected in the professional world, including academia.

Good luck either way. There is no bad choice here!


I am a Northwestern grad. My two Ds are at Vanderbilt. Can’t go wrong, but I prefer Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt students are very focussed on careers, but are generally more well-rounded and at ease. Back in the day, Northwestern definitely had that vibe.

Northwestern architecture is getting too eclectic. Trending towards just a bunch a buildings rather than any plan at all. Vanderbilt built a lot of new dorms, continues to do so, and they are fantastic. The lake at Northwestern is wonderful, for the few that stay in the summer, but the lake just adds to the freezing campus climate all winter, so you avoid it and only get to enjoy it early autumn and mid-to-late spring. Northwestern has been ruled by students for years, but the tide might be changing.

Why are you applying ED? Just apply RD and that gives you more time to make a matriculation decision.

If both schools are affordable, I would encourage OP to pick one and apply ED. There is an ED bump at both of these schools, and the RD round is brutal, especially for unhooked applicants. If OP applies NU EDI and isn’t accepted they could still apply to Vandy ED2, for one possible strategy.

Hopefully OP comes back to update us on their thinking.


RD acceptance rates are so low. I highly suggest you ED to one or ED to Northwestern and ED2 to Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, Northwestern doesn’t offer ED2.


Oops, you are right, I will edit my post.

Which reminds me, you do sacrifice the odds applying ED2 vs ED1 at Vanderbilt, so if you want the highest odds at Vandy, it is best to apply ED1 there. It isn’t a total win-win doing ED Northwestern and ED2 Vanderbilt, but way, way, way better odds than RD to both.


Yes, I agree with all of that.

It’s really tough to handicap the ED2 rounds, as they are so variable from year to year. Schools are using that round to fill out what they didn’t get in EDI (and by ED2 decision time they already do have visibility to the RD apps as well).


Vanderbilt Greek life and its influence has been fading for many years. Undergrad Greek percentage was 32% in 2019-2020 and will be lower this year.
Northwestern’s is also falling and was somewhere between 35-40% in the same year. Yet, Vanderbilt carries a stigma that is now very outdated. See article link.

Abolish Greek Life Debate Reflects Nation's Tensions: Here's How | Time](Abolish Greek Life Debate Reflects Nation's Tensions: Here's How | Time)

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To add more perspective to the above. My eldest D heard the same thing about Vandy and decided she’d go Greek. She was accepted to the 3 she rushed to and put as her favorites, and chose her favorite. After one year, she had so many friends outside of her sorority, she never went and quit. My younger D, didn’t even bother going Greek and has so many friends. With 68% non-Greek and climbing, there is no need, unless you really want to.


Does Northwestern offer a residential college option?

They sure do. A bright young man I know will be moving in one of them within weeks! Undergraduate Residential Colleges: Residential Services - Northwestern University

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