As a prospective student, stepping onto an unfamiliar campus can be overwhelming, and with so much to do and see, it can be tough to pinpoint exactly where to start. I’ve definitely been there, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my first visit to Northwestern. Each experience shaped the day into one of my fondest memories, and with a little bit of planning and some help from this handy guide, your visit can go just as smoothly!

Attend an information session and a tour

This was the first thing I did when I arrived on campus, and it set the tone for the entire day. The general information session, which is about 45 minutes, gives an overview of what it means to be a student here at Northwestern. This is a great way to learn about academic programs and student life, and because the session is led by an admissions director and current student, it’s the perfect time to pick up some tips about the application and financial aid processes. After, you’ll be led around campus by a student tour guide, who is more than willing to answer questions about academics, student life, and more!  You’ll visit some of the most iconic campus landmarks (Deering Library, Weber Arch, and the Rock!), learn plenty of fun facts, and get a taste for what it’s like to experience Northwestern from the student perspective.

I had been feeling nervous and intimidated about asking questions and speaking up on the day of my tour, but as soon as the tour guides came running and dancing down the steps of the auditorium, I immediately felt at ease.  Our tour guide loved learning about us, and he made stops and gave advice based on what the members of my group were interested in. During your visit, it’s important to remember that the people on campus really want to help you have a great experience visiting campus- they’re excited that you’re there, so relax and ask as many questions as you want!

In addition to general tours, each school within Northwestern offers its own tours at select times, which are pretty useful if you have an idea of what you might be interested in studying. There’s even a separate STEM tour, which gives more insight into research and pre-professional opportunities for STEM majors!

Check out the campus landmarks

Whether you take the tour or not, be sure to stop by some of the iconic landmarks at Northwestern. Of course you’ll want the classic photo under Weber Arch, which  is passed by thousands of students each day as they head to class or other activities. Just behind it you’ll find University Hall, a towering, castle-like building that looks like something out of a Disney movie. While you’re there, see if anything is going on around the Rock, our fountain-turned-billboard in the middle of campus. Students guard the rock for 24 hours to paint announcements on the side, and sometimes you’ll catch a student group promotion or fundraiser (I’m talking bake sales!) in the courtyard.

Next, you’ll want to see Deering Library and Deering Meadow – bonus points if you can find the Erikson-Koch Memorial Garden, which is a great secret study spot located just south of the building! While there are plenty of other fantastic locations to visit on campus, I recommend ending your self-guided stroll alongthe Lakefill. There is nothing quite like the blue water of Lake Michigan, the colorful painted rocks lining the shore, and the skyline of Downtown Chicago in the distance. Plus, if you follow the lake south, you’ll run into a beach right next to campus!

Sit in on Classes

When I visited Northwestern, I didn’t know that this was something that prospective students could do, but I wish I had! As an undergraduate student, your classes will be a huge part of your life, so it’s a great idea to experience the classroom environment at Northwestern firsthand. There are a variety of classes that welcome guests, so consider what interests you and choose something within that field!

As a Communication Studies Major, I’ve had a great experience in Communication in Technology (COMM 227) – even though it’s a large lecture, students are encouraged to participate and the material is always engaging. Other classes, like my Spanish and Public Speaking classes, had far fewer students, so constant involvement in the lesson was expected from everyone. College classes are very different from those in high school, and sitting in on one can give you a good idea of what you can expect!

Scope out Student Activities and Performances

Whether it’s an opera or an art exhibition, student organizations are always showcasing their work on campus. If you happen to catch a student activity or performance, it can provide useful insight into which groups you might like to be a part of. Or, you may just want to join the many Northwestern students who attend these functions purely for entertainment! So far, I’ve loved watching our a cappella and theatre groups perform, but I look forward to going to many other shows soon. There’s always something happening on campus, and as your visit nears, take a look at our event calendar for anything that might interest you!

Experience Evanston restaurants

One of the best things about my campus visit to Northwestern was the lunch that I ate at Clarke’s, a diner known as “The Home of the Wildcats” located just off of campus in Downtown Evanston, our college-town. I’ve been back twice for their amazing blueberry pancakes since becoming a Northwestern student, and I see many more visits in my future!  Another student favorite is Andy’s, a spot that sells frozen custard, which as it turns out is even more delicious than ice cream. If it’s too cold for frozen custard, the French cafe Patisserie Coralie creates wonderful coffee drinks and hot chocolate perfect for a winter day. Of course, there are other fantastic Evanston restaurants frequented by NU students – but these three are my go-to’s!

There are plenty of ways to plan a fantastic visit to Northwestern, and no matter what, you’re bound to learn a lot by spending the day (or even just a few hours) on campus.  If you’re looking to come as close to the complete Northwestern experience as you can, I highly recommend adding some of these items to your itinerary – you can never have too much information, fun, or Wildcat spirit!

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