Disclaimer: This photo was taken in November 2019
A note to our prospective students from our director of undergraduate admission, Liz Kinsley:
We’ve just ended another Zoom gathering with our whole Admissions team—plus at least one dog, a cat, and two adorable toddlers by my count (these new teammates are among the silver linings of the stay-at-home settings we now find ourselves in)—and I thought I’d share how we’re thinking together about you as a prospective applicant to Northwestern in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic.
In our work, we often find ourselves saying to applicants: “if only we had a crystal ball…” Gosh, how I wish we had one right now. But we don’t, and in an environment like this, questions will proliferate much faster than answers. Still, we want to address some uncertainties you may have about the admissions process.
First, the campus visit:
Our on-campus programs are canceled through April 30, 2020, and it is very possible that cancelations will extend further. In the meantime, we will do our best to post updates and provide alternatives.
Since campus visits are never a given for prospective students (a reality that we always take into consideration when reviewing applications), we have lots of resources for those who can’t travel to Chicago but want to learn more about Northwestern. These include a virtual tour, YouTube Live sessions with campus community members, student-driven social media content, connections with our student teams, and our admissions website. We have also launched a series of live digital information sessions, which include time for Q&A. You can register for these online if you’d like to participate in the Q&A, or you can view this previously recorded session.
Next, how this will shape your curricular and extracurricular record:
We know schools are responding in various ways to the pandemic—remote courses, no courses, self-guided study, grades, no grades, pass/fail grades…you name it. And you may be worried about how this will reflect on your transcript. The good news is that our admission readers always strive to understand an applicant’s academic context before evaluating their academic record, so our process is built to weigh the diversity of circumstances you’re now experiencing. We always look to a high school’s own metrics for relative academic rigor and performance rather than imposing our own standards; therefore, however your school or district responds to this situation will suit our process just fine. Finally and most fundamentally, we seek out narratives in data points as a rule of practice: grades are never just letters or numbers, but a story of your path through high school. So this spring will become part of that story, and we’ll do our best to interpret it with understanding and compassion.
The same goes for your extracurricular commitments, which will no doubt change in nature as you stay at home. Many of your activities are on hold. Some of you may be caring for family members or even become ill yourselves. We will of course be mindful of the profound changes to daily life that everyone is experiencing as we review applications in the coming admissions cycles.
The same goes for standardized test scores:
We always view these in context. While we require an ACT or SAT score from all of our applicants, it is always the case that applicants across the globe experience variable access to testing centers, test-prep resources, high school curricula that correspond to test content, opportunities for re-testing, etc. So again, we are prepared for and committed to reviewing applications, including standardized test scores, fairly in light of the current pandemic.
We recognize that canceled test dates raise concern among students who have been hard at work preparing for them. But the College Board and ACT appear committed to providing future testing opportunities as soon as possible, including free statewide tests where applicable, and at this point there is still time for students to test before next year’s application deadlines. (Note that subject tests are optional in our application process, and rest assured that there is no “wink” implied by the term optional—you can take that word at face value.) We will of course be monitoring the situation closely and will provide additional guidance about standardized testing if necessary.
We realize Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests, certain national exams, and other external examinations will also be modified or canceled due to the pandemic. We do not require that applicants submit these exam results unless they comprise graduation requirements for your secondary school, and it is our understanding that schools will leverage predicted scores along with other measures to satisfy those ends. To the extent that AP and IB scores earn credit for our incoming students, our registrar’s office is working with academic departments to determine whether test modifications will affect our credit policies. Should any changes arise, we will do our best to share them as early as possible.
Ultimately, our goal is to be as reassuring and broad-minded as possible with respect to situations that continue to unfold in response to some very unpredictable circumstances. To the extent that your questions about the college process pertain to actions or items that are relatively far off (and in these conditions, even two or three weeks is relatively far off!) trust that there is plenty of time to sort things out, assess, reassess, respond, etc.
We know that in such an uncertain time, “we’ll have to watch and see” isn’t necessarily what you want to hear, but it’s the most honest answer we can currently provide in many of these cases. And above all, we feel we owe you candor and compassion—in any season, but especially now.
Be safe and healthy, and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. We may all be off-campus for the moment, but we’re still here to connect when you need us.