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.

27 thoughts on “Some Reassurance Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic”

  1. Hello! Thank you so much for this update and the virtual opportunities that you have provided. I am a high school junior looking forward to applying to Northwestern next school year. I was reading through your article and saw that you require an SAT or ACT score in our application. Unfortunately, I have not been able to take either test so far because I have been preparing for them throughout the school year. Does Northwestern plan to go test-optional or will you wait and see how the College Board and ACT update the exams so that students may have an opportunity to take them during the coronavirus pandemic? Thank you!

  2. It is so relieving to see how Northwestern is responding to this unprecedented crisis in such a calm and well-informed way, especially when everyone involved in this admission process is still in panic. Glad and proud to say that I am looking into such a great community! 🙂

  3. For extracurriculars and grades, do perspective students need to specify what activities got canceled/postponed with specifics, or will admissions officers assume that we didn’t just drop out of our favorite activities?

  4. Is northwestern at all looking at the prospect of being test optional for the 2021 class? I have seen a lot of schools going in this direction.

  5. Thank you for spelling things out so clearly. As a college counselor, I will be sharing with my students and families so they will feel reassured amidst all this uncertainty.

  6. Hi! I am glad to see this update. I am a 11th grade IB student studying in an international school, and I am currently staying at home and having online courses. As the specifics of exams are not confirmed yet, I would like to know how will Northwestern view IB scores? Thanks!

  7. Hello, I’m a current junior and prospective student. When applying to Northwestern, how will we list extracurriculars that we were unable to participate in during our second semester/summer vacation because of COVID-19? And will a greater focus be put on first semester transcripts when reviewing our application? (Thank you for all of the clarification during this confusing time!)

  8. Hello! Thank you so much for the update. I am a high school junior looking forward to applying to Northwestern in 2021. You blog helped answer some of my questions.

  9. Thank you for this reassuring message during these uncertain times. I am planning on applying to Northwestern in the fall of 2021, and I have not yet taken any standardized tests. What would be the latest time possible to take an SAT or ACT and still submit the application on time? Will the application deadlines be extended in any way to accommodate the current situation? I appreciate Northwestern’s efforts to relieve our stress, and I look forward to applying next year!

  10. Thanks for your comments and questions. For those who posted follow-up questions about testing: We continue to require that applicants submit either an ACT or SAT score. 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. Our Early Decision (ED) deadline remains Nov. 1, and our Regular Decision (RD) deadline remains Jan. 2. The latest test dates for those deadlines currently stand at October for ED and December for RD, which are based on prior years’ College Board and ACT test schedules and score turnaround times. We will of course be monitoring the situation closely and will provide additional guidance about standardized testing if necessary.

    @Peter and @Shai re: activities, we understand that many of your most meaningful extracurricular commitments have been suspended this spring due to the pandemic. When you begin to work on applications later in the summer and into the fall, do your best to characterize your involvement as a whole over the course of high school. Feel free to note any specifics about this spring that might help fill in the big picture, but don’t feel obligated to report every instance where something was on hold during a stay-at-home order.

    1. Thank you for providing the honest information that we don’t know, but also we have hope for normalcy to return. My dream has been to go to Northwestern forever, and I appreciate the openness and reassurance you have provided. I look forward to applying soon.

    2. I have a questions concerning the recent offer of deferment for current students. If those students are deferring to next year, won’t this mean ultimately fewer applicants are admitted as the freshman and sophomore cohorts may be too large?

  11. I appreciate this blog as it will help many of us who are looking forward to applying to Northwestern in the fall. As a current High School Junior, the pandemic has caused alot of stress and uncertainty. It is reassuring to know that you are open-minded and working on innovative ways to review applicants. I am still hopeful that I will be able to attend my scheduled summer program on the Northwestern campus to see the community first hand. Thank you for the information.

  12. Hello. I’m a current high school junior and Northwestern is one of the schools that I’m interested in applying to in the fall. I appreciate all the updates regarding how applicants will be reviewed during this covid 19 situation. Your blog has answered a lot of the qs I had. Thanks for all the clarification and I look forward to applying in the fall!

  13. Thank you for the update. I found it most helpful and reassuring to know that Northwestern is committed to being mindful of the COVID 19 context while reviewing applications. I am a grade 11 student and am looking forward to joining Northwestern in the fall of 2021. Given the multiple SAT and Subject SAT test date cancellations it is likely that some of us will not be able to take the subject SAT unless the COVID 19 situation improves soon. Is Northwestern contemplating dropping the subject SAT requirement altogether rather than making it optional? Thank you again.

    1. Hi Arushi,

      Thanks for your message. We are closely following updates from the SAT and ACT and continue to assess how recent cancellations and registration hurdles due to covid-19 may affect our prospective applicants. For now, it is important to note that students who apply Early Decision can test as late as November 7; they will need to submit their other application materials by our November 1 deadline, but they can self-report November scores for our review as soon as they become available.

      We recognize that cancellations have limited students’ ability to test multiple times, and in many cases have disrupted study schedules. As I say above, we will continue to review scores in context, as we always have, keeping in mind the unprecedented events of recent months.

      Again, we continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide additional guidance about standardized testing as circumstances develop.

  14. I was able to visit campus with my dad, who is an alumni, and my mom back in the fall. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, especially when I got to play basketball in the Sports Pavillon and talk to some entrepreneurs in the Garage. I wanted to know if attending a virtual tour would provide me with more information than what I learned back in October? I don’t want to miss any opportunities. I also appreciate you being so reassuring and helpful regarding what the application process will and could look like in the midst of the pandemic. I am very excited to send in my application! I’m a diehard Wildcat!

    1. Hi Brett,

      If you visited campus and took a tour, then the live-shot online tour may not offer much additional insight. (Although we think each of our guides brings their own flair to the tour!) We will have live Q&A with the tour guide every time we premiere a new tour, so you may learn something new in that forum. And our regularly-scheduled online student panels also may give some new, candid insights. But if you were able to visit campus, then I’m sure you got plenty of terrific information along with a sense of the intangibles that make Northwestern special.

  15. Thank you for providing the honest information that we don’t know, but also we have hope for normalcy to return.

  16. Hi I am Anushka Dogra, I am a rising senior from Northern Public High school, MI. I am interested in the Honors Program in Medical Education (Aka BSMD) Progam. I was looking if there is any virtual session available to understand the program or connect with an Admission counselor to understand the admission process.
    Thanks,
    Anushka

  17. Are we able to walk through campus (even though tours are cancelled) to get a feel for it?

    1. Hi Amy,

      Yes, walking through campus is an option right now. Evanston does require that folks wear masks when they aren’t able to maintain six feet of distance, so you’d want to be sure to bring one. But there is a lot of space to walk around, and you could pull up our virtual tour on your phone to guide you along the way: youvisit.com/tour/northwestern.

  18. Hello!
    As for HPME applicants, with our limited ability to take tests like SAT/ACT and SAT Subject tests, what would we then submit for the Application Request given that we need a sufficient amount of data scores to show our competence. Please provide examples of what we should be placing into the application request given current circumstances.

    1. Hi Mimi,

      The HPME Application Request Form is due in early December, which should allow for August, September, October, and November tests dates. This year, students will be able to submit the preliminary Application Request Form without subject test scores, although subject tests will ultimately be required should you be invited to apply.

  19. HI!

    As a prospective student, i have a question on when there will be a return to in person campus tours,and if there isn’t a specific date in mind, is there a general idea as to when they might be? I was supposed to tour in march, but obviously that didn’t happen, and while the virtual tours, information panels as well as my regions admissions officer have all been super helpful, I still really want to come and see the school.

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