Illinois College Road Trip: Northwestern University

Starting the winter of his freshman year, Matthew Xu would travel from Northwestern University‘s campus in Evanston, Illinois, to Chicago several times a week to work in a research lab affiliated with Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

There, the 2018 grad from Portland, Oregon, who completed the school’s integrated science program, examined potential ways to regulate a gene that is associated with the severity of cystic fibrosis alongside a faculty member and a graduate student mentor.

“My professor would advise me,” he says, “but I was getting to really dictate the scope of my research” and “where I wanted to take my questions.”

Northwestern offers a wide range of hands-on learning opportunities for its 8,100-plus full-time undergrads, from cutting-edge research across disciplines to internships, which about 80 percent of students complete before they graduate.

[Read: Understand the Differences Between a Co-op, Internship. ]

Undergrads can enroll in nine of the university’s schools and choose from about 100 majors and 90 minors and certificate programs. More than 12,000 graduate and professional students also attend.

Each school has its own set of graduation requirements, and many encourage experiential learning. Lyndsey Armacost, a 2018 grad in journalism and history from North Reading, Massachusetts, interned at NBC Sports covering the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In the engineering school, first-year students take a course in which teams of students partner with local organizations to help them solve real-world challenges.

Betty Bu, who is completing a joint biomedical engineering bachelor’s and master’s program, worked with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to create a camera accessory to help an aspiring photographer who’d lost the ability to move part of his body.

In addition to sharpening her math and science skills, Bu, a Chicago native, appreciated how the work helped her learn “how to connect with the humans that are actually using the product.”

Academics can be rigorous, students say, but the environment is “not cutthroat to the point where you’re going to fail no matter how hard you work,” says Carolyne Guo, a 2018 grad in chemistry and economics from Niskayuna, New York. Plus, first-year students are set up with a faculty adviser, a peer adviser and other support.

[Read: Identify Success Programs at Your Top-Choice College .]

More than three-quarters of classes enroll fewer than 20 undergrads, and students say that professors, even in larger courses, are generally accessible.

Northwestern’s 240-acre campus on the western shore of Lake Michigan boasts scenic views of the Chicago skyline on a clear day. The city is reachable by train, bus and a free shuttle.

Downtown Evanston, just a few blocks away, is also home to many restaurants, cafes and shops. Undergrads often hang out or do homework on the lawn by the lake or rent a boat from the school’s sailing center.

Students frequently paint the large rocks that line the lakefront with elaborate designs and messages. Each spring, people gather there for Dillo Day, a music festival with food and other activities.

Students who live on campus can choose to live in one of 10 residential colleges or four residential communities, each with dedicated professors, staff and graduate students who plan activities, such as fireside chats with esteemed faculty and excursions for students.

[Read: When Living on Campus Could Save You Money.]

Some residential colleges have subject themes that steer the programming — international studies, for example, or science and engineering. Residential communities also have live-in faculty.

More than 2 in 5 undergrads are affiliated with a Greek organization, involvement that is often “supplementary to everything else they’re doing,” says Armacost, who was president of her sorority, Alpha Phi.

As a producer and sports director for the university’s sports broadcasting television program, she covered the Division I Wildcats, who compete in the Big Ten Conference. With 500-plus student organizations and activities, “there are so many different pockets and communities at Northwestern that you can participate in,” she says.

More From the Illinois College Road Trip:

University of Chicago

University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

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