Should I Go To Northwestern University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Caroline is a Chicago tutor specializing in several subjects including History tutoring, AP English tutoring, ACT prep tutoringSAT prep tutoring and more. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Theatre. Check out her review of her alma mater:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Caroline: I attended Northwestern University, a medium-sized liberal arts college in a cute suburban town called Evanston, just outside of Chicago. I walked everywhere on campus although my school did offer free shuttle services and many of my friends had bikes. I always felt very safe on campus, although I still made sure to stay alert and aware, especially when walking around at night. My school provided a free “safe ride” taxi service that was incredibly helpful for getting around at night in the comfort and safety of a car. I didn’t know much about the service until my junior and senior year, but it was definitely something I wish I had taken advantage of earlier. All in all, transportation was never a huge concern for me, although I did make sure to invest in a good pair of snow boots to help me stay warm while walking around in the freezing Chicago winters.  

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Caroline: My professors and TA held office hours at least once a week, and usually offered extended hours before a big essay or test. While my high school teachers knew me individually, I didn’t always get a chance to know my college professors one-on-one because I seldom visited a professor or TA during office hours if I didn’t have a specific question. I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities to make connections with my favorite professors, just to talk more in-depth about the subject matter. Opportunities to make personal connections with professors are there, but students definitely need to do some legwork to take advantage of them.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Caroline: Before I went to college, the thing I was most nervous about was meeting my roommate. It’s incredibly scary to live with a stranger in a place where you don’t know anyone. I got very lucky with my dorm life. Although my roommate and I weren’t particularly similar, we got along really well. I enjoyed that we had different majors, interests, and friend groups; we always had stories to tell one another and we also had time apart during the day. I never felt pressure to be best friends with her, and I think that took away a lot of potential strain on our friendship. I lived on the smallest floor of a big dorm. There were only 16 of us living on the floor so we all got very close – it felt like a wacky family with lots of weird aunts and uncles.

There were several dining options all over campus and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food. I was lucky enough to live in a dorm with a dining hall attached to it, so I could go to breakfast in my pajamas. After freshman year, I tended to eat my meals in the student center, which provided many a la carte options and a bit more culinary diversity than the dining halls.

My philosophy when I first got to school was to be super nice and friendly to everybody. While the students in my orientation group didn’t turn out to be my best friends, they were great people to attend Welcome Week events with. 

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Caroline: Northwestern offers a wide variety of majors and programs of study – from Bioengineering to Piano. I took advantage of the variety of options and double majored in Theatre and History. I first enrolled in the School of Communications with Theatre as my primary major. I adored the performance-focused nature of my Theatre major, which meant I was learning practical skills about putting on theatre. However, I also wanted a more academic-focus to my college experience. I adored the first history class I took at Northwestern and declared History as my second major halfway through my freshman year. My History major allowed me to experience the big lecture halls, lively discussion sessions, and challenging paper topics that seem so linked to a college experience. The Theatre community could be a little, well, dramatic and it was nice to get a break from that specific community for a couple of hours each week.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Caroline: Making new friends is a very scary part of attending college and it’s a process that takes some time. The good thing is everyone feels a bit nervous about making friends at first so people are extra friendly. My first real group of friends was the people who lived on the floor of my dorm – a few of those have become life-long friends I still hang out with today. Over the course of my four years, I developed new friend groups, which continued to grow and change right up to graduation and beyond. I found it was easier to meet new people through activities rather than classes. Theatre is a great way to meet people and non-Theatre majors are always welcome to help with productions! While Greek life was not something that I was interested in pursuing, many of my friends had fantastic experiences in the Greek community. At any stage of life, meeting new people and maintaining friendships takes work. Thankfully, college provides plenty of excuses to hang out with people (study sessions, acapella shows, play rehearsals, running errands) and the relatively small size of a college campus means everyone lives just a few minutes away.  

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Caroline: The Career Center is another service that requires a bit of legwork from students. Unlike in high school, when I was required to schedule visits with my school counselor, the Career Center is an optional service students must seek out. I wish I had taken advantage of the Center earlier in my college career, but they did prove very helpful the few times I visited in my senior year to get advice on my resume and job applications. I’ve been out of school for over a year, but I still have access to the online Career Catalogue which regularly updates with job postings – in fact, that’s how I found my job with Varsity Tutors!

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Caroline: I’ve found that everyone has a different opinion when it comes to the best place to study. Some of my friends swore by the silent atmosphere of the library, others preferred to get off campus for a bit and visit a local coffee shop. I mostly studied in the Norris Student Center, which provided a little more background noise than the library, but was also quiet enough to focus. The Starbucks kiosk offered a much-needed caffeine source for late night study sessions, and when I wanted a study break, I could always find a friend or two nearby to chat with.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Caroline: Evanston is a charming suburban town with a downtown shopping and dining center just south of Northwestern’s campus. As a freshman, Evanston felt like a huge bustling metropolis I would never be able to navigate. After a few months, however, I was an Evanston-pro. Evanston is the perfect place to visit on an empty stomach because of the town’s huge array of restaurants (The Celtic Knot was a favorite of mine). It also offers several convenience stores and grocery stores so I never had to travel far to stock up on supplies and it was easy to get to Evanston in between classes to run errands or grab food.

Northwestern’s campus is located just off of Lake Michigan so we also had beautiful lakefront trails. The lake is one of Northwestern’s most unique features, and I loved sitting in the grass and looking out over the water while studying or reading for class.

Downtown Chicago is about an hour away from Northwestern’s campus by public transportation. I visited the city a couple of times a month, although that was a fairly high amount for the average student. While Evanston felt like an extension of campus life, Chicago was just removed enough that many students chose not to take advantage of the city. I’m very glad I gave myself the extra push to see theatre, visit museums, and hang out in the beautiful parks downtown. 

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Caroline: Northwestern has about 8,000 undergraduate students and I had classes of all different sizes – from hundred-person lecture classes on Astronomy and Sociology, to seven-person English classes. Almost all of my Theatre classes were limited to no more than 20 students, which was an ideal size for a discussion and performance based class. I’m the kind of person who loves large lecture classes; I adore sitting in the back of the room and furiously scribbling notes. The nice thing about Northwestern is that there are lots of options of class sizes and those class sizes are clearly marked during registration, so students can make choices about what kind and size of classes they want to take.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Caroline: My senior year, I directed a full-length play called The History Boys. Since I was enrolled in an American History class at the time, I asked the professor if I could send out a short email to advertise the show to a class full of people interested in history. Not only did my professor let me email the class, he took time out of one of our lectures to tell everyone about the production, and then he and my TA came to see the show together! The next week, he even spent a little bit of time talking about the play’s themes and how they related to what we had been studying. Northwestern gave me an opportunity to combine my love for theatre and history, and it was so rewarding to see a History professor moved by a piece of theatre I had created. This really speaks to the passionate professors at Northwestern that I was lucky enough to learn from over my four years at school.

Check out Caroline’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.