What is it Like to Attend Northwestern College?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Heidi received her Bachelor’s degree in Theatre from Northwestern College. She is currently an online tutor specializing in ESL/ELL tutoring, public speaking tutoring, and writing tutoring, among other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Northwestern College:

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

Heidi: The campus of Northwestern College is immaculate, safe, and easily walkable. I had a car my last two years on campus, but I rarely used it. Northwestern College keeps all of its facilities in excellent condition – I think it's part of the town's Dutch heritage. They built a brand new Theatre building while I was there, complete with a black box and proscenium performance space, classrooms, costume shop, set shop, and all the technical bells and whistles. It was a dream come true for a Theatre major, especially knowing how hard proponents of the arts have to work to be recognized and supported at many educational institutions.

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

Heidi: Most of my classes had less than 30 students, which allowed for lots of interactive learning in the classroom. I respected all of my professors, but some I got to know so well that I keep in touch with them and still visit whenever I'm in town – and it's been 11 years! They are some of my most valued mentors and friends. While I was at Northwestern College, I took advantage of the science tutoring center for my Chemistry classes (which was extremely helpful), and I worked as a tutor for the Philosophy department (which I'm told was also very helpful). My academic adviser worked with me when I wanted to add a handful of pre-nursing courses to my class list. And when I requested an inventive independent study on cross-cultural Theatre communication, she helped me make it happen.

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

Heidi: Nothing is far from anything else, though sometimes it feels that way in the dead of winter when you have to walk 200 meters through the frozen tundra to the warm cafeteria. I loved campus life. I lived in a different spot each of my four years, mainly because I like to vary the context of my memories. Two of those years were in large dormitories (one of the roommates I had during that time is still one of my dearest friends), one year was in a theme house (where 10 women made it a goal to live in a Christian community), and one was in an on-campus apartment (which I hardly saw because I was so busy with Theatre projects at the time). There are all kinds of activities available during the year that give students a chance to bond with the people who live around them and get to know others on campus as well. I remember eating spaghetti off a plastic tarp without silverware, playing football in the dark in four feet of snow, and wandering the crazily-decorated halls of the other dorms during their events. Quite a bit of my socializing centered around the people involved in Theatre (since it was my major and the biggest time investment of my college experience). I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other students on the team I joined for a 10-day service project to Honduras, being part of the International Club, and learning about spiritual disciplines and community through the deep friendships I formed during my year in the theme house.

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?

Heidi: The most popular majors are Business, Elementary Education, Biology, Nursing, and Psychology. Nursing was added after I was there. I ended up earning a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing at the University of Buffalo a few years later. At Northwestern College, I studied Theatre. I loved Theatre too much to major in anything else. Of all the schools I considered, Northwestern College was the only one where the professors gave me the impression that they believed students could be excellent at their art. Northwestern College's Theatre department is beloved by the community, well supported by the administration, and effective in its mission to train well-rounded artists. They're big on ensemble, big on making a safe place for students to take artistic risks, and big on stretching comfort zones amid extravagant encouragement. I got to be part of some phenomenal, ground-breaking productions while I was there – and I learned how to focus lights, design sets, apply realistic stage-makeup wounds, wrangle thousands of audience members, and grow as an actor. I also loved that Northwestern College, in support of a broad liberal arts education, required a wide range of general education courses. I always wanted to sign up for three times as many courses as my schedule would allow.

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?

Heidi: My first semester as a freshman was hard. I tried to do all of the same activities I had done in high school, read every page of my homework assignments, take on a job, and ignore my body's reasonable sleep cravings. Slowly, I learned to be more frugal with my time, got to know my incredibly wonderful roommate, and allowed myself to be embraced by the delightful upperclassmen who knew how to stretch me with really insightful questions. Northwestern College doesn't do Greek, except as a language class. However, they offer heaps of other opportunities to make friends. And even though it is a semi-isolated location in the middle of the Midwest, there is a refreshingly wide variety of cultures, personalities, and interests represented on campus. It isn't hard to make friends there.

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

Heidi: The Career Center did a free Myers-Briggs personality test for me, which was quite interesting. There is always someone available to help with career guidance, though I didn't ask for much. I didn't pay attention to companies recruiting on campus, but they may have been there. One of the professors (who knew I was interested in such things) actually called me at the end of my senior year to offer me a job teaching English at our sister school in Japan for two years, and I immediately accepted. The Theatre department always sends a group of students to the annual American College Theater Festival, which means a huge range of networking opportunities for the theatrically-minded. On theatre tour with Northwestern College, I also got to attend the Christians in Theatre Arts conference twice, which was an effective way to search for jobs within the industry as well. This year, a group of Northwestern College Theatre students and professors went to Chicago for a few days to see productions and talk with Northwestern College alumni who were directing and performing in the city. I imagine that was an informative adventure.

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

Heidi: I almost always studied in my room – boring, perhaps, but it worked for me. The library has just been remodeled (and renamed), and it was designed to maximize individual and group study space. The student union has been remodeled since I was there as well. It's very open and full of light and convenient meeting spots. Nothing on campus is overcrowded or hard to access.

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? 

Heidi: Orange City is a quaint, historically Dutch town in the Northwestern corner of Iowa. It is small, but not as small as the little town I grew up in in Kansas! There are a handful of restaurants, some bookshops, a coffee shop and bakery, a lovely park, a movie theatre, at least 10 churches, and enough shopping choices available to satisfy most basic student needs (unless you like sushi). Every spring there is a big tulip festival that takes over the main downtown area right after Northwestern College's graduation. True to form, the city does have breathtaking tulip gardens all over – a welcome sight after the typically long, cold winters. If you're a big city person, you can jet off to Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Omaha, or even Chicago for a change of pace and a taste of sushi. I love small towns, and I never missed the lack of nightlife, mall shopping, or, you guessed it, sushi. Driving into Orange City for visits years later, it always feels like coming back to another one of my homes.

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

Heidi: Northwestern College's student body is about 1,200. I used to recognize almost everyone I passed on my way to classes, but I certainly didn't know all their names. My biggest class size was about 50, and the smallest was six (if you don't count independent study). Typically, class sizes were between 15 and 30. For me, this was just right – big enough to offer some discussion variety and competitive incentive, but small enough to allow for questions, explanations, and active participation.

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

Heidi: I had never directed a play before. Not really. As a person who holds in disproportionately high esteem those in any kind of authority, I was intimidated at the prospect of being "The Director." But I was in Directing class, and it was part of my major, so the experience was inevitable. I chose Neil Simon's cleverly hilarious masterpiece, "Visitor From Forest Hills." Over the course of the semester, with the well-placed guidance of my professor and the creative genius of my four-person cast, I managed to successfully locate and strengthen my directing muscles. In fact, when the show was performed for my final exam at midnight as the last in a series of 30 of my classmates' one-act plays, it received an enthusiastic standing ovation from a very appreciative audience. What a rush! I felt like I had learned in the best way possible – theoretically, practically, communally, and with a chance to enrich the lives of others through the product of my study.

Check out Heidi’s tutoring profile.

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