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How to Apply

Please visit our FAQ section for additional information about the admissions process and application materials. If you do not see your question answered below, please contact:

Take the Next Step.

Learn how to design research that links policy and human development.

Application Deadline

Table describing Application deadlines
Entrance Year Application Deadline
Fall 2024 December 1, 2023

Application Details

Applications are accepted for fall quarter matriculation only. The fall 2024 application is no longer open and accepting applications. Please check back in fall 2024 for more information about fall 2025 admissions.

PhD Application Timeline

  • December

    Application Due

    Online application and materials due to The Graduate School

  • January

    Review Begins

    Admissions committee begins reviewing applications

  • February

    Interview Invitations

    Admissions committee issues interview invitations

  • March

    Decision Letters

    Admissions committee releases decision letters

  • April

    Offer Deadline

    Deadline for admitted candidates to accept the admissions offer

Application Requirements

The Graduate School’s Online Application

Applicants can start or continue their application here. All application documents must be uploaded and submitted electronically. We do not accept paper copies of application documents.

Two letters of recommendation

Upload a minimum of two letters, three is the maximum.

Personal statement

Write a statement in response to this prompt (500-word max).

Academic statement

Write a statement in response to the following questions (1000-word max).


Upload your resumé/curriculum vitae (CV) to the online application.

Writing sample

Upload a writing sample to the online application

Post-secondary unofficial transcripts

Only unofficial transcripts need to be uploaded in the online application.  

$95 application fee (non-refundable)

Fee waivers remain available for domestic applicants on a rolling basis. More information about eligibility and criteria here. Please check back in fall 2024 for the status of fee waivers for international applicants.

Additional Requirements

English Proficiency Scores (International Applicants Only)

Applicants will get the English Proficiency test requirement for TOEFL or IELTS automatically waived if an undergraduate or graduate degree was earned from an institution that instructs primarily in English.

The TGS's school code for TOEFL is 1565. Click here for more information about TOEFL scores.

GRE Scores (Not Required)

The program does not use or accept GRE scores as part of the admissions process. Submitted scores will not be reviewed or considered.

Have Questions?

Get in touch with us or attend an upcoming information session.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What do all these acronyms (NU, SESP, TGS, HDSP, LS, CS + LS) mean?

These are common acronyms you might encounter during the application process:

  • NU: Northwestern University
  • SESP: School of Education and Social Policy (SES · p)
  • TGS: The Graduate School
  • HDSP: Human Development and Social Policy (HUD · sep)
  • LS: Learning Sciences
  • CS + LS: Computer Science + Learning Sciences

What type of academic system does Northwestern use?

Northwestern uses a quarter system. 

Can I request an individual visit?

While the program’s departments do not have the capacity to accommodate individual visitations or tours, prospective applicants are welcome to do a self-guided campus tour or register for a guided campus visit with the Segal Visitor Center. In the last steps of the admission process, admitted candidates will be invited to visit the campus in the spring.

Can I connect or meet with a current student?

You can connect with a current student based on their consent and availability. You can reach out to a student directly using their emails on the website or share your research interests/areas with the Program Assistant to get in touch with a current student from there. You can also find students who share your research interests by looking at the program’s faculty labs and research groups.

I thought the programs were offered under SESP. Why is the application showing that I’m applying to The Graduate School (TGS)?

This is very confusing! While the faculty and the courses are in the School of Education and Social Policy, all Northwestern Doctoral Programs are administered under the umbrella of The Graduate School. This allows for more centralized and consistent processes around admissions, and policies like funding and curriculum. As a SESP/TGS student you’ll have access to resources and support from both SESP and TGS.

Applications Questions

I’m not able to start or continue an application.

The application resets annually and will open again in the fall of the following year. Please check back in September.

When will the application be available?

All application materials should be uploaded and submitted electronically to The Graduate School’s online application. Paper or physical documents should not be mailed or emailed to the School of Education and Social Policy or the Graduate School.

I’m not able to submit or upload my documents. What should I do?

If you are having trouble with uploading the materials, please get in touch with the Program Assistant or Director of Faculty Services and Doctoral Student Affairs for further support.

What are the deadlines for fall 2024 admissions?

We are no longer accepting applications for fall 2024 admissions. Fall 2025 application deadlines will be shared when available.

Human Development and Social Policy: Friday, December 1, 2023.

Learning Sciences: Friday, December 15th, 2023.

Computer Science and Learning Sciences: Friday, December 15th, 2023.

When do the programs matriculate?

Applications matriculate for fall quarter only. 

Do I need a master’s degree to apply?

The doctoral programs at SESP do not require a master’s degree for PhD admission. The minimum requirement is an undergraduate degree. To check an international degree’s equivalency, please visit this page. Students may have a reduced number of courses if they are entering the program with a previous master’s degree.

What does the admissions committee look for in the writing sample?

Applicants should be the sole author of the writing sample. Former applicants have used their undergraduate or master’s theses, published papers, policy reports, class papers, etc. from previous application cycles for the writing sample component. The admissions committee does not require a specific number of pages or word count. Papers also do not need to be published. Longer writing samples can be accompanied by a cover letter with specific pages or sections for the admissions committee to focus on.

Is Professor _________ accepting students in this admission’s cycle? Do I need to identify or secure an advisor during the application process?

Contrary to other programs, your eligibility to apply is not dependent on a particular advisor’s availability or research lab openings. Prospective applicants are admitted without an advisor and assigned a temporary faculty advisor during the first year. As you refine your research and academic goals, you can continue your PhD candidacy with the same advisor or finalize a different advisor by the end of the first year.

Do I need to identify or secure an advisor during the application process?

If there are specific faculty members you’d like to work with, you may identify them on your online application and/or in your academic statement. Applicants are encouraged to identify between 1-3 faculty members.

Should I contact a faculty member before applying?

We encourage you to reach out to faculty who align with your research interest. Keep in mind, they may be receiving many queries so it may take them a little while to connect with you. Please feel free to send a follow up note if you don’t hear back. Applicants are not required to contact faculty members as part of our admissions process. Please note that your application will not be impacted if you don’t reach out or you don’t hear back from a faculty member. However, it will strengthen your application to have identified 1-3 faculty members who align with your research interests.

What kinds of transcripts should be uploaded?

The online application only requires the upload of unofficial transcripts from all postsecondary institutions. Official transcripts are only required upon admittance and enrollment in the program.

Is there a preference for the letters of recommendation?

The admissions committee will accept academic and professional references. It is strongly advised that at least one of the letters comes from someone who can speak to your academic/research competencies.

I studied or majored in _______. Can I still apply?

We don’t require or prioritize specific areas of study. Students have entered the programs with a range of backgrounds and disciplines. Some students have joined us from academia/research or professional experiences gained in areas such as education, economics, public policy, psychology, sociology, etc.

I don’t have an extensive research background and/or I’m coming in with more professional experience. Am I qualified to apply?

Absolutely, we encourage you to apply even if you don’t have an extensive research or methodological background. We value the professional experiences that applicants bring into the program. We believe these experiences can help inform the admissions committee about why you decided to pursue doctoral studies at SESP and/or how they may have shaped or concretized your research interests. Students will receive methods training through coursework and have access to additional support and training through the university’s resources.

Program Questions

Can I apply to more than one PhD program?

You can only apply to one PhD/TGS program per academic year. Additional applications will not be reviewed, and application fees will not be refunded.

Which programs have STEM OPT eligibility?

The Computer Science + Learning Sciences is the only PhD program eligible for STEM OPT extension as of October 2023 at SESP. Human Development and Social Policy and the Learning Sciences programs currently do not have a STEM-designation status. Their statuses may be subject to change in the future.

What is the lecturer-to-student ratio?

PhD classes can range from 4-20 students per class, with most classes averaging about 10 students.

Can I transfer credits from an external institution?

Course substitutions will vary for each student and depend on the permission of the program coordinator and the faculty advisor. Typically, students are unable to waive core courses.

Can I earn a master's degree en route to a PhD?

Yes, this is possible. Some students will earn a Master’s in Statistics during their time in the program (due to several cross-listed courses with the Statistics department) but this is not a program requirement for students. Students can earn certificates as well during their PhD candidacy. Students in the HDSP program can earn a HDSP Master’s after completion of the Trial Research.