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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: 

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Application Deadline

Entrance Year Application Deadline
Fall 2024 December 15, 2023

Application Details

The application for fall 2025 admissions will open on Tuesday, September 10, 2024. Please check back in the fall for more information.

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 (Optional, recommended)

Applications to Northwestern University’s Learning Sciences and Computer Science PhD Program are GRE-optional but strongly recommended, meaning that applications submitted without scores will still be given full consideration. In all cases, we will evaluate traditional measures of academic success including undergraduate GPA, graduate GPA (if applicable), performance in courses requiring rigorous quantitative and qualitative reasoning, independent writing samples, and letters of recommendation. GRE scores when submitted will be considered along with these other measures.

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?

We like to use a lot of acronyms! Here are common ones you might encounter during the application process:  

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

What kind of academic system does Northwestern follow?

Northwestern follows a quarter system.

Can I request an individual visit?

Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate individual visits to campus due to a high volume of applicants. However, there is an option to do a self-guided campus tour or register for a guided campus visit with the Segal Visitors Center. We will plan your visit to campus as part of the last steps of the admissions process.

Can I connect or meet with a current student?

This is one of the ways to gain valuable insight about a current student’s experiences and perspectives in a program. It will depend on the student’s consent and availability to connect with you via email, Zoom or in-person.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.

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.

Application Questions

I’m not able to start a new application. What should I do?

The application typically resets and opens again in the fall of the following year. Please check back in September.

When will the application be available?

The application for fall 2024 admissions went live on September 14, 2023. You can start or continue your application here.

Where can I start an application?

All application materials should be uploaded and submitted electronically to The Graduate School’s online application. We do not accept physical documents.

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

Some applicants are unable to upload their resume because of unreadable Adobe fonts. If you are experiencing difficulty with uploading your materials, please get in touch with the Program Assistant for further support.

What are the deadlines for fall 2024 admissions?

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

When do the programs matriculate?

Applications will be for fall 2024 intake only.

Do I need a master’s degree to apply?

All three programs at SESP do not require a master’s degree for PhD admission. The Human Development and Social Policy program does have a reduced number of courses for students who enter with a Master’s degree.

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

Applicants should be the sole author. 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. We don’t require a specific number of pages or word count. Papers also do not need to be published. Longer writing samples can be accompanied with a cover letter noting the specific pages or sections for the admissions committee to focus on.

Is Professor _________ available or accepting students for this admission’s cycle?

Unlike other doctoral programs, students are admitted without an advisor and assigned a temporary advisor in their first year while they refine their research and academic goals. Students are permitted to change and finalize their advisor by the end of the first year. Faculty members listed as “core faculty” have the capacity to serve as advisors to PhD students.

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?

Students only need to upload and submit unofficial transcripts for their online application. Official transcripts from previous institutions are only required upon admittance and enrollment.

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.

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 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. Students in CS+LS can earn a CS Master’s degree.