How to Ace Your Northwestern University Alumni Interview–With Sample Questions

Learn how to nail your Northwestern University alumni interview with our expert tips and sample questions.

Posted February 14, 2024

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The Northwestern University alumni interview is a crucial part of the admissions process. Understanding its purpose and knowing what the university looks for in candidates can significantly enhance your chances of success. In this article, we will guide you through the process of preparing for and conducting the interview, as well as navigating difficult questions. We will also provide post-interview etiquette tips to help you leave a lasting impression. So, let's dive in and learn how to ace your Northwestern University alumni interview!

The Purpose of the Alumni Interview

Northwestern University relies on its alumni to conduct interviews to gain deeper insights into prospective students. These interviews serve as an opportunity to go beyond the application and learn more about you as an individual. The alumni interview plays a crucial role in shaping the admissions decision and bringing your application to life.

The interview allows you to showcase your personality, passions, and potential contributions to the Northwestern community. It is a chance to make a lasting impression and demonstrate why you are a perfect fit for the university.

The Role of the Interview in the Admissions Process

The alumni interview provides a personal touch to the admissions process. It allows the university to assess your fit within their community, determine your potential contributions, and validate the information provided in your application. It also helps Northwestern measure your genuine interest in the institution and the extent to which you align with its values and objectives.

During the interview, alumni will delve deeper into your experiences, interests, and aspirations. They will ask thought-provoking questions to gauge your intellectual curiosity, problem-solving skills, and ability to think critically. It is an opportunity for you to showcase your unique perspective and demonstrate your readiness for the challenges Northwestern offers.

These schools care about yield. They want to let people in who really want to go there and will accept the offer of admission if extended. In your interview, it's absolutely imperative that you demonstrate this. Show that you are committed to the school and will be a good cultural fit.

What Northwestern University Looks for in Candidates

Northwestern University seeks candidates who not only demonstrate academic excellence but also exhibit intellectual curiosity, leadership potential, and a strong commitment to both personal and community growth. During the interview, the alum will evaluate your ability to articulate your interests, passions, and goals while highlighting the attributes that align with the university's values.

It is important to remember that Northwestern values diversity and seeks students who will contribute to the vibrant and inclusive campus community. The interview provides an opportunity for you to showcase your unique background, experiences, and perspectives. The university wants to see how you can enrich the Northwestern community and make a positive impact on campus.

At the end of the day, the university wants candidates who will make the school a better place. This can be conveyed in a number of ways and should align with your personal narrative and aspirations. A coach can be hugely beneficial in helping you figure out this story and how to convey it to the admissions committee and interviewers.

How to Prepare for Your Northwestern Interview

Preparing for your Northwestern University alumni interview involves thorough research, introspection, and practice. By investing time and effort into this preparation, you can confidently showcase your potential as a Northwestern candidate. Let's walk through some of the things you should do to get ready.

1. Research the school

Before your interview, familiarize yourself with Northwestern University's mission, academic programs, and extracurricular offerings. Understand its unique culture and values to ensure your responses align with the institution's ethos. This research will lend credibility to your interest and allow for meaningful discussions during the interview.

When researching Northwestern, explore the university's core values, such as intellectual curiosity, diversity, and social responsibility. Consider how these values resonate with your own beliefs and experiences (and plans!). By understanding and embracing Northwestern's values, you can demonstrate your alignment with the university's mission and contribute to its vibrant community.

Here are some sources you can use for your research:

Explore the University Website

  • Visit Northwestern University's official website.
  • Navigate through sections such as "About Us," "Mission & Values," and "Our Community."

The university website is a primary source of official information about Northwestern University. By navigating through sections such as "About Us," "Mission & Values," and "Our Community," students gain direct insight into the institution's stated values and ethos. This helps students form an understanding of what Northwestern values, which they can then align with their interview responses.

For example, on its home page, the school lists explicitly "Explore what makes us Northwestern." Listed are several important values to pay attention to: Diversity & Inclusion, Powerful Collaborations, Global Engagement, and High-Impact Research. Check out this video to learn more.

Review the Mission Statements

  • Locate the university's mission statement.
  • Pay close attention to keywords and phrases that emphasize core values.

Mission statements often encapsulate an organization's core values and guiding principles. By carefully examining Northwestern University's mission or vision statement, students can pinpoint keywords and phrases that signify the institution's values. Understanding these values enables students to tailor their interview responses to resonate with Northwestern's mission.

Read Institutional Documents

  • Look for reports, strategic plans, or institutional documents from Northwestern.
  • Scan through these documents to identify recurring themes or principles.

Explore Social Media Channels

  • Follow Northwestern University's official social media accounts on platforms like X, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Observe the types of content shared and the messaging used to understand the university's values.

Social media provides a dynamic platform where universities showcase their culture, values, and community engagement. By following Northwestern University's official accounts, students can observe firsthand how the institution communicates its values to a wider audience. This insight allows students to align their interview responses with the tone and messaging prevalent in Northwestern's online presence.

Connect With Current Students and Alumni

  • Reach out to current students or alumni of Northwestern University through social media or alumni networks.
  • Ask about their experiences, what they enjoyed about the school, what resources they leveraged, etc.

Before your interview, this is something we highly recommend you do. Not only will it give you great advice, but it will show your commitment and give you great things to talk about with your interviewer.

Once you've done this research, take some time to think about how the school's values, programs and offerings, extracurriculars, community, and opportunities align with your beliefs and aspirations. Your answers in the interview should show a deep understanding of the school's unique features, but also be personalized to your goals and needs.

2. List your academic and extracurricular activities and accomplishments

Take time to reflect on your academic journey and extracurricular involvements. Consider how these experiences have shaped your goals and aspirations. Then, identify compelling anecdotes that demonstrate your growth, challenges overcome, and lessons learned as this will help you craft impactful responses during the interview.

Here are some brainstorming prompts to guide your reflections:


  • Reflect on standout moments in your academic career. Were there specific classes or subjects that particularly inspired you?
  • Think about any academic challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
  • Consider how your academic experiences have shaped your academic goals and aspirations for the future.


  • Recall your involvement in extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, or community service.
  • Reflect on instances where you demonstrated leadership skills or contributed to a team effort.
  • Consider how your extracurricular activities have influenced your personal growth and commitment to making a positive impact.

During the interview, you can share specific examples of how your academic and extracurricular experiences have prepared you for success at Northwestern.

Here are some potential talking points to incorporate into your interview responses.

  1. Passion for Learning
    1. Share examples of academic projects or research that sparked your curiosity and drove you to pursue further knowledge.
    2. Discuss how your favorite academic subjects have influenced your intellectual development and shaped your academic interests.
  2. Balancing Commitments
    1. Provide examples of how you successfully managed multiple commitments, such as academics, extracurricular activities, and personal responsibilities.
    2. Highlight instances where you demonstrated effective time management and prioritization skills.
  3. Dedication to Personal Growth
    1. Talk about specific challenges you encountered and how you approached overcoming them.
    2. Reflect on how your experiences have contributed to your personal growth and development as a student and individual.

3. Practice common interview questions

Practice makes perfect, and the alumni interview is no exception. Prepare by practicing common interview questions, such as "Why Northwestern?" or "Tell me about yourself." Practice with friends, family, or peers to gain confidence and refine your responses. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to navigate the interview conversation fluidly and coherently.

*Practice helps, but don't memorize your answers or your responses will come off as rote and over-rehearsed. Instead, have a general outline of the points you want to cover. We highly recommend doing a mock interview with an admissions coach before your actual interview. This can 5-6x your chances of success.

Here are a couple of questions and tips on formulating your responses.

“Why Northwestern?”

  • Focus on your genuine, highly personal motivations
    • If someone else could answer the exact same way, the answer is not personal enough.
  • Highlight specific programs or opportunities you're interested in
    • Is there a specific professor whose research you've read? What about a club or other group you'd like to join (or start!)? Any unique classes that you would love to take?
  • Always align it with your unique goals and aspirations
    • Make sure you are clearly showcasing your understanding of what Northwestern has to offer.

“Tell Me About Yourself”

  • Provide a brief overview, focusing on what you think is most important to your story
    • This should not be a rote regurgitation of your resume. What makes you, you?
  • Highlight relevant experiences
    • Another way to think about this question is, "Who are you, and why should we care?" Highlighting interesting, unique experiences targets the latter half of that question.
  • Always bring it back to Northwestern.
    • Draw connections between your experiences and interests and how they align with Northwestern's values and offerings.

Other common questions include:

  • What did you like about your school and community? What would you change about it?
  • What do you want to major in and why?
  • What challenges have you overcome?
  • When have you worked with a team to achieve something?

Expect follow-ups to these questions! A lot of times the interviewer will ask a preliminary question, and then ask you to expand upon your response, providing more details, going deeper, or looking at it differently. The best way to prepare is to know your narrative and have stories ready to go.

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How to Conduct Yourself During the Interview

During the Northwestern University alumni interview, it is crucial to make a positive impression and effectively communicate your qualities. Keep these tips in mind to conduct yourself in a manner that aligns with the university's expectations.

Dress for Success

First impressions matter, so dress appropriately for your interview. Opt for business casual attire that reflects professionalism and respect for the occasion. Avoid distractions by ensuring your clothing is clean and neat.

Communicate Effectively and Authentically

Effective communication is key to a successful interview. Listen actively and respond thoughtfully to each question. Speak clearly, express your thoughts coherently, and maintain eye contact to establish rapport with the interviewer. Authenticity is equally important, so be yourself and let your passion for Northwestern shine through.

Show Enthusiasm for Northwestern University

Throughout the interview, showcase your enthusiasm for attending Northwestern University. Highlight specific campus programs or initiatives that align with your interests. Express genuine excitement about becoming an integral part of the Northwestern community and contributing to the university's vibrant culture.

Other Interview Best Practices

  • Show up early.
  • If doing the interview online...
    • Test the technology ahead of time to make sure there are no difficulties.
    • Put yourself in a place with good lighting and a professional background. If that's not possible, use a Zoom background (not a distracting one).
    • Make sure to smile! It's much harder to convey positive body language over a video.
  • Remember: Your behavior in the interview will be perceived as a direct representation of how you will be as a Northwestern student. You want to present yourself as organized, prepared, and thoughtful.

How to Answer Difficult/Tricky Questions

Sometimes, you may be given a curveball interview question or just something you didn't prepare for. The most important thing to remember here is don't freak out. You are not expected to know everything. Usually, when they ask you difficult questions, they mostly want to see how you will react and how you think or go about answering something you're not as comfortable with. Maintain composure, and answer honestly.

When faced with this question, take a second to gather your thoughts. It is totally acceptable to take time to formulate a thoughtful response; in fact, this is highly preferable to rushing into a discombobulated and difficult-to-follow answer. Draw upon any relevant experiences, and don't be afraid to walk the interviewer through your thought process as you formulate your answer. You've got this!

Post-Interview Etiquette

Post-interview etiquette is an essential component of a successful interview experience. It demonstrates your professionalism and appreciation for the opportunity to interview at Northwestern University. Here are some things we recommend doing.

  • Send a thank-you note: Within 24 hours of your interview, send a personalized thank-you note to the interviewer. Express your gratitude for their time and reiterate your interest in attending Northwestern University. By following this simple gesture, you can leave a positive and lasting impression on the interviewer.
  • Follow-up after the interview: Keep the lines of communication open. If you receive any updates or have additional questions, reach out to the admissions office politely and professionally. Demonstrating continued interest even after the interview can further strengthen your candidacy.

Acing your Northwestern University alumni interview requires thorough preparation, effective communication, and a genuine showcase of your passion for the university. By following the tips outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to impressing your interviewer and securing your place at Northwestern University.

Key Takeaways

  • Thoroughly research Northwestern's mission, values, and unique offerings to align responses effectively. In your responses, showcase alignment with these things and your personal goals and aspirations.
  • Practice common interview questions to refine responses and build confidence. Make sure to have powerful anecdotes and examples ready to go.
  • Approach challenging questions calmly and confidently, drawing upon relevant experiences. Take a second to formulate your response before diving in.
  • Dress appropriately and communicate effectively during the interview to convey professionalism.
  • Send a prompt thank-you note to express gratitude and interest, maintaining open communication with the admissions office.

Get Help From an Expert

There is a ton you can do on your own to prepare for your interview. However, nothing beats the advice and support of someone with admissions committee experience who has helped tons of people prepare for interviews and submit compelling college applications. Here are some of our most popular coaches, browse all of them here.

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