Academics / Graduate StudyAdmissions Frequently Asked Questions
The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is the largest department in the McCormick School. Admission decisions are based on the overall academic record, quality of the school attended, graduate record exam scores (GRE), grade point averages (GPA), strength of letters of recommendation, work experience, and match with faculty members’ research interests. We do not have minimum thresholds other than those set by The Graduate School.
Applicants are required to submit GRE scores if they wish to be considered for a university fellowship. If an applicant has already obtained an MS degree from a US institution, then GRE scores are not needed for PhD admission.
International applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The Graduate School considers the following to be the minimum acceptance thresholds:
- 90 IBT (Internet-based test), 233 CBT (computer-based test), and 577 PBT (paper-based test) for PhD applicants
- 80 IBT, 213 CBT, and 550 PBT for MS applicants.
To be eligible for a teaching assistantship, international applicants must submit an official Test of Spoken English (TSE) score of at least 50 or score at least 26 on the TOEFL speaking section. More on TOEFL here: The Graduate School.
Jump to a Section
- Should I Specify the MS or PhD Degree?
- How Long Does It Take to Get a Graduate Degree in EECS?
- Are There Evening Courses?
- How Do I Apply for Financial Aid?
- The Application Fee is Expensive, and I don't Want to Apply if My Chances Aren't Good. Can You Look at My Resume and Tell Me If You Think I Should Apply?
- I'm an International Student, but I Don't Have a Visa Tet. What Can I Do?
- If I Applied Last Year, Will the Department Save My Application for the Following Year?
- I'm an International Applicant Whose Native Language is not English. What Must I do to Demonstrate Proficiency in the English Language?
- Are There Any Exceptions to the TOEFL Requirement for International Applicants?
- What Institution and Department Codes Should I Use for the GRE and TOEFL?
- What if I Do Not Have a Proper BS Background (i.e., My Undergraduate Degree is Not in Any of the EE, CE, or CS)?
- What If My Background is Related to EECS But I Want to Shift the Major of My MS Studies (e.g., From CE to CS)?
- What are the Deadlines for Graduate Applications?
- When are the Admissions Decisions Made?
- I've Received a Notification From the EECS Department That I am Admitted. What are the Next Step(s)?
- I am an International Student Who Has Been Admitted to Your Department. What do I Need to do to in Order to Get the Documents Needed for a Visa to Enter the US?
- When Will I Be Allowed to Register for Classes?
- If I Am Admitted as an MS Student and Perform Well During My Studies, Will I Be Considered for Continuing in the PhD Program?
- What About CPT and OPT?
- Can I Transfer Credits Earned at Another Innstitution(s) Toward my Graduate Degree at EECS?
- Who Do I Contact If I Have Questions That are Not Answered Here?
Applicants pursuing a doctoral degree should select the PhD option. Students pursuing a PhD may also obtain a master's degree during their doctoral career at Northwestern University. You should select the MS option ONLY if you are seeking a terminal masters degree. Note that no financial aid is offered to those seeking the terminal MS degree.
The MS program requires 12 courses/credits, which are typically completed in four quarters (however, it can be done in as little as three quarters provided four credits are completed in each quarter). More courses/credits may be taken (typically during the last quarter), but 12 are all that is required. Note that, for international students, simply wanting to take extra courses is not a valid reason to extend the I-20 document after the degree requirements have been completed. The MS in Information Technology (MSIT) program differs in that it is a two-year program designed for working professionals, with courses held only on Saturdays.
PhD students typically complete within four to five years their coursework and research, and successfully defend their thesis. The PhD program requires a minimum of 15 units of coursework. (A PhD student's research advisor or EECS division may require more than this minimum number). Coursework includes EECS 499 (Independent study, Projects Course), EECS 510 (Seminar), EECS 545 (Teaching Experience), but not EECS 590 research units. At least six coursework units should be at the 400 or 500 levels, not counting EECS 545. Up to six units may be satisfied by courses taken for graduate credit elsewhere, subject to the approval of the advisor, the EECS division, and the EECS department.
No, the EECS department does not offer evening classes for graduate students. However, there are evening and/or weekend options at Northwestern: School of Professional Studies offers a Master's Degree in Computing and Information Systems (MSCIS), obtainable by taking evening and weekend courses, and working professionals can earn a Master's in Information Technology (MSIT) in two years of Saturdays
There is no separate financial aid application. Financial aid, including tuition and stipend, is offered to all admitted doctoral students, however, no financial aid is offered to terminal master's students. However, there are several sources of loans available and as a graduate student you will be eligible for Federal Direct Student Loans. Student Financial Services will be able to counsel you about your eligibility. You can email them here.
Please feel free to follow up with the Office of Student Financial Services or Bruce A. Lindvall, assistant dean for graduate studies at McCormick, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 847-491-4547, if you have questions about financing your MS degree. Visit the Student Financial Services website for more information about tuition, fees, billing and payment information. Student loan info can be found here. Northwestern loan procedures, deadlines, and downloadable forms are available here. Private outside scholarship assistance may be found here.
If your ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD, please keep in mind that you may enter PhD programs without having completed an MS degree. If financial aid is not required, please include a separate letter, with your application materials, stating that you do not need aid, and briefly describing the source of your support.
The application fee is expensive, and I don't want to apply if my chances aren't good. Can you look at my resume and tell me if you think I should apply?
We receive hundreds of requests weekly, so regrettably we cannot assess individually an applicant's chances. If you feel strongly about your qualifications, we encourage you to apply.
We hold application files for two years. In all cases, an applicant has to reapply and pay a new fee in order to be considered for admission. If reapplication is done within two years, supplemental materials need not be resubmitted.
You must first be accepted by the university before any visa work can begin. International students can learn about the visa process for newly admitted students at the Northwestern University International Office website.
I'm an international applicant whose native language is not English. What must I do to demonstrate proficiency in the English language?
You are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The Graduate School considers 550 to be the minimum acceptable paper-based TOEFL score, 213 to be the minimum acceptable computer-based TOEFL score, 90 to be the minimum acceptable internet-based TOEFL score (80 for MS applicants), or 7 to be the minimum acceptable IELTS score. To be eligible for a teaching assistantship, international applicants must submit an official Test of Spoken English (TSE) score of at least 50 or score at least 26 on the TOEFL speaking section.
Yes. If you have completed your BS (or MS) degree at an institution where English is the official language of instruction.
The institution code for Northwestern University is 1565 for both exams. The department code doesn't matter for the GRE. Use 0000 if you need to specify something. For the paper-based TOEFL, use 01. For the Internet-based TOEFL, select the graduate office option (not undergraduate) and choose option 99 for program of interest.
What if I do not have a proper BS background (i.e., my undergraduate degree is not in any of the EE, CE or CS)?
We will still give full consideration to your application and evaluate it in the context of the current batch of applicants. However, be advised that if we admit you, the lack of background cannot be used as an excuse for poor performance in your class(es) projects and/or tests. You are more than welcome to take some of our 200-level courses that are pre-requisite(s) for the 300-level courses as part of your graduate education with us; however, the credits earned in those 200-level courses cannot be counted toward your degree. For foreign students: although the 200-level courses' credits do not count toward the degree requirements, they do count toward maintaining your immigration status in a good standing. In other words, since foreign students are expected to be registered for a minimum of three courses per quarter, it is fine if some of those courses are at 200-level.
What if my background is related to EECS but I want to shift the major of my MS studies (e.g., from CE to CS)?
There are some courses that are considered core in the CS curriculum. Such courses are at 200-level and cannot be counted for graduate credits; however, they need to be taken since they are pre-requisites for many of the graduate-level courses. They will be considered as background-deficiency and any incoming student who has not taken equivalent course, will have to take them early in the MS career.
Similar situation exists for our other major, e.g., EECS 222 is a pre-requisite for many courses in our EE major. As such, any student who does not have an equivalent course will need to take it as a deficiency.
Important note: As of Spring 2013, the courses EECS 310 and EECS 311 have been changed to EECS 212 and EECS 214. There will be a special provision for the graduate students starting Fall 2013 to register for them as "temporary EECS 395". However, this is only to eliminate the possible discrepancies due to transition in the CS curriculum. After Fall 2013, graduate students interested in CS without an equivalent background will have to take EECS 212 and EECS 214 as a deficiency (and not count it toward graduate credits).
Please refer to this page for up-to-date deadlines.
Most decisions for PhD admissions are typically finalized by the end of March, but some decisions may be made as late as April 15. For Fall quarter MS admission, given that the number of applications is much larger, we proceed in batches, trying to find the best match between incoming MS students and academic advisers. The first batch typically begins in January and subsequent batches are processed every 2-3 weeks and may go on until June.
The very first step after receiving a notification from is for you to enter your decision (accept or decline our admission offer) at ApplyYourself. Please check Admission Decision & Enrollment for a more detailed guidance.
I am an international student who has been admitted to your department. What do I need to do in order to get the documents needed for a visa to enter the US?
Firstly, you need to formally accept our admission offer at ApplyYourself (see the previous question/answer for details).Then, follow the Steps for New Students, which include submitting a visa request.
New graduate students cannot register until they have arrived on campus, obtained their NU student I.D. as well as NETID. Please contact our staff in the EECS Graduate Office for any inquiries related to this matter.
You should plan to arrive earlier in any case so that you can attend the orientation sessions hosted by both TGS and EECS. You will be notified via email of the dates and locations of these sessions.
If I am admitted as an MS student and perform well during my studies, will I be considered for continuing in the PhD program?
Although we have had such cases, it is rare (approx. six percent of the students admitted to our MS program in the past have been offered to continue for a PhD) and there is absolutely *no* guarantee. It is determined on an individual basis and it is dependent upon different factors, e.g., an adviser may receive new research funding and wishes to continue working on a project involving an MS student. Hence, one should not take for granted that an MS admission will imply continuation with the PhD program. If your aspiration is to obtain a PhD degree, please apply to the PhD program.
CPT (Curricular Practical Training) is an option for foreign students to gain work experience even before they have completed their degree requirements. In order to be eligible for CPT, you must be in lawful full-time F-1 status for a full academic year; be in good academic standing; and the requested training must be an integral part of your program of study. The intended CPT period is the Summer Quarter. (During the regular academic year, students are expected to register for courses as required by the immigration laws dictating the norms for maintaining their I-20.)
OPT (Optional Practical Training) is typically awarded after students have completed all the requirements for their academic degree. You may apply for one 12-month period of OPT at the completion of each academic level obtained (e.g. 12-months of OPT at the MS and PhD). In order to be eligible for OPT, you must be in lawful full-time F-1 status for a full academic year; be in good academic standing; have a valid passport; and have not had more than 12-months of full-time CPT.
The first step in the internship process is to meet with your international student advisor at The International Office to determine your eligibility for either CPT or OPT. Do this before you apply for internships or jobs!
Per current TGS rules, there is no such thing as transfer credits.
Instead, there is the possibility of course-credit waivers. Once you have been admitted and started your graduate program, you may petition to have a particular EECS course credit waived, based on a course that you previously took at another institution. Your petition must provide documentation describing the content of the course from your previous institution (e.g., its syllabus, assignments/projects, etc.), and identify an EECS course that matches it in a closest-possible manner. Then, the coordinator of the corresponding EECS course will review your petition and make a recommendation. This is followed by required approvals by your adviser, his/her EECS Research Interest Group, and the EECS Department Director of Graduate Studies.
Waivers are possible for at most three courses for the MS degree, and at most six courses for the PhD degree, since TGS rules require that you have at least nine credits with your "home department" (here, EECS). Waived courses will not appear on your transcript.
Contact the EECS Graduate Student Affairs Office.