Current Student Resources

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Academic Resources

  • Canvas - Northwestern Course Management System. See announcements, class assignments, notes, and grades of courses in which you are enrolled.
  • CAESAR - In the 'My Academics' section, see your grades after exams, unofficial transcripts, and request official transcripts.
  • Webmail - Mail system used at Northwestern University.
  • Registrar - Reserve rooms, add or drop classes, order a transcript, and more.
  • Student Accounts - Access your accounts. See and access your tuition and fees.

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New Student Resources

  • First Steps - Obtain your Wildcard and University Internet access.
  • University Health Insurance - Establish University health insurance.
  • Housing - Information about on- and off-campus housing options in Evanston.
  • Shuttle Service - There are several shuttle services offered to students, including a free shuttle between the Chicago and Evanston campuses. Students must show their Wildcard to use the shuttle.
  • Parking - Options to park on Northwestern's Evanston campus.
  • NUIT - Need help with your computer? Contact NUIT and set up an appointment.
  • SPAC - Northwestern's fitness center. Must have Wildcard for access.
  • Financial Aid - The staff in Student Financial Services determine loan eligibility and process loans for students in McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science's Master's programs, including MSAI.
  • International Office - We collaborate with the International Office for everything necessary for our international students.

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McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provide the CTA University Pass (U-Pass) to full-time graduate students. The CTA U-Pass program uses fare cards called Ventra, a contactless payment system that serves as a U-Pass. Benefits of this system include:

  • Can be used 365 days a year
  • Can be used on CTA buses and trains
  • Can be used on Pace Buses as a fare card (charges apply)
  • Can be changed to a full-fare card once you are no longer enrolled full-time
  • Personalized with your photo and name

If you cannot find the information you are looking for in the frequently asked questions below, please email the Program office for assistance.

Note:  New students must obtain a Wildcard to receive a U-Pass. New students typically obtain a Wildcard the week before classes start.

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U-Pass faqs


CTA University Pass (U-Pass) is a discounted fare card that replaces cash/other transit cards for all CTA fares. It does not require a transfer or surcharge for unlimited rides all day, every day. It is offered as part of the Activity Fee charged to full-time enrolled students.

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What funds the u-pass?

Students enrolled full-time pay an Activity Fee which funds the U-Pass.

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Am I eligible for a u-pass?

Full-time students enrolled in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are eligible for a U-Pass.

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Can I use my u-pass on pace suburban buses and metra commuter train lines?

U-Passes may be used as fare cards on Pace buses: students may load money onto their U-Pass and use it to ride Pace. Pace fares are not included as part of the U-Pass program. Metra commuter train lines do not accept U-Passes.

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What is the difference between activating and registering the u-pass?

Registering your U-Pass and activating your U-Pass are not the same thing. Registering your U-Pass protects purchased passes and transit values. This is optional. Activating your U-Pass is not optional and you must activate it by calling 877-450-5328 once you receive it.

If you used the U-Pass before it was activated, your U-Pass will have a negative balance, which will need to be paid in order to use your U-Pass. You can do this online or by using the kiosks available at the CTA train station. Once the balance is paid in full, then the semester's unlimited balance will be transferred to your card. If you have any additional questions about your U-Pass or paying your balance online please check the CTA website or call the CTA at 888-YOUR-CTA.

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What if my credit card or debit card is erroneously charged for a fare?

Some students have discovered that their credit or debit card with Blink technology has been charged after tapping their wallet on the Ventra card portal. To avoid this issue, remove your U-Pass from your wallet or separate it from other credit/debit cards when tapping it on the Ventra portal. If your credit or debit card is charged by the CTA, you have several options to address the situation:

  • Contest the charges with your bank
  • Send an email to and attach a statement with all your personal information blacked out. Request that the funds be returned to your U-Pass's Ventra account. In order for your funds to be returned, they must show as "pending" and not posted to your credit/debit account. These funds can be used when you are no longer enrolled full-time at McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Include your contact information in the message
  • Contact the CTA at 888-YOUR-CTA

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What if my u-pass has a negative balance?

Some students have discovered that their U-Pass has had a negative balance. This often occurs when they tap their card and see an insufficient funds message. Any U-Pass with a balance under -$2.50 will be temporarily deactivated. Once the balance is brought above -$2.50, the card will automatically reactivate.

Negative balances can occur for a number of reasons:

  • The student has used PACE buses and not loaded money to pay for the fare
  • The student has used their U-Pass to pay for a guest and not loaded money to pay for the fare
  • A Ventra system error

McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science cannot reimburse students for negative balances related to their Ventra U-Pass. If you have a negative balance and your card is suspended please contact Ventra directly at 877-NOW-VENTRA for assistance. A Ventra representative will be able to determine the cause of the balance and assist you in bringing your balance back to zero.

To avoid acquiring negative balances:

  1. Load money onto your U-Pass if you are using it to pay for PACE buses or guests
  2. Check your balance regularly at
  3. Contact Ventra immediately if you notice suspicious charges on your account

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What if my u-pass is lost or stolen?

If your U-Pass is lost or stolen:

  1. Go to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  2. Bring $50 for the replacement fee - personal cash, check or cashier's check only
  3. Bring your Wildcard
  4. Fill out an affidavit for your lost or stolen card

Depository Services will send the request to CTA and you will be contacted when your new card has arrived.

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Cwhat if my U-Pass is captured in cta fare equipment?

The U-Pass is a contactless card - tap it to the Ventra reader to pay your fare. DO NOT insert it into fare equipment - you will lose it and need to pay a replacement fee for your lost card.

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What if my u-pass is damaged?

If your U-Pass is damaged due to abuse or misuse then it will be treated as a lost or stolen U-Pass. In order to replace it you will need to:

  1. Go to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  2. Bring $50 for the replacement fee - personal cash, check or cashier's check only
  3. Bring your Wildcard
  4. Fill out an affidavit for your damaged card

Depository Services will send the request to CTA and you will be contacted when your new card has arrived.

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What if my u-pass is defective?

If your U-Pass is not working and you suspect it is defective (as opposed to damaged), contact the Program office and we will verify your enrollment and that your U-Pass should be active. You will then be asked to go with your U-Pass to Ventra Customer Service at 567 W Lake Street, Chicago IL 60661 where they will determine whether the U-Pass is damaged or defective. If the U-Pass is deemed "defective," you will be provided a voucher and a 7-day Ventra pass and Ventra will request a new U-Pass for you. You will be contacted once your new U-Pass arrives on campus.

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What if my name changes?

The first replacement for a name change is $5.00 - personal cash, check or cashier's check only. You will need to:

  1. Go to Depository Services (Evanston: 619 Clark Street; Chicago: Abbott Hall)
  2. Bring your Wildcard and the U-Pass
  3. Fill out a form for your name change

Depository Services wills end the request to TA and you will be contacted when your new card has arrived.

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I've requested a replacement u-pass - how long will it take to arrive?

About a week.

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What are the activation and termination dates of the u-pass?

U-Passes are valid for 5 years, as long as you are enrolled full-time and eligible to receive a U-Pass.

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When are u-passes deactivated?

If you have not registered as a full-time student, your U-Pass will be deactivated after the Change of Registration deadline.

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How often can I use my u-pass per day?

You may use your U-Pass as often as desired. However, students can't use their card at the same station or on the same bus line for up to 15 minutes.

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can i share my u-pass with my friends?

No. The U-Pass is not transferrable and will be confiscated if the CTA suspects misuse of the U-Pass. CTA maintains the right to inspect the U-Pass used by a student and to ask the student for another form of identification to ensure that the pass is being used by the person whom it is issued. Further, CTA maintains the right to deny a student access to the CTA system at the U-Pass reduced fee if the student does not possess both the U-Pass and a current School I.D.

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i rarely use the u-pass. can i opt out?

No. The activity fee is mandatory for all full-time eligible students. The CTA contract requires that all full-time students participate in the U-Pass program.

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how much is the activity fee?

The activity fee is $110 per quarter for full-time students.

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what does the activity fee cover?

The activity fee funds:

  • The U-Pass
  • Various social events and gatherings
  • Food and beverages (including coffee/tea) when available

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I drive to school and pay to park. can i get my activity fee waived?

No, the only students who are eligible for an activity fee waiver are students who are studying abroad or students who will be off-campus and away from the Chicago area this quarter. Once the fee is waived, students will not be eligible for its attendant services.

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how do i pay my activity fee?

Students can access their bills and bill history via CAESAR, >For Students > Financial Services > View My E-Bill & E-Payment. Payments may be made online or by check (U.S. bank accounts only). Students may also go to Student Financial Services at 555 Clark Street on the Evanston campus.

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how do i request a waiver of the fee (if i won't be on campus)?

Please submit an activity fee waiver form as soon as your Activity Fee posts to your account, and no later than 3 quarters (or 9 months) after your quarter spent off campus. The Program office will contact students should their waiver be approved. Waivers submitted beyond 3 quarters after your time off campus will be denied.

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i will not be enrolled this quarter. will i be charged for the activity fee?

If students are not enrolled, they will not be charged the activity fee and they will not be eligible for the services it provides, including U-Pass.

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Additional Resources