Our admissions process is highly selective and competitive.Our admissions process is highly selective and competitive.

Admissions Overview

To maintain a proper balance between department resources and the size of the graduate student population, the department must limit offers of admission to the most qualified applicants. Thus, the admission process is highly selective and competitive. Details on the process are outlined in the sections below and in the Graduate Application FAQ

Admissions FAQStart Your Application

Jump to a Section

Application Deadlines and Important Dates

Applications for the 2020-2021 academic year became available on September 3, 2019 on the application website.

PhD Applicants

The deadline for PhD applicants is December 16, 2019 (for Fall 2020). Most of the decisions are typically finalized by the end of March, but some decisions may be made as late as April 15.

MS Applicants

The deadline for MS applicants for Fall 2020 is February 28, 2020. The absolute deadlines regarding certain admissions-related actions by TGS are available here.

Return to Top

How to Apply

There are no paper application forms for either admission or financial aid.

To apply for admission to the CS department, go to The Graduate School (TGS) website, follow the link to "Admission,” and then finally "Apply Online"

Return to Top

Notes About the Online Application

TGS's online application form will ask you to select either the PhD or MS option for computer science. If you want a PhD, with or without a master's degree, select the PhD option. The MS option is for terminal master's only and does not constitute admission to further work toward a PhD.

It will also ask you to enter research area(s) among the research interest groups.

Once you complete the online application, you will receive an email message asking you to provide additional information about your GPA and specific research interests. You will be asked to select your two or three top choices among the six research interest groups, based on your specific research interests. You may give more detail in your Statement of Purpose. For example, a student who would like to pursue research in "wireless networks" might select the Systems and Networking group.

Return to Top

Supplemental Materials

Before you apply online, gather the following:

  1. The admission materials required by TGS.
  2. Additional (optional) supporting materials may include your resume, research papers, certificates, etc.

Please note that it is not required to send a hardcopy of your official transcripts. Instead, upload a scanned copy of it/them as PDFs, along with all the other supplementary materials, into your online application.

Note that upon admission you may be required to provide the original transcript(s). An applicant may not be admitted without a complete application. All primary and supplemental materials must be submitted to render a decision to admit. Denies may be made due to incomplete applications.

Return to Top

Who Should Apply

A typical applicant is expected to have a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, or a related discipline from a recognized institution. Highly qualified candidates with other academic backgrounds may also be considered.

The specific undergraduate preparation required for graduate study depends on the program and the area of specialization. An applicant who has insufficient undergraduate preparation in any particular area but is well-qualified in every other respect may be required to take certain undergraduate courses as soon as possible after enrolling at Northwestern. That student would be informed of such a requirement at the time of admission.​

Return to Top

Who Should Not Apply

A current Northwestern University CS MS student should not apply to our PhD program. For such a student, continuation to the PhD in our department is only by recommendation and invitation of the student's CS faculty adviser. If such a recommendation and invitation is made, the faculty adviser will take care of all of the needed paperwork. The student must not submit a completely new application for admission to TGS.

Return to Top

When to Apply

MS and PhD applicants should apply to begin only in the fall quarter. Note that we only allow for fall admits to both programs. Winter and spring quarter admission requests by MS and PhD applicants will be automatically denied, in general.

The only mechanism for winter or spring quarter PhD admission involves the intervention of one of our faculty, who must agree to support the student in question as a research assistant for the remainder of the academic year. To explore this possibility, an applicant should contact individual professors listed in th department's faculty directory.

You can view a great deal of general information about requirements and policies on The Graduate School website. For more info, please contact the CS department graduate office.

Return to Top

English-Language Requirements

For both MS and PhD students, we require:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score of 90 or better (IBT), or
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 7.0 or better, or
  • An undergraduate degree or graduate degree from an accredited institution where the language of instruction is English.

Learn more about English language requirements

Return to Top

Tips (Important Info to Read Before You Begin Your Application)

We understand that proceeding with the application process for graduate studies is not an easy decision or something that should be considered lightly. To help you in making up your mind and give you some hints regarding the overall evaluation criteria, we provide a discussion of some of the relevant issues below.

Academic Record

We do receive applications with transcripts using different GPA scales (10.0, 100%, etc.) and we apply the adjusted criteria to such scales. Hence, applicants do not need to provide any conversions and should leave their GPAs in their institutions' standard scale. As another specific example, many of the universities from India have a "class-based" evaluation scheme, and we note that we will always give priority to "First Class with Distinction" applicants. The application process does allow you to write the "self-reported" GPA on the scale of 4.0; however, we will always use the transcripts during evaluation process.

Standardized Test Scores

PhD applicants: GRE scores are not required.

Master's degree applicants: In general, we treat GRE scores as optional components of your application. In looking at your application, we will be trying to assess how successful you will be with us. Your transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and other aspects of your submission all provide us with the evidence that we use in this assessment. If you choose to include your GRE scores, we will consider them as well. If you think that your GRE scores will help make your case, then include them. Otherwise, don’t and we will only consider the other elements.

Please keep in mind however that you will still need to meet the minimum requirements for English proficiency as stated above.

Primarily for PhD applicants, CS faculty interested in advising may conduct separate interviews for further informal assessment of applicants.

Refer to requirements at Graduate School

Statement of Purpose

This part of the overall application carries extremely important weight., and the statements that are written in a clear and focused manner will be favored. Namely, upon reading it, an evaluator/faculty should get a crisp idea as to:

  • Why is it that you would like to work in a particular major/specialization/topic and with a particular faculty as your adviser (for MS applicants this could be a project or thesis adviser)?
  • Why is it that a particular faculty should be interested in having you as an advisee?

In each case, a successful applicant will provide a good balance between background, vision, and desiderata.

Example: simply saying that you like Northwestern or you have a high esteem for the faculty in CS, aside from being flattering, is not a statement that in itself will "sell well.”

Lastly, while this may not always be possible, it will be helpful if at least some parts of the recommendation letters can back up the claims made in the statement of purpose.

Declaring Preferences for Areas of Study in Research and Advising

In the online application system, each applicant will be given the option to choose in order of preference among different Programs of Study in our department. Faculty examine applications in their respective areas; therefore, every applicant should carefully examine every faculty members research interests on our website. Furthermore, applicants will be asked to provide up to two names of specific faculty members whom they would like to study under. This is highly recommended and useful for identifying candidates to consider.

Letters of Recommendation

A minimum of two letters is required, but three is highly recommended. The Recommendation File Service (RFS) acts as an intermediary in the process. It is a common expectation that students be willing to waive the right to view their letters without question. Waiving the right to view your letters means that they will only be available for review by the schools to which you apply. Admission committees prefer applicants waive their rights to view their letters because they recognize that recommenders tend to write more meaningful letters under these circumstances. Read More

Multiple Applications

For the upcoming graduate admissions season, applicants hoping to enroll in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science in Fall 2019 will be able to submit applications to up to two PhD programs. Applicants interested in this option are required to designate their first and second choice of the two PhD programs. The fee for an application to a single program is $95; the fee for an application to two programs is $150. The program listed as the applicant’s first choice will take precedence in admissions decisions. The second choice program will review an applicant’s file only if the first choice program does not admit the student.

A PhD applicant may also request that her or his file be considered for a self-funded master’s degree in the first choice fields if she/he is not admitted to the PhD program. Questions about the two-application process should be referred to Bruce A. Lindvall, assistant dean for graduate studies, at b-lindvall@northwestern.edu.


We will value all your achievements (e.g. awards received in competitions) and experiences (e.g. research projects, leadership). However, the best place to put them in a coherent manner is your resume. Ideally, some of these items should also be properly linked with the statement of purpose document.

Return to Top

More Information

Please consult our Graduate Admissions FAQ if you have more questions, or continue on to Financial Aid, Assistantships, & Fellowships.