Nearly 400 graduate students are in our graduate programs.Nearly 400 graduate students are in our graduate programs.

Graduate Study
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 FAQ Start your application

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Application Deadlines and Important Dates

Applications for the 2024-2025 academic year will open on September 13, 2023. More information can be found on The Graduate School's admissions page.

PhD Applicants

The deadline for Fall 2024 PhD applicants is December 15, 2023. Most offers of admission are typically finalized by the end of March, but some decisions may be made as late as April 15.

MS Applicants

The deadline for Fall 2024 MS applicants is February 28, 2024. Most offers of admission are typically finalized by the end of April, but some decisions may be made as late as early June.

The absolute deadlines regarding certain admissions-related actions by TGS are available here.

View application information and deadlines for the ECE-affiliated Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program here.

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How to Apply

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

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

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Notes About the Online Application

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

It will also ask you to enter either EE or CE for the Area of Specialization. Your specialization should be chosen based on the research areas that best fit your current interests. If you need guidance, please contact Randy Freeman (EE) or Hai Zhou

Choose your research area(s) among the research interest groups within the two academic divisions: Electrical Engineering or Computer Engineering.

You may have more than one area of interest among the research interest groups; we recommend that you give more detail in your Statement of Purpose. For example, a student who would like to pursue research in "wireless networks" might select the Signals and Systems group and/or the Computer Engineering group. We also recommend that you list one or more faculty members that you would be interested in in working with. You may view the ECE faculty and their research areas here.

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Supplemental Materials

Before you apply online, gather the following:

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

**For the Fall 2024 admissions cycle, the GRE will not be required for MS or PhD applicants. **

During the evaluation process, your test scores (TOEFL or IELTS) will be verified directly with the testing agency. Upon admission, you will 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. Denials may be made due to incomplete applications.

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Who Should Apply

A typical applicant is expected to have a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, 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.​

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Transferring from MS to PhD

A current Northwestern University ECE MS student should not submit a traditional application 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 ECE faculty adviser. If such a recommendation and invitation is made, the student should submit a TGS Transfer Application. For more information on continuing or transferring from a terminal MS program to a PhD program, please contact Catherine Healey.

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When to Apply

MS and PhD applicants should apply to begin only in fall quarters; ECE only allows for fall admits to both programs. Winter and spring quarter admission requests by MS and PhD applicants will generally be denied.

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 the 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 ECE Graduate Office.

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TOEFL Requirements

The required minimum scores for both MS and PhD students: 90 IBT (Internet-based test), 233 CBT (computer-based test), and 577 PBT (paper-based test).

Learn more about TOEFL requirements

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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 GPA in their institutions' standard scales. 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

**For the Fall 2024 admissions cycle, the GRE will not be required for MS or PhD applicants. **

Test score requirements from The Graduate School

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

Statement of Purpose

This part of the overall application carries an extremely important weight, and the ones that are written in a clear and focused manner will be favored. Upon reading, a faculty evaluator should get a crisp idea of:

  • Why it is that you would like to work in a particular specialization/topic and with a particular faculty as your adviser (for MS applicants this could be a project or thesis adviser)
  • Why it is 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 ECE, 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 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 member's research interests. Furthermore, applicants will be asked to provide names of specific faculty members who they would like to study under. This is highly recommended and useful for identifying candidates to consider.

Letters of Recommendation

A minimum of three letters is required. 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.

Multiple Applications

A PhD applicant may also request that her or his file be considered for a self-funded Master’s degree if they are not admitted to the PhD Program. Questions about the two-application process should be referred to Elizabeth Rentfro, Business Administrator, Office of the Dean.


We will value all your achievements (e.g. awards received on competitions) and experiences (e.g. research projects and 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.

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More Information

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