Applicants are evaluated holistically on both academic and professional achievements; the ideal student has substantial abilities and experience in both areas. A competitive undergraduate record that indicates strong academic ability is required, and an academic background and research experience in public policy-related areas, such as political science, history, sociology, statistics, is especially desirable. Applicants with no coursework in such areas should consider taking courses at the undergraduate level before applying. Work experience, even internships, in the public sector is desirable but not necessary.

To pursue a graduate degree at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies, an applicant must hold a U.S. bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or the international equivalent. Applicants with international credentials can determine the U.S. equivalency of their degree with a course-by-course evaluation conducted by an evaluation agency listed with the NACES organization. More details on the evaluation process are below.

Types of Public Policy Careers


Application Deadline

December 1

The deadline to submit an application to the accelerated program is December 1. Applicants who submit their completed online application form, non-refundable application fee, statement of purpose, resume, and writing sample may receive a grace period after the deadline for external materials, such as letters of recommendations, official transcripts, and course-by-course evaluations, if they submit by this deadline.

We strongly encourage applicants with international credentials to begin the application process as early as possible. The course-by-course evaluation can take several weeks or even months to arrive at our office due to extra processing time.


Application Checklist

Below is a list of application materials required for review, clicking on each material will provide additional information:

Applicants with international credit have two additional application requirements:

Online Application

Applicants must submit an online application through the online application portal. The application form does not need to be completed in one sitting; applications can be saved in installments until they are ready to submit. Applicants are encouraged to submit as early as possible because early submission allows adequate time to request and process all required materials. Please keep in mind that applications must be submitted by the stated deadline to be reviewed in time for the start of the program.

Application Fee

Applicants must submit an application fee of $75 to be reviewed for the program. Application fees are nonrefundable and must be received by the stated application deadlines. We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should be forward-looking and address the applicant's academic and professional goals. Applicants should address what they will bring to the program, how they plan to leverage the program professionally, and why they would be a good fit. Applicants who did not major in public policy or a related field should explain how other academic and nonacademic experiences have prepared them to undertake graduate study in this program. The statement itself should be between 300 and 550 words and though we do not have strict formatting requirements, applicants typically submit in a double-spaced 12-point font format.

Academic Addendum

If there are any concerns with an applicant's academic performance, applicants may submit an academic addendum to supplement their application materials. The addendum should be no more than 400 words and should provide context to any situation that might have negatively impacted an applicant's grades or kept the applicant from performing at their academic best. This statement should not be too personal; it should instead be a summary of the instances and trends about which the reviewers might have questions. Applicants should consider including any experiences that have since made them ready for the academic rigor of a Northwestern classroom. Applicants are encouraged to highlight any additional activities or education, including seminars, workshops, relevant job-training, self-taught skills, etc. that would support their being a qualified candidate for the program.

The addendum should be included as a separate page to the statement of purpose, and both the statement and the addendum should be uploaded to the application in the same document.

Resume or C.V.

The resume or C.V. should reinforce an applicant's work history and educational background. Applicants should submit resumes or curricula vitae in the same format one would use to submit to a prospective employer. Applicants should outline work experience, education, and any additional skills or achievements they would like the admission committee to consider. The resume or C.V. is also an opportunity to highlight any experience related to public policy and administration, including professional, volunteer, and internship experience.

Writing Sample

The writing sample should demonstrate the ability to present ideas and arguments in a manner appropriate to a graduate-level program and should not exceed 10 pages in length. The sample can be an academic paper, a short work-related memo or analysis, or an essay describing a critical public policy issue.

An academic paper should contain the following:

  • A clearly articulated thesis on a topic drawn from public policy or a related discipline
  • An argument that persuasively supports the thesis and demonstrates an awareness of contrary arguments
  • Documentation of quoted material and acknowledgment of ideas taken from the works of others using an accepted academic style guide

A work-related analysis of a policy, problem, or program, of which you are the sole author, should contain the following:

  • A clear identification of the organizational issue in need of attention
  • An analysis of the issue and its importance to the organization
  • Well-reasoned action options and final recommendations

An essay should contain the following:

  • A description of what the applicant sees as one of the most critical public policy issues that faces the nation, state, or community of the applicant
  • A summary of a course of action for which the applicant advocates to address this issue; this should be written as if the applicant were serving in a policy-making or administrative leadership role
  • Justification for the action for which the applicant advocates

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation can be from academic or professional references depending on an applicant’s background and current network. Applicants are encouraged to approach recommenders early to make sure that they have time and are willing to submit a recommendation letter on the applicant's behalf. The recommenders should know the applicant well enough to write a robust letter discussing the applicant's professional or academic background, goals, and ability to be an asset to the program.

The applicant must submit the names and email addresses of each recommender in the online application form. The recommender will receive an automated message informing them they have been selected to write a letter of recommendation. A link to submit a recommendation through the online application portal will be provided in this automated message. Recommenders may also submit recommendations as a word or pdf attachment in an email sent directly to our office at

Official Transcripts

Applicants must request official transcripts from all U.S. institutions they attended for academic credit at the college and university level. Official documents must be sent directly to our office from the issuing institution. We strongly encourage applicants to request their official transcripts be sent to our office through a secure electronic system at Most institutions have online portals for students and alums to request official transcripts; our office is usually listed as Northwestern University School of Professional Studies, but applicants can manually input the email address as well.

Course-by-Course Evaluation

Applicants with college or university credit from institutions outside of the U.S. must request an official course-by-course evaluation of their international transcripts from a NACES member listed on this website. The evaluation must be conducted with official documents sent directly from the applicant's international college or university. A course-by-course evaluation will translate courses, degrees, and grades into U.S. equivalency. The NACES member will need to send the course-by-course evaluation directly to our office at Applicants are strongly encouraged to have their course-by-course evaluations sent to our office electronically. If there are any issues or concerns, please contact the admissions advising team for assistance.

The recording below provides additional information on the course-by-course requirement. You may also view the course-by-course evaluation video at this link.

Proof of English Proficiency

Any applicant to a Northwestern University School of Professional Studies program whose first language is not English must demonstrate language proficiency in one of the following ways:

  • Provide official scores for either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. The test must be taken no more than two years before the intended quarter of entry. For the TOEFL, applicants must score 600 or higher on the paper-based test, 250 or higher on the computer-based test, or 100 or higher on the internet-based test. SPS's institutional code for the TOEFL is 9019. For the IELTS exam, applicants must receive a score of 7.0 or higher
  • Provide a course-by-course evaluation indicating English as the official language of instruction for the international degree
  • Provide an official transcript conferring an undergraduate or graduate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution
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