Writing Requirements

Writing requirements for undergraduates at Northwestern are determined by the individual undergraduate schools. The WCAS writing requirement is administered by the Writing Program. Writing Program faculty also co-teach the foundational course in the McCormick School (English 106), which fulfills the writing requirement for all engineering students.

Overview of the WCAS Writing Requirement

The WCAS writing proficiency requirement is designed to be completed in the first or second year and to help ensure that students are prepared to write effectively in their upper level classes. To demonstrate their proficiency, students must write satisfactorily in two courses at Northwestern, typically in their first-year seminars. As part of their teaching responsibilities, first-year seminar instructors are asked to evaluate the writing of their students. These evaluations reflect the instructors' assessments of students' writing skills only and do not necessarily correspond to the grades students earn in the seminar courses. These assessments are then forwarded to the Writing Program. A Writing Program adviser will work with students who do not write satisfactorily in their seminars to develop an alternate approach to fulfilling this requirement, which may include enrollment in an expository writing course such as English 105 or English 205.

Entering First-Year Students

All first-year students in WCAS are told that they will need to complete the requirement and will be evaluated in their first-year seminars. There are two exceptions, for special program students. HPME and MMSS students, who are required to take only one first-year seminar, have only a one-course writing requirement.

Students who are unsure about whether they have completed the writing requirement can check their electronic degree audit information on the Registrar's Office website at the beginning of sophomore year to see if they completed the WCAS writing requirement during their first year.

Any student who has questions about the writing requirement can call or write:

Transfer students can also check with a WCAS College Adviser. The plan for completing the writing requirement may include taking an expository writing course (English 105 or English 205) or preparing a portfolio of writing produced in courses beyond the first-year seminars (see below for information about transfers and details about the portfolio).

Transfer Students

Students who transfer into the College as first-year students are expected to take one or two first-year seminars, depending on their date of transfer, and thus should plan to meet the writing proficiency requirement as specified above. Students who transfer into the College after their first year are not expected to take first-year seminars, and so may fulfill the writing requirement in a number of different ways:

  • completing an equivalent writing requirement in another division of Northwestern (or in unusual cases at another college or university). Such students should be referred to the director of the Writing Program.
  • taking English 205-0, Intermediate Composition
  • demonstrating an ability to write satisfactorily in courses taken at Northwestern by submitting a portfolio of written work for review

Transfer students should plan to meet with their WCAS College Adviser in their first quarter in WCAS to develop a plan for meeting the requirement. Depending on the extent of their writing experience, and their own sense of the strengths and weaknesses in their writing, one or another of these options may be more suitable. In some cases it may be appropriate for students to delay making a decision on the best course for fulfilling the requirement if they expect to have writing opportunities in their first quarter at Northwestern.

Portfolio Preparation and Submission

The portfolio should include three writing samples. At least two should be from courses taken at Northwestern, and at least two should be analytic writing. Students should bring print copies of their samples, along with a brief cover letter describing their writing background in college, to their WCAS College Adviser. These will be forwarded to a committee in the Writing Program, and the students will be contacted after their writing portfolios have been reviewed. The committee meets each quarter and by request.

Resources for Students to Improve Their Writing

Students should understand that completing the requirement represents a minimum level of writing proficiency. The Writing Program offers many resources to help students not only complete the writing requirement but also continue to improve as writers throughout their undergraduate careers:

  • Writing Program courses: All students are welcome to enroll in an expository writing course at any time if they wish to increase their skill and confidence in writing, and prepare themselves better for more challenging writing projects in their majors. The Writing Program offers three levels of expository writing--English 105, 205, and 305—as well as other courses that focus on writing, such as Practical Rhetoric (English 304), which is designed to prepare students to be peer consultants in the Writing Place.
  • Peer consulting: The Writing Place is a peer tutoring center, located in the Core Library area of the Main University Library. The Writing Place specializes in helping Northwestern students work on their writing. Writing Place consultants are talented undergraduates who are very good writers and who have been specially trained to help their peers at all stages of the writing process without writing the papers for them. Northwestern students are welcome to come to the Writing Place as often as they like, to work on specific papers or to address broader writing issues. Even very proficient writers benefit from talking through their ideas with a helpful listener or having a careful reader go over a draft.
  • NuWrite is a website for students and faculty that provides a collection of resources, advice, and conversation about (a) core skills in writing, (b) writing in specific disciplines, and (c) teaching writing in a variety of courses. Most material on NuWrite has been submitted by Northwestern faculty members from different disciplines. Part of the site is organized around writing communities, which may be a course, a program, or an interest group. Each has a home page that describes its purpose and how to contact its volunteer leader.