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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. Students who only complete one first-year seminar should plan to complete the writing requirement by taking one of the following classes—ENGLISH 105, 205, 282, or 305—or preparing a portfolio of writing produced in courses beyond the first-year seminars (see below for information about interschool transfers for details). These students should also talk with their College Adviser about whether they need a course to substitute for a first-year seminar.

Any student who has questions about the writing requirement can write to Elizabeth Lenaghan, Director of the Writing Program,

The writing proficiency requirement is waived for students transferring to Northwestern from another university. If you have questions about this, you can consult with a Weinberg College Adviser.


Students who interschool transfer into the College as first-year students are expected to take one or two first-year seminars, depending on the date of their transfer, and thus should plan to meet the writing proficiency requirement as specified above in consultation with their College Adviser. Students who interschool 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:

Interschool 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 email copies of their writing samples, along with a brief note describing their writing background in college to the Writing Program ( 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:

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