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Writing Requirements

POST-SPRING 2023: THE WCAS Writing Requirement

Writing requirements for undergraduates at Northwestern are determined by the individual undergraduate schools. For WCAS students who matriculate anytime after spring 2023, the written and oral expression requirement is typically completed by taking two courses: a first-year writing seminar (taken in winter or spring of their first-year) and an advanced expression course (taken anytime in their second-fourth years). 

First-Year Writing Seminars

If a First-Year Writing Seminar is not completed with a grade of at least D by the end of spring quarter of the first year, the student plan to take English 105-0 or 205-0 as soon as possible as a substitute.

Students who interschool transfer into Weinberg effective during their first year should plan to take a First-Year Writing Seminar in winter of spring quarter of their first year. Students who interschool transfer into Weinberg after the first year should plan to take English 105-0 or 205-0 as soon as possible as a substitute. The one exception to this: Engineering students who have completed both English 106-1 and 106-2 are considered to have completed the First-Year Writing Seminar.

The First-Year Writing Seminar will be waived for students who transfer to Northwestern from another college or university.

Advanced Expression

Students may complete the advanced expression requirement through completion of an approved course with a grade of D or higher. As with the foundational disciplines and overlays, courses approved by a Weinberg College faculty committee are listed on the webpage (below) and may also be identified through the Undergraduate Catalog and the quarterly CAESAR class listings. Each year some courses are added to the list and others are deleted; a course must be on the approved list for the year you take it to satisfy the requirement.

A course that is used by a student to satisfy the advanced expression requirement may at the same time be applied towards a different requirement (such as a major requirement, minor requirement, foundational discipline, and/or overlay) if so approved.

SPRING 2023 (OR BEFORE): the WCAS Writing Requirement

For students who began taking classes at Northwestern in or before spring quarter 2023, the WCAS writing proficiency requirement was primarily fulfilled by taking two first-year writing seminars. As part of their teaching responsibilities, first-year seminar instructors were 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 were then forwarded to the Writing Program. Any WCAS student who began taking classes at Northwestern in or before spring quarter and who completed two first-year seminars can check their unofficial transcript to determine whether they fulfilled they completed their writing proficiency requirement based on these assessments.

Students who have not fulfilled the requirement, either because of assessments or because they did not complete two first-year writing seminars have several options for completing the requirement:

Take an additional writing course

Students who only complete one first-year seminar may complete the writing requirement by taking one of the following classes: ENGLISH 105, 205, 282, or 305. These students should also talk with their College Adviser about whether they need a course to substitute for a first-year seminar.

Students who interschool transfer into WCAS 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.

Prepare and Submit a Writing Portfolio

Students may prepare and submit a portfolio of writing produced in courses beyond the first-year seminars. 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.

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

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: