Frequently Asked Questions
- I haven't taken all of the tests required for your application, can I still apply to ISP?
- How many students are there in the program?
- Are there opportunities to meet students outside of ISP? Will I be able to take non-ISP classes?
- What if I am interested in medical school?
- What if I am interested in engineering?
- Is it possible to join ISP after freshman year?
- Can I participate in ISP and MENU?
- Can I participate in ISP and HPME (Honors Program in Medical Education)?
- Can I double-major in ISP and Music?
- Where do most students in ISP live?
- How many ISP students work in a research lab?
- Is the program competitive?
- If I get a BA in three years, can I get a Master's degree in the fourth year?
- Does everyone who starts ISP finish it?
- What about AP (Advanced Placement) credit?
- Can I study abroad and complete ISP as well?
I haven’t taken all of the tests required for your application, can I still apply to ISP?
We prefer that all applicants take three SAT Subject Tests, the Math Level II, Physics, and Chemistry. However, we understand that for various reasons this is not always possible or practical. If these test scores are not available, we will accept Advanced Placement (AP) scores for the Calculus AB or BC, Physics B or C, and Chemistry tests. We will also take in to consideration your IB classes and tests.
If you will not take an AP test until May of your senior year, please indicate the date you plan to take the test and send your score to us as soon as possible. We may delay making an admission decision until these scores are received. If an applicant has taken college level math or science courses, he or she can submit a transcript from this institution in place of one or more of these test scores.
We are fairly flexible with our testing requirements, but we do require demonstrable skill in math, physics, and chemistry through coursework and/or testing.
If you have questions about your qualifications and preparation, please contact the program coordinator.
Are there opportunities to meet students outside of ISP? Will I be able to take non-ISP classes?
You get to know other ISP students well, but not to the exclusion of anybody else. ISP students are just as active across campus, and participate in the full range of activities available on campus, including – just to name a few – intramural sports, campus clubs, theatre, orchestra, and marching band. ISP students are active in Greek life and also volunteer in and around the Northwestern and Evanston area.
Freshmen will take the majority of their classes with other ISP students, however there is space in their schedule for one to two non-ISP classes. Sophomores usually take two to three ISP classes per quarter and Juniors and Seniors take only one to two ISP classes. Students who plan to stay four years at Northwestern have additional flexibility in their schedule.
What if I am interested in medical school?
Northwestern attracts many students who are interested in premedical preparation. We'd like to offer some comments to help you decide whether you should apply to ISP or choose a traditional pre-med path at NU.
About 20% of ISP graduates enter medical school. In general, pre-med students who pursue ISP instead of the traditional premed program have substantial interests in academic medicine or research. Students interested primarily in clinical practice may be more interested in a traditional pre-med program.
The ISP curriculum is very different from, and goes well beyond, the curriculum required for admission to medical schools. The standard premed curriculum includes one year of calculus, two years of chemistry (general and organic), one year of physics, and one year of biology. ISP begins its math sequence where the pre-med requirement leaves off. ISP chemistry places more emphasis on physical than on organic chemistry; and the program requires two years of physics, instead of one. ISP biology tends to be more quantitative and focused than the standard biology curriculum and it does not cover several topics tested on the Medical College Admission test (MCAT). In addition, ISP students take courses in earth and planetary science, astronomy, and computing.
It is possible to complete the ISP requirements and graduate in three years. Pre-medical students attempting to do this will have to consider some timing issues. Most students take the MCAT during the spring of their junior year. Students graduating in three years typically have to take the MCAT in the spring of their sophomore year. At this time, ISP students have taken only one quarter of Biology. This means that the student needs to do independent MCAT preparation or else defer second year physics to third year in order to fit more biology in the schedule. Students can also defer the MCAT until the summer after the second year, but this may place them at a competitive disadvantage when applying to medical schools. Timing is not an issue for students taking four years to complete their degree.
What if I am interested in engineering?
McCormick students are now able to double major in ISP and engineering. Students pursuing this option will need to fulfill all of the requirements of the McCormick School and their engineering major and also the requirements of the ISP major.
It is often difficult for a student in high school to decide whether he or she should pursue a degree in engineering or one in science. This cannot be answered fully, but in general, those with greater interests in fundamental mechanisms or theory should consider science, and those with interests in applications and design may be best served in engineering. There is, however, a large grey area in the middle, and students should realize that a great deal of highly practical work (e.g., chemistry, geology, molecular biology) is done by people with advanced training in the sciences. At Northwestern, engineering and science are in separate schools and a student may apply to only one. Transfers between schools are relatively easy in the first year, but it is very rare to transfer into ISP after you have started in either school outside of the ISP program. If you have broad interest in the sciences you should apply to ISP at the same time as you first apply to Northwestern. A student doing a double major in ISP and in an engineering field may miss the opportunity to take the Engineering First® program with its engineering design coursework in the freshman year.
Is it possible to join ISP after freshman year?
If you are interested in ISP, you should apply as an incoming freshman—at the same time that you submit your general admission application to Northwestern. If you are a current freshman at Northwestern or another institution and are interested in transferring into ISP sophomore year, you should contact the program coordinator to discuss your options. Please be aware that credit from non-ISP courses is usually not accepted toward a degree in Integrated Science. Transfer into ISP after sophomore year is not possible unless a student is planning to stay an additional (fifth) year at Northwestern.
Can I participate in ISP and MENU?
An ISP freshman cannot take the first year MENU sequence (Math 290 or 291) in place of the first year ISP math sequence (281). Math 290/291 and Math 281 cover substantially the same material, however the ISP course is designed specifically with the needs of the ISP curriculum in mind and covers material in a different order and with a different emphasis.
ISP students who are interested in pursuing more advanced mathematics are able to enroll in the advanced MENU courses (360, 321, 331).
Can I participate in ISP and HPME (Honors Program in Medical Education)?
It may be possible to participate in both ISP and HPME, but students are encouraged to choose one or the other. You can apply to both programs. Students also applying to HPME should consider the comments in the above FAQ regarding ISP and pre-med.
Can I double-major in ISP and Music?
A double-major in ISP and Music is possible, but generally discouraged. The large number of required courses for each major leads to numerous time conflicts and any student considering this should be aware that it may take more than four years to graduate.
Where do most students in ISP live?
A majority of ISP students live on North Campus in dorms such as CCI, Elder and Slivka. This area of campus is a popular choice for most engineers, pre-meds, and athletes. It is close to Tech (where most ISP classes are held) and the ISP House. Some ISPs also live on South Campus in dorms such as Shepard, Allison, and Hinman. Even though it is farther from most ISP classes, it has the advantage of being closer to downtown Evanston. ISP students do not live in the ISP House and there is no special ISP dorm or other housing.
How many ISP students work in a research lab?
Several ISP freshmen work in research labs, and many sophomores and almost all of the juniors are involved in a research lab through Undergraduate Research 398. Being in ISP helps tremendously when looking for a research position as professors are much more willing to accept you in their labs. A lot of the students who pursue research eventually end up graduating ISP with honors by submitting an honors thesis.
Is the program competitive?
ISP is difficult, but students compete with themselves, not with each other. ISP encourages a cooperative atmosphere and most students quickly see the advantages of helping each other and of working together in small groups. Many students in the program cite this communal environment as one of the best qualities of ISP.
If I get a BA in three years, can I get a Master's degree in the fourth year?
Although this is sometimes possible, a student is often better served by doing independent study and a second major in a traditional field of study. This will provide the best preparation for entry into top PhD programs. In the sciences an MS is usually not required on the way to a PhD, and attending a different university for graduate work is generally desirable.
Does everyone who starts ISP finish it?
The number of students who enter as ISP students, but who later switch to another major is comparable to most other departments at Northwestern. Students who drop ISP usually do so in order to pursue a more narrow focus in a traditional major. All ISP course credit will transfer toward a different major or will fill WCAS distribution requirements.
What about Advanced Placement (AP) Credit?
One or two units of credit are awarded for good performance on most AP exams and for some courses taken at universities prior to high school completion. University credit obtained this way in humanities and social sciences may or may not translate into credit for the College of Arts & Sciences distribution requirements. The most current information is available on the WCAS site.
Credit in sciences may or may not exempt a student from an ISP course. A 5 on the Chemistry AP test exempts the student from freshman chemistry. A 5 on a Physics C exam may allow placement out of ISP Physics after consultation with the professor, but students are cautioned that ISP Physics goes beyond AP Physics. Students are not exempted from ISP Biology or Math on the basis of AP tests. In math, students can occasionally be exempted from a course on the basis of work beyond AP Calculus.
It is sometimes possible to complete the ISP major, a second science major, and a research project in three years. Students who accomplish this have usually met the two-year language proficiency requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences through strong performance on one of several placement exams. They have also received additional course credit through AP testing. This is, however, an unusual accomplishment; most students who wish to double major should plan on a four-year program.
Can I study abroad and complete ISP as well?
It is possible to study abroad for a year, or a quarter, as part of the ISP. Almost always the students who pursue this option are strengthening their second major and will take four years to graduate. For example, one student pursued advanced work in chemistry spending a year in Munich and another went to Rome to study classics for a semester.