A student that I've been working with attended her school's info session the other day for my alma mater, Northwestern University. Erica came back thrilled about NU, specifically about the cognitive science program and the cross-disciplinary nature of studies at the university. She had already developed her Why Us? template, but wasn't entirely sure where to go next with her research. So we dug into the Northwestern website together.

Here are some tips for students trying to sharpen their understanding of how a college might meet their academic interests:

1. Start with the curriculum of an academic program of interest, which you can usually find on the department's main page from the "Academics" tab from the school's landing page. Look at how the courses progress from foundational classes to more focused subject matter. The program may even divide into different concentrations. That's where the good stuff is!

Erica's attention went directly to the Neuroscience, Psychology and Learning Sciences concentrations, so we looked to see what courses fell under those umbrellas.

Erica's attention went directly to the Neuroscience, Psychology and Learning Sciences concentrations, so we looked to see what courses fell under those umbrellas.

Because of Erica's volunteering experience teaching dance to children with learning disabilities, the Intro to Learning Disabilities class was a natural draw.

Because of Erica's volunteering experience teaching dance to children with learning disabilities, the Intro to Learning Disabilities class was a natural draw.

Cognitive Development in Atypical Learner was interesting, too, because of research she'd done in school about well known minds such as Einstein and Edison, who in today may have received diagnoses such as Aspberger's or dyslexia.

Cognitive Development in Atypical Learner was interesting, too, because of research she'd done in school about well known minds such as Einstein and Edison, who in today may have received diagnoses such as Aspberger's or dyslexia.

2. Look for course descriptions. Generally the best place to find them is in the course catalog. This was a little slippery for Erica because the Cog Sci department is by nature interdisciplinary, and so we had to go digging in other departments. But there were a few.

Sometimes the link isn't readily available from navigation, so go ahead and search for "course catalog."

Sometimes the link isn't readily available from navigation, so go ahead and search for "course catalog."

Eh...it was a start. It left us with some questions about how the proseminar works, which is taken in fall of sophomore or junior year. Does it mean that Erica potentially has an opportunity to do research as an underclassman? GREAT question to reach out to the admissions office with (and demonstrate interest) in order to see if they will connect us directly to the Cog Sci faculty!

Eh...it was a start. It left us with some questions about how the proseminar works, which is taken in fall of sophomore or junior year. Does it mean that Erica potentially has an opportunity to do research as an underclassman? GREAT question to reach out to the admissions office with (and demonstrate interest) in order to see if they will connect us directly to the Cog Sci faculty!

3. See what the faculty are up to. There was a link to the CS faculty page, and from there, Erica was able to click through links to some of the professors' landing pages. Faculty web content can be very hit or miss -- often too jargon-y, sparse, or outdated, or the link is broken altogether. Sometimes it's best to get off the university's site for a bit and go back to good ol' Google to look for news or articles about faculty elsewhere. 

But we turned up a few interesting things that she can reference in her NU supplement. Erica came away from the process with a better idea of how far-ranging the field of Cognitive Sciences is, and with loads of questions she can reach out to the faculty with (by way of the admissions office). If NU continues to track student interest in the way that they say they do, then it will be all over her record by the time Erica applies!

Of course someone studies the links between the brain and sense of smell. It was just that neither of us had really ever given it much thought.

Of course someone studies the links between the brain and sense of smell. It was just that neither of us had really ever given it much thought.

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