The Northwestern University Motto

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Northwestern University sign with campus map below

The Northwestern University Motto

Northwestern University, a prestigious institution nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, has a motto that resonates with its rich history and unwavering commitment to excellence. In this article, we’ll delve into the origins, significance, and enduring relevance of the Northwestern University motto.

Join us on this journey as we explore the meaning behind these powerful words and how they continue to inspire generations of Wildcats.

A Brief Introduction to Northwestern University

Northwestern University is a renowned private research university in Evanston, Illinois. Founded in 1851, it has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence and a commitment to shaping future leaders.

This esteemed institution has been a cradle of knowledge and enlightenment for more than a century. As you walk through its beautiful campus, you can’t help but feel the aura of academic brilliance that surrounds you. Northwestern is not just a university; it’s a gateway to a brighter future for countless individuals.

The Motto’s Role in the University’s Identity

The motto is more than just a slogan; it’s a cornerstone of the university’s identity. It encapsulates the core values and principles that guide Northwestern’s academic and ethical mission.

Northwestern’s motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” serves as the beating heart of this institution. It’s not merely words etched in stone; it’s a compass for every student, professor, and staff member. It’s a constant reminder of the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and the unwavering commitment to these ideals.

View of Northwestern University

“Quaecumque Sunt Vera”

Northwestern University’s motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” is Latin for “Whatsoever things are true.” This phrase has deep historical and philosophical roots.

The Latin language has a timeless elegance, and this phrase carries the weight of centuries of wisdom. “Whatsoever things are true” speaks to the essence of human curiosity. It reminds us that the pursuit of truth is a noble quest that transcends time and place. It invites us to embark on a journey of enlightenment, to seek knowledge relentlessly.

Historical Origins

Quaecumque Sunt Vera” is a Latin phrase that means “Whatever things are true.” It is the official motto of Northwestern University, which adopted it in 1890. The phrase comes from the Bible, specifically Philippians 4:8, in which St. Paul is giving advice to Christian people living in Philippi, a city in Greece. 

In this passage, Paul encourages the Philippians to focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. He tells them to think about these things and to dwell on them. This advice is still relevant today, and it is a good reminder to focus on the positive and to avoid dwelling on negative things.

Philosophical Significance

“Quaecumque Sunt Vera” represents the university’s commitment to truth, knowledge, and the relentless pursuit of intellectual honesty. It underscores the idea that a commitment to the truth is a noble and unwavering path.

Imagine a world where truth is at the forefront of every decision, where knowledge is sought after with unwavering determination. This is the world that Northwestern University envisions. In a society where information can be overwhelming, Northwestern’s motto serves as a lighthouse, guiding students and faculty through the tumultuous sea of opinions and half-truths.

a line of graduates wearing their graduation gowns

Northwestern’s Commitment to Excellence

Northwestern University’s motto doesn’t only symbolize truth but also a commitment to excellence in various aspects.

Academic Excellence

Northwestern has a long history of academic distinction. The motto reminds you that this is the place where excellence is not just an aspiration; it’s an expectation. It’s where you’ll be challenged to excel where your thirst for knowledge will be nurtured and expanded.

The pursuit of academic excellence isn’t an isolated endeavor. It’s a shared journey with professors who are leaders in their fields and fellow students who inspire and push you to reach your full potential. It’s about discovering your passion and honing your skills to become a true leader in your chosen field.

Northwestern’s Reputation

Northwestern University is recognized for its exceptional academic standing and competitive admissions. In 2023, the university retained its No. 9 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s annual National Universities rankings, reflecting its high academic standards and reputation. Additionally, Northwestern holds prestigious positions in specialized rankings, such as 2nd for Best Colleges for Communications and Music, and 3rd for Best Colleges for Performing Arts in America according to Niche​.

Globally, Northwestern is also highly regarded. It ranked 27th in the United States and 33rd globally in the 2023 ratings by EduRank, and it scored in the TOP 100 across 149 research topics. The Times Higher Education placed it at 28th in the World University Rankings for 2024 and 9th in the US College Rankings for 2022​.

Admission to Northwestern is extremely competitive. For the class of 2023, the acceptance rate was 8.9%, with 3,611 students admitted from 40,577 applicants. The early admission rate was 25%. However, for the class of 2027, this rate has dropped to 7%, with only 3,655 students offered admission out of 52,225 applicants, indicating an even more selective process​.

Northwestern’s academic offerings are diverse and comprehensive. It offers more than 4,000 courses annually across various disciplines. The university houses several notable schools, such as the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communication, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Medill School of Journalism, the Pritzker School of Law, and the Kellogg School of Management, among others.

Notably, the Bienen School of Music provides classes to all undergraduate students, regardless of their major, with a wide range of options including the interdisciplinary history of the symphony and the cultural implications of jazz. Additionally, Northwestern embraces modern educational technologies, incorporating them into the classroom and online learning.

Ethical Excellence

The motto also serves as a reminder of the university’s commitment to ethical standards. It encourages you to uphold principles of honesty, integrity, and accountability.

In the fast-paced world of the 21st century, ethical standards are more critical than ever. They’re not just words on paper; they are the foundation of a just and equitable society. Northwestern University recognizes this and instills in its students a deep understanding of the importance of ethical conduct.

Your journey here won’t just be about gaining knowledge; it will be about becoming a responsible and ethical leader in your community.

The Influence of the Motto on Students

Northwestern’s motto has a profound influence on its students, shaping their academic and personal lives.

Motivation for Excellence

Students often find inspiration in the motto. It serves as a constant reminder that you are part of a community dedicated to pursuing truth and excellence. It’s not just a phrase; it’s a call to action. It challenges you to strive for the best, to push the boundaries of your abilities, and to achieve greatness.

Imagine waking up each day with the words “Quaecumque Sunt Vera” echoing in your mind. It’s not just a motto; it’s a motivation to give your best, to be curious, and to challenge the status quo. It’s a reminder that greatness is within your reach.

Building Character

The motto encourages you to build a strong moral and ethical foundation. It emphasizes the importance of personal growth and character development.

In the pursuit of knowledge, it’s easy to forget the importance of character. Northwestern University understands that true excellence is not just about what you know but also about who you are. The motto inspires you to be a person of integrity, to be empathetic, and to make a positive impact on the world.

Motto’s Relevance Today

Despite being over a century old, the Northwestern University motto remains highly relevant in the 21st century.

Adaptation to Modern Challenges

The motto has proven adaptable, continuing to resonate with students and faculty as they tackle contemporary challenges. In a world where information is abundant but not always reliable, the motto guides you in navigating through the noise. It encourages you to question, to seek the truth, and to be critical thinkers.

The motto is like a forever guide. It tells you that even when the world gets really complicated, searching for the truth is like a clear light in a world full of wrong information. This idea is just as important now as it was back in the 1800s, and it will keep guiding people for many years.

Fostering Critical Thinking

In a world flooded with information, the motto encourages you to approach knowledge with a critical mindset, seeking the truth in a sea of opinions. The ability to think critically is a precious skill that you’ll cultivate during your time at Northwestern. It’s not about accepting things at face value; it’s about delving deep, asking questions, and challenging assumptions.

In an era where information can be manipulated and distorted, the motto reinforces the importance of discernment. It’s a reminder that not all information is created equal, and you have the responsibility to sift through it, find what is true, and make informed decisions.

Female teacher addressing students in a classroom

The Motto’s Role in Northwestern’s Educational Approach

Northwestern University’s commitment to its motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” extends deep into its educational approach. Professors and instructors at Northwestern integrate the pursuit of truth and knowledge into their teaching methodologies. They encourage students to think critically, ask questions, and challenge assumptions.

Whether in lecture halls, laboratories, or seminar rooms, the motto serves as a guiding principle for both educators and learners, shaping the very foundation of Northwestern’s educational philosophy. It’s not just about imparting knowledge; it’s about nurturing inquisitive minds dedicated to uncovering what is true. This approach ensures that every graduate of Northwestern emerges as a well-rounded, thoughtful individual ready to contribute positively to society.

Celebrating the Motto Through Campus Events

Throughout the academic year, Northwestern University hosts a variety of campus events and traditions that celebrate the enduring values represented by the motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera.” These events serve as a reminder of the university’s commitment to truth, knowledge, and ethical conduct.

From special lectures by renowned scholars to annual gatherings dedicated to intellectual exploration, Northwestern’s calendar is filled with opportunities for students, faculty, and the wider community to come together and celebrate the pursuit of truth.

Northwestern’s Commitment to Community Engagement

Northwestern University’s motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” not only drives academic excellence but also fosters a deep commitment to community engagement. The university actively encourages its students and faculty to engage in community service and outreach initiatives.

From local volunteer programs to global partnerships that aim to address pressing societal issues, Northwestern is dedicated to making a positive impact on the world. The motto serves as a constant reminder that excellence isn’t limited to academic achievement; it extends to ethical leadership and service to others.

Research and Innovation Driven by the Motto

Northwestern University’s motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” is not merely a set of words; it’s a driving force behind groundbreaking research and innovation. Across diverse disciplines, from the natural sciences to the humanities, Northwestern’s faculty and students pursue truth with unwavering determination.

The commitment to knowledge has led to remarkable discoveries, inventions, and research projects that have shaped the future. These accomplishments are a testament to the enduring influence of the motto on Northwestern’s research and innovation landscape.

Global Impact and Partnerships

Northwestern University’s motto transcends geographical boundaries and influences global partnerships and collaborations. The institution’s commitment to truth and knowledge extends far beyond its campus.

International programs and collaborations reflect Northwestern’s dedication to promoting these principles on a global scale. Whether through study abroad opportunities, international research collaborations, or cultural exchange programs, the motto continues to inspire and shape the global impact of Northwestern University.

Group of students walking in the campus.


In conclusion, Northwestern University’s motto, “Quaecumque Sunt Vera,” embodies the institution’s enduring commitment to truth and excellence. It inspires students and faculty to pursue knowledge and ethical conduct, and it remains highly relevant in the 21st century. As we reflect on the motto’s historical roots and contemporary relevance, we recognize that it continues to shape the character and future of Northwestern University.

The motto is not a relic of the past; it’s a living philosophy that guides your journey through the challenges and opportunities of today’s world. So, as you embark on your Northwestern experience, embrace the motto as a powerful force that empowers you to seek the truth, think critically, and make a meaningful impact on the world.

AdmissionSight, a college consulting firm, offers personalized assistance to students in their college admissions journey. We help you create a strategic plan for your application process, identify suitable schools aligned with your academic and personal goals, and prioritize your application strategy. 

Our experts review your application, providing constructive feedback to enhance its quality and uniqueness. We also assist in crafting compelling essays that reflect your personality and achievements, guide you through the writing process, and offer feedback on drafts. In addition, we provide interview coaching to boost your confidence and readiness for college interviews, offering tips on professional presentation and answering common questions. 

We aid in optimizing your extracurricular activities to align with your interests and goals, emphasizing leadership and initiative. Overall, AdmissionSight offers valuable guidance and support to increase your chances of college acceptance. With a strong network and a success rate exceeding 75% in the past decade, book a free initial consultation today!


College Admissions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.