Northwestern vs Grinnell: A Look at Their Differences and Similarities

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

College Decision Day

Northwestern vs Grinnell: A Look at Their Differences and Similarities

Northwestern University and Grinnell College are both highly regarded institutions of higher learning located in the United States. While each has its unique characteristics, they also share similarities in various aspects. In this article, we will look at the differences and similarities between Northwestern vs Grinnell, two excellent universities, and assess what they can offer to prospective students.

History of Northwestern University & Grinnell College

Northwestern University was founded in 1851 and has evolved into a top-tier research institution. Grinnell College was founded in 1846, making it one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the United States. Both universities have a rich history and tradition of excellence in academics and athletics.

Northwestern University was originally established as a Methodist institution, with the goal of providing education to the growing population of the Chicago area. Over the years, it has expanded its academic offerings and research capabilities, becoming a leader in fields such as medicine, law, and journalism.

Grinnell College, on the other hand, was founded by a group of Congregationalists who sought to establish a college in the Midwest that would provide a rigorous liberal arts education. Today, Grinnell is known for its strong commitment to social justice and its innovative approach to undergraduate education.

Northwestern vs Grinnell: Location and Campus Overview

Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, whereas Grinnell College is situated in Grinnell, Iowa, a small town in the Midwestern United States. Northwestern’s main campus covers 240 acres along Lake Michigan’s shores, while Grinnell’s campus covers 120 acres in the heart of town. Both campuses offer a mix of historical and modern architecture and are considered picturesque and pleasant sites for studying.

Northwestern University’s location near Chicago provides students with access to a vibrant city with numerous cultural and entertainment options. Students can easily take advantage of the city’s museums, theaters, and restaurants. In contrast, Grinnell College’s location in a small town offers a more intimate and close-knit community. Students can easily walk to local shops and restaurants and get to know their fellow students and community members.

Both Northwestern and Grinnell offer a variety of outdoor spaces for students to enjoy. Northwestern’s campus is situated along Lake Michigan, providing students with access to beaches and waterfront activities. Grinnell’s campus features a large central green space, perfect for picnics and outdoor gatherings. Both campuses also offer numerous walking paths and trails for students to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of their surroundings.

Northwestern vs Grinnell: Admission Requirements and Process

The admission requirements and processes of Northwestern and Grinnell differ slightly. Northwestern places a higher emphasis on standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, while Grinnell utilizes a test-optional policy. Both universities consider other factors such as extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and essays in their decision-making process. It’s worth noting that both institutions welcome applications from international students and offer support to help them navigate the process.

Scholarship document, admission paper or letter on table.

Additionally, Northwestern requires applicants to submit a mid-year report from their high school, while Grinnell does not have this requirement. On the other hand, Grinnell encourages applicants to participate in an interview with an admissions representative, while Northwestern does not offer interviews as part of its application process.

Furthermore, Northwestern has a binding Early Decision option, which means that if a student is accepted, they must attend the university. Grinnell, on the other hand, has a non-binding Early Decision option, which allows students to apply early and receive an admissions decision without being obligated to attend if accepted.

Student Life: Housing, Clubs, and Social Activities

Northwestern and Grinnell present a wide range of activities and organizations for their students, providing ample opportunities for personal growth and socializing.

Northwestern’s students can join over 300 student organizations ranging from music and arts to politics and community services. Grinnell offers over 150 student-led organizations, including organizations dedicated to philanthropy, sports, diversity, and sustainability. Both universities offer different housing and dining options depending on students’ preferences.

Additionally, both Northwestern and Grinnell have active social calendars, with events ranging from concerts and movie screenings to guest lectures and cultural festivals. These events provide students with opportunities to engage with their peers and the broader community and to explore new interests and perspectives.

Both universities also offer resources and support for students who want to start their own clubs or organizations, providing a platform for students to pursue their passions and make a positive impact on campus and beyond.

Academic Programs: Majors, Minors, and Areas of Study

Northwestern and Grinnell offer a broad range of academic programs that cater to a variety of interests and aspirations. Northwestern offers over 190 undergraduate programs, including majors, minors, and certificates. The university also provides double-major options and offers five-year dual-degree programs.

Grinnell’s liberal arts education philosophy provides majors in around 26 departments, including interdisciplinary studies. The college encourages interdisciplinary studies, allowing students to design their individualized majors and minors.

Unknown person writing on a board full of Math concepts.

In addition to the traditional majors and minors offered at Northwestern and Grinnell, both institutions also provide opportunities for students to pursue unique areas of study. Northwestern offers a variety of interdisciplinary programs, such as the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program and the Cognitive Science program.

Grinnell offers a self-designed major option, where students can create their own major by combining courses from different departments. This allows students to tailor their education to their specific interests and career goals.

Faculty: Size, Diversity, and Teaching Style

Northwestern University and Grinnell College emphasize faculty-student interactions, with small class sizes and opportunities for collaboration in research, creative work, and coursework. Northwestern has around 2,500 faculty members, while Grinnell has around 180 faculty members.

Both universities ensure a diverse faculty population, with Northwestern boasting a 23% minority faculty and Grinnell having around 20%. The teaching style of both universities is student-centered, emphasizing an interactive and collaborative approach to learning.

At Northwestern University, faculty members are encouraged to engage in interdisciplinary research and teaching, which allows for a more holistic approach to education. This approach is reflected in the university’s numerous research centers and institutes, which bring together faculty from different departments to work on common research goals. Grinnell College, on the other hand, emphasizes a liberal arts education, with faculty members teaching across a wide range of disciplines and encouraging students to explore different fields of study.

In addition to their teaching and research responsibilities, faculty members at both universities are also involved in various community outreach programs. Northwestern University has a strong commitment to public service, with faculty members engaging in community-based research and volunteering in local schools and non-profit organizations. Grinnell College has a similar focus on community engagement, with faculty members working with local businesses and organizations to address social and environmental issues in the surrounding area.

Northwestern vs Grinnell: Class Size and Student-to-Teacher Ratio

Class sizes and student-teacher ratios vary at Northwestern and Grinnell. Northwestern has an undergraduate student body of around 8,400 students and an average class size of 23 students, while Grinnell has an undergraduate student body of about 1,600 students with an average class size of 15 students. Northwestern’s student-teacher ratio is 6:1, and Grinnell’s is 9:1. In either institution, students engage in close interactions with professors, including research opportunities and close guidance in coursework.

However, it is important to note that class size and student-teacher ratios are not the only factors that determine the quality of education. The teaching style, curriculum, and resources available also play a significant role. At Northwestern, students have access to state-of-the-art facilities, including research labs, libraries, and technology centers. Grinnell, on the other hand, emphasizes a liberal arts education, with a focus on critical thinking and interdisciplinary learning.

Furthermore, both institutions offer a wide range of extracurricular activities and opportunities for students to get involved in the community. Northwestern has over 400 student organizations, including clubs for sports, arts, and social causes. Grinnell has a strong tradition of community service, with many students participating in volunteer work and internships in the local area.

Northwestern vs Grinnell: Research Opportunities and Extracurricular Programs

In comparing Northwestern vs Grinnell, both aim to provide their students with extensive research opportunities, with an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning. Northwestern is known for its cutting-edge research facilities, attracting notable research grants, and promoting research collaborations between students and faculty members. Grinnell offers students various extracurricular opportunities, such as internships, entrepreneurship programs, and service-learning projects.

Additionally, Northwestern and Grinnell both offer opportunities for students to participate in research projects outside of their respective campuses. Northwestern has partnerships with several research institutions in the Chicago area, including the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium, providing students with access to a wide range of research projects. Grinnell has a strong network of alumni who work in various industries and fields, offering students the chance to participate in research projects and internships across the country.

Athletics Programs: Division, Teams, and Facilities

Northwestern and Grinnell offer various opportunities for students interested in athletics. Northwestern is an NCAA Division I school, with around 19 varsity athletic teams and a range of intramural and club sports opportunities. Grinnell competes in Division III athletics and offers scholarship-free athletics, with over 20 varsity athletic teams, recreational programs, and an active intramural program. Both universities have excellent facilities for training and competition.

Mens' baseball pitcher throwing the curveball to the batter.

Northwestern’s athletics program has a strong focus on academic success, with a high graduation rate among student-athletes. The university also offers a variety of resources to support the physical and mental health of its athletes, including sports medicine services and mental health counseling. Additionally, Northwestern has a long-standing rivalry with the University of Illinois, which adds excitement to many of its athletic events.

Grinnell’s athletics program is known for its unique approach to training and competition. The school emphasizes a team-oriented approach, with many sports using a rotation system that allows all team members to participate in games. Grinnell is also home to the “Grinnell System,” a fast-paced, high-scoring basketball strategy that has gained national attention. The school’s athletic facilities include a state-of-the-art fitness center, an indoor track, and multiple fields and courts for outdoor sports.

Northwestern vs Grinnell: Tuition Fees and Financial Aid Packages Available

Tuition and fees for Northwestern and Grinnell vary and are subject to change annually. Northwestern’s tuition fees for undergraduate students for the 2021-2022 academic year are around $58,000, including room and board, while Grinnell’s tuition fees for undergraduate students for the 2021-2022 academic year are around $54,000. Both universities provide extensive financial aid to students in need.

Northwestern University offers a variety of financial aid packages to help students cover the cost of tuition and other expenses. These packages include scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. The university also has a need-based aid program that takes into account a student’s family income and assets.

Similarly, Grinnell College provides a range of financial aid options to help students afford their education. The college offers need-based aid, merit-based scholarships, and work-study programs. In addition, Grinnell has a no-loan policy, which means that students do not have to take out loans to cover their tuition and fees.

Student Population Demographics: Age, Gender, Ethnicity, and Nationality

The student body population at Northwestern and Grinnell is diverse and inclusive, with students coming from various backgrounds and ethnicities. Northwestern’s student body is around 50% male and 50% female, with around 30% of students identifying as students of color. Grinnell’s student body is relatively evenly split between male and female, with around 40% of students identifying as students of color.

In terms of age, both Northwestern and Grinnell have a mix of traditional and non-traditional students. At Northwestern, the average age of undergraduate students is 21, while at Grinnell, the average age is slightly higher at 22. Both schools also have a significant number of graduate students, with Northwestern having a larger graduate student population.

When it comes to nationality, both schools have a diverse international student population. Northwestern has students from over 100 countries, with the largest international student populations coming from China, South Korea, and India. Grinnell also has students from over 50 countries, with the largest international student populations coming from China, Vietnam, and India.

Future Plans & Developments for the Institutions

Both Northwestern and Grinnell have plans to expand and improve their facilities and programs. Northwestern has planned to renovate its athletic and recreation center and expand its engineering department’s facilities. Grinnell College has focused its attention on expanding sustainability initiatives and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

Engineering students working together on a lab.

In addition to these plans, Northwestern is also exploring the possibility of adding a new major in data science to its curriculum. This would involve hiring additional faculty and investing in new technology and resources to support the program.

Meanwhile, Grinnell College is looking to establish partnerships with local businesses and organizations to provide more internship and job opportunities for its students. The college is also considering adding new majors and minors in fields such as public health and environmental studies to better prepare students for the changing job market.


In conclusion, Northwestern University and Grinnell College offer exceptional opportunities for undergraduate students to receive an excellent liberal arts education and develop skills that will benefit them in their future careers. Although, in comparing Northwestern vs Grinnell, each institution has its unique qualities, similarities in academics, career opportunities, and campus life exist. Prospective students should evaluate their goals and interests to determine which of these institutions may provide the best experience for them.

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