General Registration Policies

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Curriculum Requirements

Students are required to complete the curriculum requirements in place at the time of their admission to the degree or certificate program.

If a student’s program curriculum changes during their enrollment at SPS, the student may petition to change to the new curriculum by completing a Student Affairs Petition.  Students should meet with their academic adviser prior to requesting such a change in order to fully understand the academic ramifications of switching curriculums.

Course Registration

Students should consult the program course listings for the most up-to-date information. Course descriptions, instructor information, day/time and campus information, term start and end dates and course prerequisites are listed.

Students may register for all courses through CAESAR with the exception of the below courses. More information may be found at the Using CAESAR section of the student handbook.

  • Independent Studies (499)
  • Practicums (579/580)
  • Thesis Research (589/590)
  • Courses outside one’s program

Course room assignments are posted one week prior to the beginning of the quarter.

Course Registration Deadlines

Students may register for courses from the time registration opens (approximately six to eight weeks before the quarter starts) until the end of the registration period (the Friday of the first week of classes). Exact dates for these events are found on the graduate calendar.

Students are responsible for adhering to registration deadlines. It is the student’s responsibility to register and, if necessary, drop classes by the posted deadlines. No one will complete this for the student, except in cases where a class is cancelled.

SPS encourages students to register for courses at the earliest possible date. Early registration helps SPS serve its students more effectively. Some courses fill up quickly, and early registration will let SPS staff know whether an additional section (where possible) is needed. Students who delay registration may find that an under-enrolled course has been cancelled due to apparent lack of interest.

If registration questions or problems arise, students may contact the SPS Registrar’s Office at onlinereg@northwestern.edu or 312-503-6951.

Continuous Enrollment Requirement

Students who do not register for courses during the registration period for four consecutive quarters are considered to have “discontinued” their study at SPS upon the 4th quarter of non-enrollment and are withdrawn from their program and deactivated by the CAESAR system. In order to be reactivated and take courses again, students must submit the SPS Request for Readmission. If readmitted, students must follow curriculum that is current at the time of their readmission, which could mean additional units of credit are required for the degree.

Time Away From Studies at SPS

If students need to take time off from their program, they should register for the placeholder course, SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration, in order to maintain active student status and avoid discontinuation. More information on SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration may be found below.

SPS 512

SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration is a placeholder registration course for graduate students to use in order to maintain continuous enrollment in their program in a quarter where they do not enroll in any credit-bearing courses (e.g. during continued work on a thesis project).

SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration may not be taken as the first course in program. SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration may only apply after completing a course and may only be taken at a maximum of four consecutive quarters.

Registration in SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration will allow students to:

  • Maintain an active Net ID and email account.
  • Access University facilities including university libraries Access, SPS resources and Learning Studios (online tutorials)
  • Avoid readmission requirement for leaves of 4 or more terms.

Students register for SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration in exactly the same way that they would for any other course, via CAESAR.

Additional Policies and Information on SPS 512

There is no cost to register for SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration.

SPS 512-0 Continuous Registration does not carry any units of credits, so it cannot be used to defer loans or maintain international residency requirements.

SPS 588 Residential Master’s Study

SPS 588-0 Resident Master's Study Residential Master’s Study is a placeholder class that confers full-time status for international students on student visas. Students should contact the Northwestern International Office to help facilitate registration.

Additional Policies and Information Relating to SPS 588

  • SPS 588-0 Resident Master's Study is a special registration that applies only to students who are in the United States on a student visa; students who are not on a student visa cannot enroll in SPS 588-0 Resident Master's Study under any circumstances.
  • Students on an applicable visa must be registered for their final curriculum requirements.
  • Please note that SPS 588-0 Resident Master's Study is not in and of itself sufficient to extend a student’s visa. Students should contact the International Office for information regarding visas.
  • Tuition for SPS 588-0 Resident Master's Study is listed on the tuition page.

Readmission Policies

Students who do not register for four consecutive quarters are considered to have “discontinued” their study at SPS and are withdrawn from their program and deactivated by the CAESAR system. In order to be reactivated and take courses again, students must submit the SPS Request for Readmission. If readmitted, students are subject to the readmission fee and the following policies:

  • Students will be readmitted into the curriculum that is current at the time of their readmission, which could mean additional units of credit are required for the degree.
  • If a readmitted student wishes to remain in the original curriculum in which they started, you may submit a Student Affairs petition to request this accommodation.  

Deferring Entry into the Program

Students have the option to delay the start of their degree program or certificate of advanced graduate study by one to four quarters.

Students may defer by sending an email to the SPS registrar.

Important Information and Policies on Deferred Entry

  • Students may defer a maximum of four quarters from their term of admission. For example, a student admitted for a fall quarter may defer fall, winter, spring and summer quarters but must start the certificate of advanced graduate study or degree program by the following fall term.
  • International students admitted to a full-time on-campus program that has just one start term may defer to the following academic year. For example, a student admitted for a fall quarter may defer until the following fall term.
  • Students who do not start their certificate of advanced graduate study or degree program within this time must apply for readmission.

Taking More than Two Courses in a Quarter

SPS graduate programs are designed to be completed part-time to accommodate the busy schedules of working adults. If a student’s schedule allows, he or she may take up to four courses in a quarter; however, as programs are designed for part-time study, SPS cannot guarantee the scheduling of courses to accommodate the equivalent of full-time study.

CAESAR limits self-service registration to two courses. To register for more than two courses, students must contact the SPS registrar at onlinereg@northwestern.edu to request that their enrollment capacity be lifted. This request must be made before students attempt course registration on CAESAR or they will have to register for their third and fourth classes by submitting a paper registration form.

Prerequisites

Prerequisites indicate the expected background for a course. If no prerequisite is noted, none is required. Students are responsible for discussing course requirements with their academic advisers. They should look carefully at the requirements for each program or certificate and plan early how to sequence courses to take care of prerequisites.

Course Cancellation

The University reserves the right to cancel classes when necessary, including those for which registration is not sufficient.

Dropping Courses

Dropping a course refers to the student removing him- or herself from enrollment. Students who drop all their courses for a given quarter are sometimes referred to as “withdrawing” from the academic quarter. At SPS, this simply indicates that an active student is not enrolled for that quarter, not that the individual is no longer a student.

How to Drop a Course During the Registration Period

Students can drop a course via self-service in CAESAR until the end of the registration period for the term (until the last day of the first week of the term, exact dates found on the SPS Graduate Academic Calendar). Classes dropped during this time will not appear on the student’s official transcript.

How to Drop a Course During the Term

After the end of the registration period, students may request to drop a course until the drop deadline (roughly at sixth week of the term, exact dates found on the SPS Graduate Academic Calendar). In this period of the term, students must submit a Change of Registration form to the SPS Registrar’s Office in order to withdraw from the course. The SPS Registrar’s Office will accept this form by email at onlinereg@northwestern.edu, providing it is sent from the student’s Northwestern email account. Dropped classes during this period will not appear on the student’s official transcript.

Administrative Drop Policy

It is the student’s responsibility to officially drop/withdraw from classes.

Students who fail to participate in their course(s) during the first two weeks of the quarter without contacting the faculty may be administratively dropped from the course(s). Administratively dropped courses will not appear on the student record and will receive a full tuition refund.

Logging into Canvas does not constitute participation. Non-participation is defined as the following:

  • No posts in graded discussion in Canvas
  • No graded quizzes submitted in Canvas
  • No graded assignment files uploads in Canvas
    And/or
  • Zero participation in the course as determined by the faculty member

Requesting to Be Withdrawn From a Class After the Drop Deadline

In rare cases, a student may request to be removed from a course after the drop deadline.  Requests to be removed from a class after the drop deadline is considered a withdrawal. Students may initiate a request for withdrawal by submitting the Change of Registration form to the SPS Registrar’s Office until the Friday of the week prior to finals week (as long as this date is prior to the date of final exam, project or paper in the particular course has been reached), a date that we will confirm with your instructor. The SPS Registrar’s Office will accept this form by email at onlinereg@northwestern.edu providing it is sent from the student’s Northwestern email account.

All withdrawals after the drop deadline will result in a “W” (withdrawal) grade being posted to the student’s official transcript. Graduate program students may have up to two W’s on their SPS transcript.  Requests for withdrawals that exceed this limit will be denied.

Additional Policies Regarding Dropping a Course

  • If a student needs to drop a course, he or she must officially drop through CAESAR or through Change of Registration form submitted to the SPS Registrar; it is not sufficient to simply notify the instructor, speak with one’s adviser, or cease attending class.
  • Students may drop courses without academic or financial penalty during the registration period each quarter. If a student drops a course before the end of the registration period, the classes will not appear on the student’s transcript and he or she will be eligible for a full refund. Please check the SPS Graduate Academic Calendar for registration period dates.
  • After the registration period has ended, students may still drop a course without academic penalty until the drop deadline (check the SPS Graduate Academic Calendar for drop deadline dates). Courses dropped during this time will not appear on the student’s transcript; however, students will only be eligible for a partial course refund if dropping all courses in the given quarter. For specific information on refunds, contact Student Financial Services.
  • CAESAR will not allow a student to drop all of his or her classes in a given term.  If a student would like to drop all classes in a given term, he or she should use the Change of Registration form to request that the SPS Registrar make this change on his or her behalf.
  • Students who feel that extenuating circumstances may merit an exception to any of the above should submit a Student Affairs Petition outlining the reasoning and attach any relevant supporting documentation.

Independent Study

An independent study is a customized course of study undertaken by a single student under the guidance of an instructor. Denoted by the course number 499, independent studies are comparable in their demands to other graduate-level courses.

To register for Independent Study, a student must:

  1. Identify an SPS faculty member to supervise the independent study. To ensure compliance with Northwestern’s academic policies and standards, all independent study instructors must be preapproved by SPS administration. If the proposed instructor was the sole instructor for a graduate-level course in the student’s program during the two years prior to the intended quarter of registration, there is no need to seek prior approval from SPS. Leadership instructors are not preapproved to lead independent study classes. SPS reserves the right to reject any independent study instructor who does not have the requisite content expertise in the student’s area of study. Students with questions or concerns about choosing an independent study instructor should contact their academic adviser.
  2. Develop a syllabus, in consultation with his or her instructor that includes a list of readings, assignments, assignment deadlines and assessment criteria as well as a breakdown of how the grade will be calculated. Please note, Independent Study courses cannot duplicate regular courses offered by SPS Academic Programs. The purpose of an Independent Study is to investigate topics not covered by regular courses offered in the curriculum.
  3. Submit a completed Intent to Register form, along with the course of study or syllabus, to the student’s academic adviser by the deadlines given in the SPS Graduate Calendar. Once registration is approved, the SPS registrar will register the student.

Additional Policies on Independent Studies

  • Students who drop an independent study course must tell their academic adviser immediately. The same deadlines and policies that apply to other courses apply to independent studies.
  • Students should check their program’s program-specific policies section for the number of independent study courses allowed and any additional requirements.
  • An independent study can only be undertaken if an equivalent course is not offered by SPS once within four consecutive quarters. Required courses in a program’s curriculum may not be taken as independent study courses. Students should contact their academic adviser for guidance on the independent study approval process.

Internships

Internships can provide a great opportunity for students to gain paid or unpaid workplace experience. While SPS does not actively place students in internships, the school encourages students to seek out internship opportunities, either as a supplement to their graduate program or as part of an independent study (499).

Students in the MA and MFA Programs in Creative Writing interested in registering for a practicum should contact their academic adviser.

While an internship alone cannot be directly counted for credit towards one’s degree, a student can take advantage of the internship’s experience and resources as the foundation of an independent study. To incorporate an internship into an independent study, students should follow the independent study registration procedures and additional policies listed above. In addition,

  1. Students should check with their academic adviser for guidance regarding any internship requirements.
  2. Students should write a detailed proposal, articulating specifically what they will be doing, what resources they will have access to at the internship and who will be supervising the internship. This proposal will need to be approved by the Assistant Director for Graduate Programs. The student’s academic adviser can help guide the student through this process.
  3. Near the close of the internship, the internship supervisor should email a written evaluation of the student’s performance to the instructor. This evaluation should be based on clearly defined tasks and will factor into the student’s final grade.

Capstone Classes and Independent Thesis Research Projects

In all programs, students must complete a culminating project: a capstone or thesis. For all programs this can be achieved by undertaking an independent thesis research project (590), and in some programs this may be achieved by completing a capstone class (498). Students should check their curriculum requirements to see whether 498 is an option available in their program.

Students in the MFA program should see program-specific policies section for thesis policies and processes unique to that program.

The table below outlines the differences in very broad terms. Individual programs may have specific policies regarding each of these.

Question 498 Capstone Course 590 Thesis
What work is required? A student will work individually and in some programs may also be required to participate in a group project or case study. Individually, a student will work independently under the guidance of a thesis advisor on an original project.
How long does it take? 10-week class. Students register for 590 once only (with the exception of MFA) and have one year to complete the thesis research project.
When can a student register? A student registers for 498 during or after his or her last quarter of classes. A student registers for 590 during or after his or her last quarter of classes.
How does a student register? Students register themselves in CAESAR after obtaining a permission number from their academic adviser. Students must receive approval of a proposal and submit a Thesis Registration form. The process in full is outlined on the Thesis Intent to Register Form.
How will the final project be assessed? A student is individually assessed and graded throughout the duration of the class and is given a final course grade that is factored into his or her cumulative GPA. Multiple drafts of the thesis are submitted until the thesis meets both Thesis Advisor and Final Reader approval, at which time a grade of P (pass) is given. Does not affect cumulative GPA.
How much is tuition? Tuition is the cost of one unit of graduate credit. Tuition is the cost of one unit of graduate credit.

Registering for the Capstone Class or Individual Thesis

Students may register for 498 or 590 courses in the same quarter as their last remaining course but not before. Students must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 to register, and are not carrying any outstanding incomplete grades (Y grade) on their SPS graduate record, to be eligible to enroll in the 498 capstone class or 590 thesis research. Students who hold a cumulative GPA below 3.0 after completing 498 must contact their academic adviser immediately. The student will be required to take an additional course, and the graduation date will be adjusted.

Thesis Registration Process

For more information on the thesis process, please see the Thesis Student Guide sheet attached to the Thesis Intent to Register Form.

Students are responsible for submitting a Thesis Registration Form along with the following:

  • A proposal approved by the faculty member whom you have identified; 
  • The faculty member’s e-mail acceptance to serve as a Thesis Advisor; and
  • A completed degree audit by your academic adviser

All of these documents must be submitted to the program’s Faculty Director and Assistant Director of Graduate Programs at least two weeks prior to the start of the academic term in which you wish to register for the Thesis course. The student will be notified as to whether or not their proposal has been approved.

Taking Courses Outside a Student’s Program

If a course is not listed in the student’s program curriculum requirements or designated as an elective for that program in the course description, then it is considered “outside a student’s program.”

  • Students may not take more than 50% of their required courses outside of regularly scheduled SPS classes.

Registering for a Class Outside a Student’s Program

If a student wishes to take a course that is not listed in his or her certificate of advanced graduate study completion requirements or a graduate program’s degree requirements, he or she must complete the following process, whether or not the course will be counted towards the certificate or degree:

  1. The student must secure the documented permission of his or her academic adviser at least two weeks before planning to register.
  2. The student must secure documented permission of the department offering the course.
  3. Once the above permissions are secured, the student must submit the Graduate Online Change of Registration form.

Additional Policies and Information Related to Registering for a Course Outside a Student’s Program

  • Students taking courses outside their program will be charged tuition at the same rate as if they were taking courses in their certificate or degree program.
  • Financial aid or loans may not cover the cost of any classes that do not count as progress toward the student’s declared certificate or degree.
  • Students may incur additional fees associated with taking a class in another program.
  • Not all programs or courses will allow outside students to enroll.

Taking Additional Courses Beyond Those Required by the Curriculum

Additional courses are elective courses that are not required for a student’s degree completion. Students who wish to take additional courses beyond their necessary degree requirements are highly encouraged to continue their studies at SPS in a graduate certificate or certificate of advanced graduate study program after completion of their degree program.

SPS recommends that students contact their academic adviser to discuss applying for a certificate of advanced graduate study or before registering for additional courses as a degree student.

Additional Policies and Information Relating to Additional Courses

  • If a student takes additional courses, the grades will count towards the student’s degree grade point average and cumulative grade point average.
  • For more information on grade requirements, see the section on grade requirements and academic progress.
  • Financial aid or loans may not cover the cost of any classes that do not count as progress toward the student’s declared degree or declared certificate of advanced graduate study.

Taking Courses Outside of SPS (Cross-School Registration)

Students who have been admitted to a SPS master’s degree program and wish to pursue academic interests not available in SPS have the option to enroll in graduate-level courses at other Northwestern schools as availability and program restrictions allow. The following policies and procedures apply to all SPS students seeking such enrollment:

  • SPS does not guarantee enrollment in courses at other schools within Northwestern University.
  • Students are required to consult with their SPS academic adviser about selection of any courses outside of their program degree requirements. 
  • Students will need to receive documented permission from the applicable department offering the course as well as permission from the instructor teaching the course.
  • Students will then need to submit a Student Affairs Petition at least two weeks prior to the start of the term including the following:
    • Brief statement describing why the course should be counted toward their degree;
    • Syllabus of the desired course;
    • Current NU transcript; and
    • Documented permission from the applicable department and instructor of the course.
  • If the Course Substitution is approved, the student will be notified and must submit a Change of Registration Form
  • Students taking courses outside their program will be charged tuition at the same rate as if they were taking courses in their degree program.
  • Financial aid or loans may not cover the cost of any classes that do not count as progress toward the student’s declared degree.
  • Students may incur additional fees associated with taking a class in another program.
  • SPS students may take a maximum of three courses outside of SPS.
  • For students in our Humanities programs only (MA in Literature, Liberal Studies, or Writing; MFA in Prose & Poetry):  Students may not take more than 50% of their required courses outside of regularly scheduled SPS classes, i.e. classes offered through the Graduate School (TGS). There may be other stipulations that apply, so please be sure to check with your program-specific policies and consult with your academic adviser.

Please note: Whether a course is taken in another school to meet SPS program degree requirements or not, the course grade will be factored into the student’s cumulative GPA.

Double Specializations

Only one specialization can be taken with each degree. Students interested in completing two specialization requirements should consider pursuing a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study following graduation from their program.

Course Waivers

In rare situations, if a student’s prior academic experience is assessed as equivalent to the mastery of the course content, a course waiver may be granted.

Applying for a Waiver

To apply for a waiver, a student must consult with their academic adviser and submit a course waiver request form. This request must include the following supporting documentation:

  • Brief statement describing the prior coursework and why it should be considered equivalent to the required SPS course.
  • Syllabus of the previously taken course.
  • Transcripts from previous coursework.
  • Additional Policies and Information Relating to Course Waivers.
  • Waivers are granted for equivalent credit-bearing coursework completed at an accredited university.
  • Waivers will only be considered for courses taken within the last 10 years in which the student earned a grade of B or better.
  • In situations where a course waiver is granted, the student, in consultation with his or her academic adviser, must replace the course with an elective take another course in lieu of the waived course. It is important to note that a course waiver does not change the number of units the student needs to earn in order graduate.

Substituting Courses or Taking Courses Outside of a Student’s Program (Within SPS)

If a course is not listed in the student’s program curriculum requirements or designated as an elective for that program in the course description, then it is considered “outside of a student’s program.”

  • Students may not take more than 50% of their required courses outside of their SPS program.

Getting Approval and Registering for a Course Substitution

If a student wishes to take a course that is not listed in his or her graduate program’s degree requirements but offered by another SPS program, the student must complete the following process to determine whether or not the course will be counted towards their degree:

  • Students are required to consult with their SPS academic adviser about selection of any courses outside of their program degree requirements. 
  • Students will then need to submit a Student Affairs Petition at least two weeks prior to the start of the term including the following:
    • Brief statement describing why the course should be counted toward their degree;
    • Syllabus of the desired course; and
    • Current NU transcript (unofficial is acceptable).
    • If the Course Substitution is approved, the student will be notified and must submit a Change of Registration Form
    • Students taking courses outside their program will be charged tuition at the same rate as if they were taking courses in their degree program.
    • Financial aid or loans may not cover the cost of any classes that do not count as progress toward the student’s declared degree.
    • Students may incur additional fees associated with taking a class in another program.
    • SPS does not guarantee enrollment in courses outside of a student’s program.
    • Students in MALS, MALIT, or MA Writing certificates of advanced graduate studies are permitted to seek course substitution waiver opportunities per the above policies.

If a student wishes to take a course outside of SPS at another Northwestern School, please see the Cross School Registration section.

Transferring to a New Program Within SPS

To apply to transfer from one SPS graduate program to another, students must submit the following to SPS Admissions by the admission deadline:

  • Application for Program Transfer form
  • Most recent SPS transcript
  • Transcripts from any institution that a student attended since admission to his or her SPS program
  • New statement of purpose
  • Updated resume/CV
  • Updated letters of recommendation
  • Possible writing samples and other materials (please check the admissions requirements for the respective programs)

Transfers between programs are reviewed by the admissions committee during the application period. Students who transfer will have their coursework evaluated to see if any classes can count toward the new program requirements. Students should check the Course Substitution section for eligibility. Students may not transfer between certificate and degree programs or visa versa. Instead, they must complete a new application for the desired program.

Stackable Graduate Certificates

Students who want to apply to a master’s program before completing a stackable graduate certificate must complete a new application for the desired program. Completed courses will count toward the applicable master’s degree, but there will be no certificate conferred.

Students who successfully complete an SPS graduate certificate that stacks into an applicable master’s program can apply certificate course credits to the master’s degree if they choose to apply to the master’s program and are admitted. To apply to the master’s program after successful graduate certificate completion, students must submit the following to SPS Admissions by the admission deadline:

  • Application form
  • Most recent SPS transcript with certificate conferral
  • Revised statement of purpose
  • Updated resume/CV
  • One additional letter of recommendation, preferably from an SPS faculty member from the certificate program
  • Possible writing samples and other materials (please check the admissions requirements for the respective programs)
  • $75 application fee will be waived

Please note: Certificates of Advanced Graduate Study do not stack into a master’s degree program.

Impact on Cumulative GPA

Please be aware that all graduate course grades affect the student’s degree grade point average and cumulative grade point average, including graduate courses taken outside the degree or certificate program. Transferring to a different SPS program does not reset a student’s cumulative GPA.

Changing Program Status

Any of the following are considered changes in a student’s program status:

  • Changing declared degree specialization or track to another within same degree program.
  • Changing to a new curriculum within the student’s existing program.

Follow the Steps Below for a Change in Program Status

  1. SPS students who wish to transfer programs within SPS must complete the Application for Program Transfer form.
    1. The transfer application must include a student’s unofficial SPS transcript and a brief statement as to why the transfer is being requested.
  2. SPS students who wish to change their degree specialization should contact their academic adviser.
  3. Students who wish to change to an updated curriculum must complete a Student Affairs Petition.
    1. Students should consult with their academic adviser prior to requesting such a change in order to fully understand the academic ramifications of switching curriculums.

Policies on Changing Program Status

  • Any allowable course substitution will be determined at the time of admission. Students should check the Course Substitution section for eligibility.
  • Please note that any courses taken as a visiting scholar or certificate student will not transfer to degree programs.

Transferring From Northwestern Graduate Programs to SPS

Northwestern students who wish to transfer into a graduate program within SPS must apply to the SPS program as a new applicant and submit all application materials, including the application form and fee, outlined on the admissions pages of each graduate program of the SPS website.

Policies on Transferring Credits Into SPS Graduate Programs From Other Northwestern Graduate Programs

Any transfer credit will be evaluated after admission to the program. Students should check the Transfer Credit section for eligibility.

Transfer Credit

SPS graduate programs do not accept transfer credit from other institutions.

Students who successfully complete SPS graduate certificates that stack into an applicable SPS master’s program can apply certificate course credits to the master’s degree if they choose to apply to the master’s program and are admitted.

Please note: Certificates of Advanced Graduate Study do not stack into a master’s degree program.