Road Trip: “Aha! Moments” at Northeastern University

Northeastern University is truly unique among the 50-plus colleges in Boston. It follows that Northeastern’s 13,000 undergraduate students are also unique among Boston’s 250,000 college students.  And Aha! Northeastern’s reputation is climbing by leaps and bounds — it needs to be paid attention to. 

So why has the admission rate to Northeastern dropped from somewhere around 40% to 28% and its ranking skyrocketed from 162 to 47 over roughly two decades?  The school has been accused of “playing the rankings game” (see article). That said, the school has differentiated itself and seems to be performing.  The relatively new government-published college scorecard shows Northeastern as well above the norm in results such as graduation rates and salary upon graduation. Our tour guide’s opinion re: the increased interest in Northeastern is that the 2008 recession woke families up to the importance of getting out into the workforce.  Roughly 50% of graduates receive a job offer from one of their co-ops, 15 of 150 businesses started on campus received VC investment, and Princeton Review ranks Northeastern’s Career Center #1 in the nation. Maybe Northeastern deserves to be in the top 50.  Let’s see…

What makes Northeastern unique is its “signature” co-op program.  Though not required, over 90% of the student body does at least one six-month long, 35-40 hours/week, co-op.  Undertaking two co-ops is not uncommon and a third co-op typically requires a 5th year.  There are over 3,000 companies that co-op with Northeastern, 60% of which are in the Boston area.  The natural progression is to do a first co-op in the Boston area and subsequent co-ops elsewhere.  Students are able to submit companies they would like to work at to the school for approval and, at the close of all co-ops, students evaluate the experience — work expected, level of responsibility, appropriate supervision, etc. Students can take their first coop 2nd semester of sophomore year and all must take an “Intro to Co-op” class taught within their major.  Most co-ops (particularly in business and engineering) are paid and no tuition is charged during the semesters that a student is on a co-op.  Our tour guide, a 5th year student having done three co-ops (Boston, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles), raved about her experiences and appreciated the fact that she was able to work with the same advisor over all five years. 

There are other forms of experiential learning as well:  research (a new science center is slated to be completed in 2017), service learning, and study abroad are all offered at Northeastern.  The study abroad program comes in multiple formats including Dialogue of Civilization faculty-led summer programs, global co-ops and traditional summer or semester long study abroad programs. Northeastern as some other colleges will accept students for Spring semester, however they do it in a unique way through the program where students study abroad in one of six locations for a semester before coming to Northeastern’s campus. is the only pathway to Spring admission to Northeastern.

The fact that at any one time a third of the students are off campus on co-ops or study abroad programs impacts the culture of the campus. The architecture does unify the school somewhat and colorful Adirondack chairs tie together the outdoor spaces. That said, it is less of a “college experience” with the campus changing every semester. That change provides loads of leadership opportunities but also requires that students be intentional with friends — a level of maturity not common among college students.  When on Boston’s campus, expect diversity — 19% of the student body is international.

Consider Northeastern University if you are so ready to get to work in the real world you can feel it…but would like to go to college too…and are eager to embrace an urban environment and a global experience.