Skip to main content


Expand all

Why the Humanities?

One of the functions of the humanities is to preserve, extend and revise traditional forms of knowledge in an ever-changing world. This enterprise is epitomized in the central humanistic concept of "critical thinking," and the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program represents critical thinking at its best. In a sequence of four courses spread over two quarters, the 48 incoming first-year students selected to be Kaplan Scholars are challenged to integrate a variety of intellectual methods. The themes of the program rigorously probe the qualitative aspects of human experience, and they are large, bold, and ambitious: "Brave New Worlds," "Language," "Capitalism," "The Human Animal," "The Comic Spirit."

Throughout their first year, the Kaplan Scholars form a particularly close cohort as they work together with two teams of award-winning teachers drawn from Literature, History, Philosophy, and other humanities departments. As befits its place at the heart of the humanities, the program focuses on reading, writing and discussion, and each student’s analytical skills are honed through intensive engagement with these practices. The Kaplan Scholars learn to form complex opinions, to argue for important values, and to discriminate among competing forms of evidence. One of the signature features of the program is its extension of education beyond the classroom: students and professors attend performances and visit museums and other cultural and historical sites in addition to participating in the usual lectures and seminars. An intensive preparation for the broadest possible range of programs and pursuits, the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program is for the university’s most adventurous and imaginative minds, no matter what their intended major or field of study.

How does it work?

If you are selected to be a Kaplan Humanities Scholar, you will take four courses in the program, spread out over the fall and winter quarters of your first year. These classes will thus constitute roughly half your coursework over that period. At the same time, each Kaplan course fulfills one of the specific graduation requirement that ALL students in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences must complete OUTSIDE their selected major, and thus the program is fully compatible with ANY major in the College.

In each of your first two quarters, you will work closely with a team of three professors drawn from different departments. These professors have designed a special lecture course revolving around a particular topic (e.g., Utopia, Capitalism, Alternate Americas). In addition to taking this lecture course, you will take a coordinated first-year seminar with ONE of the professors, who becomes your advisor as well. Thus you will take one lecture course and one first-year seminar in the fall, and a second lecture course and seminar (on a different topic, taught by a separate team of three professors) in the winter.

How do I apply?

Admission to the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program is based on materials already in your original Northwestern application file. We are looking for a diverse group of enthusiastic, top-notch students with broad interests, and you only need to indicate that you would like to be considered for admission to the program by filling in a short form (no additional application is required). The deadline for application is May 11, 2020. Decisions are made the first week of June, and you will be notified either way.

Click here for the short application form.

For more information, please contact Tom Burke.

Back to top