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How I got into Northwestern University’s Film program

Steven is a high schooler in the U.S. with a passion for filmmaking. He recently became a member of Northwestern University’s Class of 2025, intending to study Radio, Television and Film. This is his story.

Name: Steven GPA: 4.08/4 TOEFL: 116,SAT:1510 ED School: Northwestern University — Radio, Television and Film YouTube Channel: Steven Dunker

Dream coming true

I woke up around 7 the day I got the offer letter. When I opened my door, my mom was already sitting in the living room waiting for me to check that email from Northwestern. To be honest, I was not as nervous as the previous night when I opened the admissions portal — I just wanted to get it all over with. At first, I didn’t see any animated confetti when I clicked on the link, but before I could react, I saw the first word, and it said “Congratulations!”

“I got in!” I yelled, followed by a weird sense of calmness and my mom’s happy tears. She first came to hug me and cried for a bit, and then went on to tell all my relatives and teachers about the good news. Looking back on all the sweat and tears during my four years of high school, I was not surprised by this offer letter. I was happy that I followed my dream, and grateful for everyone that worked hard to help me along the way.

Deep down I know that all of this comes from my wholehearted love for film. I decided to go after it all because of that love.

Grateful for my life mentor

Ever since I became interested in film in the 9th grade, I did a lot of extracurriculars surrounding the topic of film, and I was determined that I wanted to go to one of the top schools in the US to pursue this goal.

But like many others, I have a hard time making decisions. For one, I found it hard to choose a college and went back and forth many times. I’ve always wanted to be able to explore more in other fields while doing film in college. I wanted to go to a school that has renowned film programs like University of South California or New York University, but also wanted to try out other more prestigious and comprehensive schools.

After hearing about my thoughts and dilemmas, Dodo, a Thinktown advisor, came up with a holistic major selection plan for me. Ms. Jin, my main advisor, helped me analyze my growth plans, future development possibilities, and helped me pick Northwestern as my dream school. The quarter system there means that I would be able to explore other areas while mainly focusing on film.

And then there’s career planning. I want to find a perfect balance between my dreams in film and future employment opportunities. Ms. Jiang resonated with me so well in this aspect. As an advisor who majored in film as well and had many work experiences in the field, she became my go-to person for academic and career planning. We always knew what each other was thinking. Her devotion to her career also deeply motivated me. Every time I came to visit Thinktown and sat down next to her, I felt more focused.

Every time I talked with Ms. Jin, she could always see through what I was feeling and gave me countless valuable suggestions. No matter if it’s about college applications or life, she always made me feel reassured and calm.

When we were discussing the art statement required by USC, Ms. Jin presented her idea about writing on my journey of creating the film ‘Grandma’s River’. I didn’t feel much at first, but as she spoke, tears swelled up in my eyes. She was able to externalize my deepest thoughts and reach the memories inside of my heart, even some feelings that I didn’t sense myself.

At Thinktown, I not only met my advisors, but also mentors for life.

Be a great storyteller

For everyone who went through the application season, writing essays and going through extracurriculars is a process of self-discovery. I was no exception.

Due to my profound interest in film, I had a lot of film-related activities. My advisors went through them and decided that my application should accentuate the “storyteller” image. To be a good storyteller, I not only had to know how to make videos, but also to enhance other qualities such as communication skill, leadership and community service.

Therefore, they advised me to do activities that are more comprehensive and well-rounded. During COVID, my advisors encouraged me to take every chance I had and make documentaries about how overseas students tried to return home, or what my campus was like during the pandemic. Connecting storytelling with the broader environment and my community will make my activities more well-rounded.

As for my main essay, after a few rounds of writing and rewriting, I became quite befuddled. Thanks to Ms. Jin, I used some metaphors to write about how I fell in love with storytelling and learned to develop hidden stories and be an empathetic person.

When I was 10, I used to play this game where I imagine backstories for strangers at the train station. Using this as a hook, I wrote about my passion to explore and tell other people’s life stories. One was about Kitty, a lady who worked in my high school barbecue shop with a deep love for education; another one was about a dance teacher, Ms. Shanley, who had to leave her job to have a baby. I captured the subtle yet intriguing emotions of these people with my camera lens and my words.

In the many rounds of editing, I came to realize why I loved and chose film as my major. I believe that if I ever feel lost in the future, I could look back on this essay writing experience and remind myself to carry on.

Future goal: travel the world with my camera

As the application season comes to an end, I will soon officially become a member of the Northwestern family.The thing I look forward to the most is to keep making films there. In the summer of my high school freshman year, I went to a summer school film program and got to know a group of people who shared my dream and loved the same things that I do. Along the way, my friends empowered me to work hard, and they will always be my sources of inspiration.

In the future, I want to keep traveling the world with my camera and tell more human stories to those who want to listen, spreading positive energy and values along the way. At the same time, I want to make more friends, try new things and explore more possibilities.

To those of you who are still working hard on your college applications, I have only one small piece of advice: Take it easy! Grades and hard work are important indeed, but it is even more important to use the time you have in high school to find what you truly love!

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