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All students wishing to apply for a position in the Stage Design program should submit a Preliminary Application by January 31.

It is preferred that preliminary application materials be emailed as PDFs to:

Alternately, paper materials can be sent to:

Northwestern University
MFA Stage Design Program
70 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208

If you are submitting paper materials, please email the address above to notify us that they are coming.

Preliminary Application Procedure

Packets should include the following:

  • A statement of purpose. This statement should address the following points: what defines you as an artist, why you have chosen to pursue stage design as your medium, and why the MFA program at Northwestern is the right program for you. It should also explain your current goals, career plans, and reasons for selecting theatre as a major field of graduate study. The statement should be no more than two pages, double-spaced.
  • Two official transcripts (bearing registrar’s signature and/or the institution’s seal) from each post-secondary institution attended, documenting all courses taken (within or outside a degree program), grades received, and degrees earned.
  • Three reference names: individuals who can discuss you as a designer and/or your design work.
  • A sample portfolio of design work. Portfolio materials should include production photos of produced projects for which you were the principal designer (no photos of assistant credits) and evidence of other artistic skills (drawings, renderings, photography, sculpture). Materials will not be returned. Websites and/or PDFs are preferred. If you are submitting materials by mail, and wish to send digital files, please do so on USB drives. CDs will not be accepted.

The faculty will review the preliminary packet and let the applicant know if he/she will be invited to campus for a portfolio presentation and faculty interview or be informed that he/she will not be considered for the program. To be considered for a place in the program, applicants must visit the campus for the in-depth interview.

Portfolio Presentation and Faculty Interview

  • Invited applicants may arrange their portfolio interview at or by telephone at (847) 491-3170.
  • The visit will include a presentation of the applicant’s portfolio to the design faculty, a tour of the facilities, a meeting with other graduate students enrolled in the program, attendance in available classes, and other activities available the day of the visit.
  • The portfolio should be comprehensive. Examples of theatrical design work should include process work and preliminary ideas and sketches, as well as, finished renderings or color elevations, models and photos of realized productions, light plots, and examples of drafting. Include any other pertinent materials that communicate the applicant as a visual artist and theatrical designer, e.g., graphic or studio artwork, photography, sculpture, weavings, etc. If possible, include evidence of aptitude and/or level of development in another area of design. The program requires that each student develop a range of fundamental abilities in a secondary field of design (scenery, costume, or lighting).

Formal application

At any time in the application/interview process, the faculty may ask you to submit a formal application to the program, via The Graduate School at Northwestern. Procedures are as follows:

  • online formal application at
  • two official transcripts, sealed, if not already submitted.
  • three letters of recommendation from people who know the applicant’s work as a student and/or theatre artist.
  • A statement of purpose (this can be the same as was submitted with your preliminary application).
  • official GRE scores are optional. If your GPA is between 3.0 and 3.40, taking the GRE is recommended. Visit  The Educational Testing Service will send official results directly to Northwestern University’s Graduate School. Please use the institutional code 1565.


  • As a member institution of U/RTA, Northwestern will be conducting preliminary interviews of interested applicants in Chicago during January/February. Interested applicants should visit for more information.

International student requirements

  • official TOEFL scores for international applicants whose native language is not English. The minimum TOEFL scores are 80 (internet based), 213 (computer based), and 550 (paper based). The Educational Testing Service will send official results directly to Northwestern University’s Graduate School. Please use the institutional code 1565. Please see The Graduate School’s website for details at
  • Certifying English Proficiency Please
  • International students wishing to be considered for teaching assistant appointments during any year of study in the Graduate School must score at least 50 on the Test of Spoken English (TSE) or 50 on a SPEAK test. These tests are administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and given at test centers worldwide. Visit