How to Apply

If you’re interested in affiliating with a cluster or certificate, review the procedures below as application requirements may change depending on the type.

How to apply to:


The Graduate School clusters fall into three areas:

  • Mellon Clusters in the Humanities and Qualitative Social Sciences
  • Clusters in Interdisciplinary Approaches to Sciences and Engineering
  • Clusters in Life and Biomedical Sciences

The timing and means to enter clusters varies. While all doctoral students may choose to participate in a cluster at any point in their career, those students who wish to formally affiliate as a cluster student, and meet cluster curricular and non-curricular requirements, may need to be appointed as cluster fellows by the cluster faculty.

Please refer to the chart below for a high-level differentiation of the three cluster areas (view an accessible version of this chart here):

  Cluster Areas
Humanities and Qualitative Social Sciences
Science and Engineering Life and Biomedical Sciences 
Affiliation When can students apply to formally affiliate with a cluster? Application and beyond1 Second year and beyond Beginning of second year2
When are students formally accepted as fellows? Time of application and beyond Second year and beyond Second year
Funding3 Financial support available?



African American Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Comparative Literary Studies, English, French & Italian, German, History, Media, Technology & Society, Music, Performance Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, Rhetoric & Public Culture, Screen Cultures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, Theatre and Drama    
Science, engineering, and related programs in McCormick, Weinberg, the School of Communication, Medill, and Kellogg  
Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences program (IBiS) and Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP)    
1 Students are selected as Mellon Fellows only at the time of application but may formally affiliate with a cluster as a cluster fellow at any point in their graduate careers. To learn more, visit the How to Apply page.
2 Students in the Life and Biomedical Sciences select a cluster with which to affiliate within their chosen research lab and most often do not need a formal application.
3 Funding varies by cluster. Science and Engineering Fellows receive financial aid support for one or more quarters. Humanities and QSS Mellon Fellows receive a research award at the time of admission, however doctoral students may opt to affiliate with a cluster at any point, regardless of their funding source.
4 Please note that these are programs most frequently affiliated with a cluster but this does not represent an exhaustive list.

Mellon Clusters in the Humanities and Qualitative Social Sciences

At the time of application to Northwestern, students who wish to participate in a Humanities and Social Science cluster may indicate this interest on the online application. Once a cluster has been selected, the option to attach a “cluster statement” will become available.

While students may choose to participate in clusters at any point throughout their graduate careers, select students will be named Mellon Interdisciplinary Cluster Fellows at the time of admission. This designation indicates the student’s strong fit for the cluster and carries additional benefits.

Humanities and Qualitative Social Sciences Clusters:

Clusters in Interdisciplinary Approaches to Science and Engineering

First-year students are invited to take part in the symposia, work groups, and colloquia offered by all of the clusters to see what may interest them later in their career. At the end of their first year, students will apply to a cluster.

Classes specifically designed for the clusters will complement the electives offered by departments. There will also be cluster specific project requirements, though these will usually be tied to departmental projects.

Please note that students selected as cluster fellows are funded as graduate assistants and therefore must meet The Graduate School’s requirements for graduate and teaching assistants.

Science and Engineering Clusters:

Clusters in Life and Biomedical Sciences

During their first year, students in the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences program (IBiS) or the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP) explore research areas through courses and lab rotations. During the second year, students affiliate with a research cluster associated with their thesis lab.

Life and Biomedical Sciences Clusters:

Graduate Certificates

The Graduate School (TGS) at Northwestern University offers Graduate Certificates that enable students to gain competencies in or across fields. Some Graduate Certificates may be pursued in conjunction with a degree program while others may be pursued independent of another degree. Graduate Certificates are typically available to students currently enrolled in TGS in a PhD or Master’s program. Certain Graduate Certificates are available to students who are not pursuing a PhD or Master’s degree and require admission to TGS. Students currently enrolled in a PhD or Master’s program in TGS and who wish to pursue a Graduate Certificate may only do so when the Graduate Certificate goes beyond the degree program requirements and is an extension of the student’s expertise into a different field.

The minimum requirements for Graduate Certificates are below; however, each Graduate Certificate may have specific requirements in addition to the following:

  • Students must complete at least five letter-graded (A, B, C) courses authorized for TGS credit. Individual Graduate Certificates may require additional courses or specific course requirements. See the Graduate Certificate descriptions below for additional information. Students must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for the courses counting toward the Graduate Certificate.
  • TGS allows students to count courses towards both the Graduate Certificate and degree. Graduate Certificate programs may have more strict requirements. PhD and Master’s students are encouraged to inquire with the Graduate Certificate Program Director about which courses may count towards both the Graduate certificate and degree requirements.
  • Students who wish to pursue multiple Graduate Certificates may not count the same coursework for more than one certificate.

Certificate Awarding:

  • In order to petition to have a Graduate Certificate awarded and appear on the transcript, students must submit the Application for a Graduate Certificate once all Graduate Certificate requirements have been completed, but no later than the time that the student files for graduation (in the final quarter of study). Each course counting toward the Graduate Certificate must be listed. The Application for Graduate Certificate requires approval by the Certificate Program Director and, for students also pursuing a PhD or Master’s, the Director of Graduate Study (DGS) of the degree program.
  • In the event that a student pursuing a PhD or Master’s degree wishes to depart the University prior to awarding of the PhD or Master’s, but after having completed the requirements for the Graduate Certificate, a form must be completed informing TGS of the change in credential.
  • Graduate Certificates will be issued and noted on the student’s transcript.
  • Questions should be directed to

Certificate Opportunities:

The following certificate programs are administered through the Feinberg School of Medicine and are open to current as well as other non-degree seeking students. These certificates also require five courses. For specific admissions procedures, please visit the certificate pages listed below.

Mellon Cluster Nominee Flow Diagram