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What Is Northwestern CTD? Should You Participate?


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern University gave its supplemental learning program for children and teens, known as NUMATs, a makeover. Now renamed the Northwestern CTD, this unique and challenging learning experience for gifted learners is back and waiting for you to apply!

The Northwestern Center for Talent Development (CTD) provides advanced tests to students to find their academic strengths and weaknesses and offers courses to help students prepare for their academic futures.

In this guide, we’ll answer all of your questions about the Northwestern CTD, including:

  • What is Northwestern CTD? What do you do in the program?
  • Why should you or your child participate?
  • How do you apply?
  • How much does it cost?

We'll also give you tips for getting in. That way, you’ll have everything you need to get your eligibility materials ready in time for Northwestern CTD Summer 2023. So, let’s get started!

Feature Image: Northwestern CTD / Northwestern




What Is Northwestern CTD? What Does the Program Involve?

Northwestern CTD is a gifted education program hosted by the Northwestern Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. The program provides learning programs for children aged three through 18 (i.e. preschool through 12th grade) who show advanced academic abilities. Northwestern CTD’s goal is to help students find their individual strengths and interests and develop their talents. 

To assess whether a student would benefit from participating in Northwestern CTD, the program administers “above-grade-level” tests. These tests help educators identify qualified students by testing on material that is more challenging than what students encounter in school. For example, the PSAT 8/9, which is normally administered to eighth graders, is given to third through sixth graders. Similarly, the SAT and ACT, which are normally taken in 10th or 11th grade, are administered to sixth through ninth graders. 

A student’s CTD exam results provide insights into their talents, abilities, and learning level. The Northwestern Center for Talent Development uses the insights gained from students’ test results to recommend a learning path that suits each individual student. 

If students show they have above-grade-level readiness through their exam performance, they’ll be recommended for Northwestern CTD educational programs. These programs offer students coursework in many educational areas. Students can participate in summer programs, weekend programs, online programs, and leadership and service-learning programs. Each program provides students with above-grade-level learning resources and talent development opportunities to help them reach their full potential as learners. 

Additionally, older students may be able to earn high school or college credit by participating in Northwestern CTD educational programs. Be sure to check with Northwestern and your school for more information. 


Who Can Participate in CTD Northwestern? 

Students aged three through 12th grade are eligible to participate in Northwestern CTD. Because of the wide age range of participants, CTD programs are broken into the following age groups: 

  • Preschool through third grade: Programs for this age group are designed to help learners identify interests and emerging talents.
  • Fourth through eighth grade: Programs are designed to develop and accelerate knowledge and skills in identified talent areas. 
  • Ninth through twelfth grade: Programs are designed to transform talent into expertise and teach college, career, and life-readiness skills. 

For all three age groups, Northwestern CTD programs are divided into tiers and range from basic introductory courses to intensive, advanced courses. 

The eligibility requirements are different for each tier, so we’ll break those down in the table below


Enrollment Type
Program Goals
Amber: Enrichment (Tier 1)
No documentation required to participate (e.g., no test scores or portfolio required to enroll)
Enrichment courses designed to promote deep thinking, creative learning, and problem-solving. Intro to the CTD learning environment. 
Emerald: Advanced Enrichment (Tier 2) 
Recommendation-based (no open enrollment)
90th percentile or higher on a nationally normed, standardized grade-level achievement tests (e.g., STAR, MAP), or

Participation in above-grade-level testing, or

Completion of a previous CTD course at the same or higher admission tier and in the qualifying subject area within the past two years, or

Admission portfolio including report card or transcript, teacher recommendation, and test scores
Focus on specific areas of study that aren’t typically included in a school’s core curriculum. Emphasize higher-order thinking, creativity, and advanced concepts. 
Magenta: Enrichment (Tier 3)
Recommendation-based (no open enrollment)
95th percentile or higher on a nationally normed, standardized grade-level achievement tests (e.g., STAR, MAP), or
Participation in above-grade-level testing, or

Completion of a previous CTD course at the same or higher admission tier and in the qualifying subject area within the past two years, or

Admission portfolio including report card or transcript, teacher recommendation, and test scores
Courses offer the same type of content as Emerald Tier, but present more content in a shorter time frame. Instruction is faster-paced. 
Magenta: Advanced (Tier 3) 
Recommendation-based (no open enrollment)
95th percentile or higher on a nationally normed, standardized grade-level achievement tests (e.g., STAR, MAP), or

Participation in above-grade-level testing, or

Completion of a previous CTD course at the same or higher admission tier and in the qualifying subject area within the past two years, or

Admission portfolio including report card or transcript, teacher recommendation, and test scores
Provide rigorous, honors- and AP-level content to students earlier than typically introduced in schools. Students in these courses receive grades and may earn course credit (if accepted at their high school). 
Indigo: Accelerated (Tier 4) 
Recommendation-based (no open enrollment)
Requisite scores on an above-grade-level test (e.g., PSAT 8/9; SAT/ACT), or

Successful completion of a previous CTD Indigo course with the same qualifying subject area criteria within the past two years, or
Admission portfolio including report card or transcript, teacher recommendation, and test scores
Intensive, rigorous, high school honors and AP courses offered to younger students and/or taught in a highly compacted timeframe. Allow students to access advanced material several years earlier than is typical in schools.


As you can see, there are multiple ways to show eligibility for each Northwestern CTD program tier. However, students with the highest test scores and academic records are more likely to gain admission to the advanced tiers. 

The programs are organized this way in order to provide students at a range of skill levels with educational resources that suit their needs and interests. You can learn more about how to take assessment exams for CTD eligibility here!


What Are the Northwestern CTD Testing Dates?

Northwestern CTD testing dates are offered online from January 14, 2023 to August 19, 2023.

The MAP, CogAT, PSAT 8/9, and SAT are offered at both grade-level and above-grade-level on numerous dates throughout the testing window. Keep in mind that while every exam date offers tests that qualify students for Northwestern CTD, some test dates will give students unofficial test scores based on the testing method.

We know that’s confusing, but here’s what we mean. For instance, the PSAT tests that are taken in-person through the College Board’s program will count as official PSAT scores, but the online SAT exam that’s labeled “power by Khan Academy” won’t be.


What Are the Northwestern CTD Program Dates?

Online, weekend, and residential CTD courses and programs are offered year-round in winter, spring, summer, and fall sessions. The four sessions are typically fall between the following dates:

    • Winter: Mid-January to early March
    • Spring: Early April to late May
    • Summer: Late-June to early August
    • Fall: Mid-September to mid-November

Credit-bearing courses for students in 6th through 12th grades run on a different timeline. Winter credit-bearing courses usually run from mid-January to the end of April for one credit, and mid-January to mid-August for two credit courses. Summer credit-bearing courses run from the beginning of June to mid-August. These courses are similar to honors or AP courses that you’d take at your high school.

The exact dates for CTD Northwestern programs are determined on a course-by-course basis. You can learn more about the dates and deadlines for CTD programs by exploring the program website.



NUMATS is no more! But don't worry—there's a lot to love about the new Northwestern CTD.


How Is Northwestern CTD Different From NUMATS?

Northwestern CTD was previously known as NUMATS, or the Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search. While both programs are run by Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, Northwestern CTD differs from NUMATS in three main ways.


Difference #1: Updated Eligibility Requirements

First, the eligibility requirements for CTD programs differ a bit from NUMATS. Under NUMATS requirements, you could qualify for the program by participating in your school’s gifted and talented program. However, CTD doesn’t accept participation in a gifted program as a way to show eligibility.

CTD also offers a portfolio option for proving eligibility for the program, whereas NUMATS didn’t. Students can submit their report card, transcript, teacher recommendation, and other test scores to qualify for CTD.


Difference #2: More Program Types

Northwestern CTD offers more program types than NUMATS. NUMATS only offered programs for high-scoring students, but CTD offers a program tier, called the Amber Tier, that’s open to any student who wants to participate. 

There are only a few classes offered in the Amber Tier, so students who want the full CTD experience still have to qualify through submitting a portfolio or taking above-grade-level exams. 


Difference #3: Revised Financial Aid Process

Qualifying for financial aid and scholarships is different under the new CTD program. NUMATS applicants had to submit a letter signed by a school official stating they met financial aid criteria, but CTD applicants must complete an online financial application through FACTS, a secure online financial aid system. You can learn more about the FACTS submission process on the CTD website.

For scholarships, CTD applicants indicate that they’d like to apply when completing their program application. Under NUMATS, scholarships and grants were awarded to students with the highest scores at an awards ceremony, which doesn’t appear to be a component of CTD’s program.




"Check" out these reasons for participating in Northwestern CTD.


Why Should You Participate in CTD Northwestern?

The Northwestern University gifted program gives students the chance to learn material that they normally wouldn’t in schools. CTD courses are advanced, unique, and challenging, and they allow students who aren’t being adequately challenged in school to fully explore their interests and skills. 

Northwestern University CTD programs also give students the college, career, and life-skills preparation they need in order to succeed. Students who start in CTD programs from a young age get the chance to test out subjects they’re interested in and decide if they want to pursue a career in that field. High school students get to access AP and other advanced courses that can earn them college credit.

All in all, Northwestern CTD programs tap into potential that students may not be able to explore through their school’s curriculum. Being challenged can enhance learning for students at all skill levels. If you’re a student who is looking for a more challenging, out-of-the-box learning experience, CTD Northwestern might be the place for you! 




How to Apply to CTD Northwestern and Application Requirements

Applicants of all ages and for all programs must apply to Northwestern CTD by creating an account online. Students apply on a course-by-course basis, and application requirements may differ based on the age group you are in and the course you’re applying to. However, the biggest difference in application requirements depends on whether you’re a new scores/new portfolio applicant or pre-qualified review applicant.

New scores and new portfolio applicants are those who haven’t taken a CTD Northwestern course in the past two years or who have taken a course before but would like to take one in a different subject area. To apply as a new scores or new portfolio applicant, you must submit test scores on a nationally normed grade-level assessment in the required qualifying subject area (Verbal or Math) or a portfolio that includes a teacher recommendation and your most recent report card.

Pre-qualified review applicants are those who have already completed a CTD program in the tier and qualifying subject area they’re currently applying to. These applicants must show that they’ve successfully completed a CTD course within the same subject area (Verbal or Math) within the past two years. Usually, pre-qualified applicants have already tested into Northwestern CTD at an earlier grade level.

Application deadlines vary depending on the session you apply to, but generally fall around the following dates for each season:

  • Winter: Around January 1-5
  • Spring: Around March 15-22
  • Summer: Around June 1-5
  • Fall: Around September 1-5

To learn more about CTD Northwestern application requirements, read the descriptions for the programs and courses you’d like to apply to here.


How Much Does CTD Northwestern Cost?

Each Northwestern CTD course charges tuition. The tuition rates vary depending on course type (residential, weekend, online) and duration. Cost may vary depending on the season as well (e.g., summer vs winter).

Because summer learning sessions are so popular, let’s look at a full breakdown of the Northwestern CTD summer 2023 tuition costs:

Tuition (per course)
1-Week Academic Day Camp
1-Week Academic Day Camp (full day)
2-Week Academic Day Camp (full day)
3-Week Academic Day Camp
3-Week Academic Residential Program
3-Week Academic Day Camp Partnership Course
3-Week Academic Partnership Course Residential Program
1-Week Summer Leadership Intensive at Northwestern Day Camp
(part of Grade 6 -12 Academic Camp)
1-Week Summer Leadership Intensive at Northwestern Residential Camp
(part of Grade 6 -12 Academic Camp)
3-Week Civic Leadership Institute Day Camp
(part of Grade 6 -12 Academic Camp)
3-Week Civic Leadership Institute Residential Camp
(part of Grade 6-12 Academic Camp)
2-Week Leadership Intensive Online
4-Week Online Family Program
9-Week Online Enrichment
9-Week Online Core Essentials
Accelerated Summer Online (Honors and AP 1 credit)
Accelerated Summer Online (Honors and AP 2 credits)


In general, tuition is more costly for residential and day-camp sessions. But for all Northwestern CTD programs, there is financial aid and scholarship funding available.

To be considered for financial aid, you’ll need to complete a program application then the FACTS CTD Financial Aid Application. On your program application, you should indicate that you’d like to be considered for financial aid. Once your program application is submitted, you’ll receive the FACTS application via email and complete it online.

Partial and full tuition financial aid is available, and awards are based on family income, family size, and financial circumstances. Most families who receive financial aid have a total income of less than $50,000.

In addition to financial aid, CTD offers several scholarships. You can view individual scholarships and their eligibility requirements on CTD’s website. All scholarships are need-based. You’ll indicate your intention to apply for CTD scholarships on your program application. Some scholarships may ask for additional application materials, like a brief essay.




Tips on How To Get a High Score

Earning a high score on a Northwestern CTD exam (MAPs, PSAT, SAT/ACT) will help you qualify for advanced CTD courses and programs that can earn you college credit. If you’re hoping to score well on one of these exams, it’s important to spend some time preparing.

Putting together a study plan that includes quality PSAT, SAT, or ACT test prep can help to increase your scores. The higher your scores, the more likely you are to qualify for more advanced CTD courses. The good news is that we've got great resources to help you prepare for the SAT and the ACT! Check out our online prep course for PSAT preparation or consider taking some PSAT practice tests.




What's Next?

If you want to qualify for Northwestern CTD, you'll need to get a good score on your standardized tests. Check out our guide to the PSAT 8/9, which will introduce you to the exam and help you prepare for test day.

Taking the SAT instead? We've got you covered, too. Don't miss our ultimate study guide, put together by experts to help you master the test.

Did you know that there are other amazing summer programs available for high school students? Our master list of more than 150 summer programs can help you find one that's right for you.



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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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