Debate – Frequently Asked Questions




The taking of the ACT or SAT, as well as any AP or college credit courses during the program is highly discouraged, as the rigor of the schedule does not allow for proper study time or engagement in these tests or classes.


Admission to the Debate Institute is competitive. Decisions are made by the Admissions Committee and are based on ability, merit, and interest. Students will be fully admitted to the Institute on a rolling basis after all application materials are received.


Students applying for the Debate Institute should currently be in the 9th grade/freshman year, 10th grade/sophomore year, or 11th grade/junior year.


There are 3 steps to completing a Debate Institute Application:

  1. Fill out and submit the initial NHSI Application
  2. Pay the $50 application fee
  3. Submit all required supplemental materials to the NHSI office

You will receive further information regarding the supplemental materials (debate record, coach’s letter of recommendation, and transcript) via email once you submit the initial application and application fee.


Students should schedule their travel plans to arrive on campus before 2 pm on the program’s start date. This will give you sufficient time to reach campus and get settled in before dinner and the Debate Division orientation. The administrative office must be notified if you must arrive later than 2 pm.

Students are responsible for arranging all travel to and from the Institute. The NHSI does NOT provide shuttle service. However, many cab companies offer flat rates to and from the airports.


Students may not have cars on campus. The safety of our students is of the utmost importance. Students are forbidden to drive vehicles during the program. Furthermore, no student will be allowed to ride in any motor vehicle, or via any CTA transit system, under any circumstance, unless with with written parental permission and NHSI approval, or while on an official NHSI field trip.


We discourage bringing bicycles to the Institute.


Debate supplies are largely an individual choice but everyone will need a laptop, spiral notebook, letter- or legal-sized paper to flow practice debates, and an assortment of writing implements. Students should also bring laptop stands and USB/jump drives.


There is a commuter option for the 6- & 4-week Policy Debate programs. Applicants must be IL residents attending a Chicagoland high school. Students must arrange their own transportation to and from Northwestern’s Evanston campus 7 days a week. Parents/guardians may drive their student to/from campus. Students may NOT drive themselves or have a car on campus. Students may utilize public transportation with written parental permission. Monday through Saturday students must arrive on campus by 9 am to be checked into the Institute and will check out following their evening lab at 9:30 pm; Sunday check-in begins at noon.


Students MUST bring a portable computer that has Microsoft Word already installed on it. Students are responsible for their own property while at the Institute and neither the NHSI nor Northwestern University can be responsible for it. Students should not leave backpacks or other technology unattended at any point. There is tech support available to students during business hours in the Norris Center on campus should repairs be needed during the Institute.


Neither grades nor credit are awarded for attending the National High School Institute.


Residential students must abide by the curfew hours set forth: Sunday-Thursday 10:00 pm; Friday-Saturday 11:00 pm; unless otherwise determined by the Division Director.


The Northwestern Debate Institute currently offers instruction in two-person Policy Debate only. Please understand that the Institute’s curriculum is tailored to the high school competitive version of these events (i.e. for students who compete in National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) or local and national circuit style debate (such as the Tournament of Champions or NDCA tournaments) and is not tailored to be a general public speaking or leadership program.

Q: Do you offer Congressional Debate, Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum or Speech Events (IEs)?

A: No. At this time, we do not offer programs with curriculum specific to these events.


Field trips are included in the tuition cost for the NHSI. Previous field trips have included Navy Pier, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Chicago Museum Campus. Students may consider bringing a small amount of spending money if they wish.


 6-week & 4-week (Residential and Commuter) applicants are eligible to apply for financial aid through NHSI. If you would like to be considered for financial assistance you should notate your interest in the Financial Aid section of your initial NHSI Application. Once your application has been processed you will receive an email with further directions on how to submit and complete the FACTS Financial Aid Application.

Scholarships and Financial Aid awards are determined by the Financial Aid Committee and are made based on financial need.

While 1-week applicants are NOT eligible to apply for financial aid through the NHSI, we encourage all students to look into outside funding options. Students should inquire with their school about Activities Funds, talk with the PTA, or local service clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, or AAUW. Past students have also run successful crowd funding campaigns on sites such as Kickstarter and Go Fund Me. In Policy Debate, for students from Urban Debate Leagues (UDLs), they may apply for the Vincent J. Binder Urban Debate Scholars Award, which helps fund the summer Institute for UDL students.


We recommend that students in the top third of their class with at least a “B” average apply. Exceptions are made. We look for evidence of high motivation, interest, and scholastic ability.


A standard health form MUST be completed and returned prior to the first day of the Institute. The health form is emailed to students in the general information packet upon acceptance to the Institute.

General health issues can be address by University Health Services and is covered by tuition. Any hospitalization or emergency room visits must be covered by students’ own insurance and is not covered by the NHSI or Northwestern University. All students (residential, commuter, and international) must bring a Health Insurance Card and should carry it on their persons at all times.


A packet of information about attending the NHSI will be emailed to all accepted students. The information packet covers arrival and departure from the Institute, items to pack, program overview, and other pertinent information. As well, you will receive a number of forms (Health Record, Standard Operating Procedures and Rules, Resident Hall Card, Video/Audio Form, and Photo/Likeness Approval) which you will need to fill out, sign, and return before arriving on campus.


The NHSI accepts eligible International applicants. Applicants should understand that all curricular instruction is conducted in English, and is geared towards two-person Policy Debate. Not all international formats follow this style, so students should be sure that our curriculum fits their interests.

International students also assume full responsibilities for securing any visas they may need to travel to the US, and to plan far in advance to do so. Debate Institute students are registered as non-degree so you should only need a standard tourist visa, however, you should check with your embassy to make sure as different countries have different requirements. The visa process may take a long time, please begin the process as soon as possible.

Additionally, international students will be required to provide a US cell phone number when checking-in to the Institute.


Lab placements will be made based on each student’s experience level. Placement decisions will be made based on the tournament competitive record provided by the student as part of their admissions materials. Coaches may request particular labs in their letter of recommendation, but they are not guaranteed. The Northwestern Debate Institute’s focus on small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratio ensures that students in every lab get substantial individual attention appropriate to their skill level.


6- & 4-week Policy Debate applicants ONLY are required to submit a letter of recommendation from their debate coach addressing the applicants current level of debate and research skill.

If you do not have an official debate coach to write a recommendation you can choose to have an assistant coach, a former lab leader, or a mentor write a letter on your behalf, as long as they have a relationship to you where they can speak to your abilities as a debater.


Tuition for the Debate Division covers: all programming, room & board in University housing, three meals daily in the dining hall, health services (not insurance), field trips, and group events. Students may choose to bring additional spending money for the occasional meal off campus, souvenirs, etc.


Students may request a debate partner by emailing We will do our best to accommodate all requests. A request by a debate coach who feels strongly those partners should be together will be considered.


Students must assume all responsibility for personal property. For the safety of students and faculty, residence halls are locked at all hours. Students are strongly advised to lock their rooms at all times.


Unfortunately, we are unable to offer prorated or discounted pricing for attending only part of the Institute. Students however may still elect to arrive late or depart early if circumstances require (family vacation, school or other event, ect.). Please inform the NHSI Office if you need to miss scheduled programming for any reason.


Residential students will live in University housing on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Most students will have a roommate. Three meals per day are provided by University dining halls.

Students who identity as males and females will be separated by floors or by common areas. No student will be allowed in the room of a student of another gender.

All residences are air-conditioned and have common areas for students to socialize during appropriate hours. Faculty and staff live in and monitor the residence hall.  All staff receives training from NU ResLife to be prepared to address common emergencies that may arise. NU ResLife provides a 24-hour Campus Security Guard for each residence hall on campus.


To request a specific roommate BOTH students must request each other by emailing the NHSI Office at with their requests. We do our best to meet all requests but can make no guarantees.


We will attempt to work with students and their families on a case-by-case basis to best accommodate any special needs that an applicant may have. All classrooms are in ADA accessible buildings, and NU ResLife has a dietitian on staff for its summer programs to address any specific dietary needs that applicants may have. Please alert us early so that we can have sufficient time to help make the Debate Institute accessible to all students. Visit the AccessibleNU website for more information on campus accessibility.


Students are under thorough supervision by the Institute’s employees, including the Division Director, Assistant Director, the Residence Hall Director, and all other Faculty and Resident Hall Assistants (RAs). Each student will be assigned a RA, who acts in both a supervisory and supportive role. The Resident Hall Director oversees the building and RAs. Our Faculty consists of professional debate coaches and experienced educators. RAs are current college students, from Northwestern and other Universities across the nation. Many NHSI alumni have returned as RAs and Faculty.


A copy of your most current high school transcript is required to complete an application. Official transcripts sent from your school are preferred, however, unofficial copies received via email or fax will be accepted.


non-refundable, $700 deposit is required within 10 business days of acceptance to hold your place in the Institute.



Debate Division  –  Application Information and Deadlines  –  Tuition and Fees  –  Scholarships and Financial Aid  –  FAQ’s
Typical Day  –  6-Week Policy Debate  –  4-Week Policy Debate  –  Policy Debate Commuter Option  –  1-Week Policy Debate  –  Debate at Northwestern  –  Faculty Bios