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Northwestern University

Overloads and Underloads

Students in Weinberg College typically take four 1-unit courses each quarter. You need 45 units of credit to graduate, and if you take four 1-unit courses per quarter for four years, you will have a total of 48 units. Thus, even if you enter with no AP, IB, or transfer credits, you can have three quarters with only three 1-unit courses (still considered a full load) and graduate on time. This gives you some flexibility in planning your schedule, as well as the opportunity to very occasionally drop a course without falling behind.

Students sometimes enroll for more than 4 units in a quarter; a common example is taking four 1-unit courses plus a course worth less than a unit, such as a .5-unit music ensemble. Special considerations apply to students who take more than 4.99 units in a quarter (sometimes called an overload) or less than 3 units (an underload). First-year students may not take an overload during their first year. Transfer students may not overload in their first quarter at Northwestern.

All students considering an overload or underload should consult Northwestern's Undergraduate Registration Requirement (URR) as well as the Registrar's Office's information on courseloads.


As noted above, the typical load for a Northwestern student is four 1-unit courses per quarter, sometimes with an additional course worth less than a full unit. You can sign up through CAESAR for a maximum of 4.99 units during the regular registration period. For example, you can sign up for four 1-unit courses and a .5-unit music ensemble and/or .34-unit science lab.

During the add period (the first week of each academic quarter), the cap increases to 5.5 units for Weinberg students who meet minimum GPA requirements and/or obtain adviser approval.

Instructions for enrolling in more than 4.99 units:

  1. See if your GPA for the previous quarter meets the relevant criterion. If you are a sophomore, junior, or senior and you earned a GPA of at least 3.00, then you can increase your course load to a maximum of 5.5 units of credit during the add period. First-year students may not take an overload during their first year. Transfer students may not overload in their first quarter at Northwestern.
  2. Check CAESAR to see if you need permission from the department or instructor to enroll in the course(s) you want--and, if so, obtain that permission.
  3. Sign up for the additional course(s) through CAESAR during the add period.

What if your GPA for the previous quarter was too low? If you want to take between 5.0 and 5.5 units of credit, you will first need to meet with your College Adviser. They will help you evaluate the pros and cons of taking on additional course work, given your previous performance, and must give approval before you can enroll for more than 4.99 units.

Students occasionally want to register for more than 5.5 units of credit. Although there may be good reasons to do so, students hoping to do this should bear two things in mind. First, the University requires students to spend nine quarters at the University in order to graduate (so no student should take more than 5.5 units in the hope of graduating in fewer than nine quarters). Also: students who enroll in more than 5.5 units will incur additional tuition expenses levied the same quarter they take the course (details are on the Financial Aid website). To ensure that students understand the consequences of these decisions, Weinberg students are not permitted to enroll for more than 5.5 units without the permission of their College Adviser.


If you take fewer than 3 units of credit in a quarter, you are taking an "underload" and are classified as a part-time student.  Beginning in Fall 2012, all such students are billed for just the courses they take, not for full-time tuition. 

The Registrar’s course load webpage provides instructions for declaring your intent to be part-time, along with information to consider when deciding whether part-time enrollment is a good choice for you. Keep in mind that taking an underload can jeopardize your financial aid package or athletic status. Explore such implications carefully.  

If you think you need only one or two courses to finish up your graduation requirements, you should check with your degree auditor in the Registrar's Office to:

Updated November 7, 2012 to reflect new registration limit, URR and tuition structure.

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