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Frequently Asked Questions

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Are substitutions allowed?

For Introductory and Theme courses, substitutions are rarely allowed. All such requests must be submitted to your Cognitive Science Advisor in writing. Requests should include significant reasons for wanting to substitute another course and written documentation providing detail about the alternative course(s), typically a copy of the syllabus.

Even when complete, such requests are almost always denied. Much thought has gone into the design and selection of the program course requirements. It is unlikely that all of the required elements will be present in any other course.

One exception is substitutions for PSYCH 201/STAT 202. In this case, earned AP credit for STAT 202, or STAT 210 may be substituted. Please contact your Cognitive Science Advisor for formal approval of the substitution.  


For Electives, substitutions are frequently requested and granted. The list of Elective courses given in the catalog should be considered as a list of starting suggestions, not as an exhaustive list of possible courses. New relevant courses are always coming up. The rule of thumb for asking might be "If you can, with a straight face, make a case for why a particular 300 or 400 level course is related enough to Cog Sci to count toward the major/minor. IMPORTANT: REGARDLESS OF HOW CLEAR IT IS TO YOU THAT SOME COURSE SHOULD COUNT AS AN ADVANCED ELECTIVE, IT MUST STILL BE APPROVED IN WRITING BY YOUR COGNITIVE SCIENCE ADVISOR. To request approval for a course to count as an elective in you major/minor, please email the Cognitive Science Advisor with the course number and description (along with a syllabus, if possible), and a short paragraph describing how you think the course fits into the cognitive science curriculum (which aspects of the course focus on cognition, or on issues/concepts in cognitive science?). Your request will then be considered, and any approval will be issued to you in writing via email.


Can I double count a course?

Double counting rules are complex, so please discuss any questions with your Advisor.  (See Weinberg's website for additional information.) But some common double-counting scenarios for Cognitive Science majors/minors are detailed below.

For a Cog Sci major with a minor in another area, there is no double counting of courses.

For a Cog Sci minor with a major in another area, there is no double-counting of courses, except for courses that are 'related' for the major. So if you are a Cog Sci minor with a Psych major, COMP_SCI 110 counts as 'related' for the Psych major, and you could therefore double-count it toward your Cog Sci minor.

For a Cog Sci major with a second major: You can double-count up to 3 courses with your second major. For example, a double major with Psychology might double-count PSYCH 201, 220, and 228.

What if you can't double-count a course, but it's required by both majors, or by a major and a minor?; For example,  assume you are a Cog Sci major with a Psych minor. You have taken PSYCH 201, which is a required course for your minor, and is a required course option for your major (either STAT 202 or PSYCH 201 is required for Cog Sci). In this case, you have covered the content of the statistics requirement for your Cog Sci major (there’s no need to take STAT 202). But you will need to count PSYCH 201 toward your Psych minor. So you can request a substitution to replace PSYCH 201/STAT 202 in your Cog Sci major. This means you will still complete the same total number of courses required for the major, but you essentially get another elective to accomplish this. You can choose any course from among those listed in the Themes or Electives as a substitute. Contact the Cognitive Science Advisor to explain your situation, and to get approval for your substitution plan. Even if you don’t have a specific substitute course selected yet, your Advisor can make sure you understand the double counting rules and can document your future substitution plan. This will be important information to have when you petition to graduate.

Finally, additional rules apply to some students in schools outside Weinberg College.  Please see your Advisor for details.

Which classes should you take first?

Students have a great deal of freedom to choose their path through the major or minor.  But in general, you are encouraged to start with Introductory and Theme courses.

Plan to take COG SCI 110 and COG SCI 202 as early as possible. Both courses are usually only offered once per year. If you find yourself having taken several other courses in the major before you can take COG SCI 110, please contact your Cognitive Science Advisor to discuss possible substitutions. 

You are also encouraged to take STAT 202/PSYCH 201 and COMP SCI 110/111 as early as possible. These courses will provide important "mental tools" that will enable you to get more out of the other courses you take (and are formal prerequisites for many later courses). For instance, in almost any Cog Sci course, you will encounter empirical studies in which data were collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Once you have taken a statistics course, you will be much better equipped to understand and appreciate the meaning of this work. COMP SCI 110/111 will also equip you with important analytical tools. An increasingly common trend in many fields, including cognitive science, is the use of "computational models." Rather than simply providing a verbal description of how one believes the brain accomplishes some task, a researcher writes a computer program to actually accomplish the task being studied. The performance of the program can then be tested and compared to actual human performance. Once you have obtained a little experience with programming and developed a sense of the sorts of things that are "easy" and "hard" for computers (i.e., once you have completed COMP_SCI 110 or 111), you will be much better equipped to understand and appreciate these computational models of cognition. Even if you don't ever produce one of these computational models yourself, it is important that you be able to understand the work of people who do. If you are new to programming (or just nervous about it), you may want to take COMP_SCI 110, which is a bit less theoretical and more practical. If you wish to take additional CS courses at NU, you should take 111 rather than 110 (in particular, note that COMP_SCI 111 is a prerequisite for COMP_SCI 348: Artificial Intelligence).

Theme courses provide much of the core content for the major. You should feel free to begin exploring courses in the Themes as early as possible, and many do not have prerequisites. Note that while there are several options in each Theme, substitutions for Theme courses are generally not allowed. And not all Theme courses are offered every year. So if you have a chance to take a Theme course that interests you, you should take it! Taking a few Theme courses will also help refine your interests in cognitive science and position you to make the best use of your Elective courses. 


Finally, note that prerequisites are suggestions, but not always absolute requirements. They are typically set by instructors to indicate the level of knowledge that they will expect from students on the first day of their class. If there is a particular course in which you are especially interested, but you do not have room in your schedule to complete all of the listed prerequisites, you should consider talking with the instructor about the situation. Some faculty will indicate that it is a very bad idea to take their course without having completed the listed prerequisites. Others will suggest additional reading that might help you prepare for the course. Many will simply indicate that you should take their course with caution and that you may not be as likely to get a top grade. If the material presented in the reading and lecture ever begin to be unclear to you, you should contact the instructor immediately to figure out a way to do extra reading or other work to improve your understanding. (of course, that applies to the rest of your classes as well!)


What to do with a major in Cognitive Science?

Students with a cognitive science degree pursue an astonishingly wide array of careers. This of course makes sense: the tools and expertise you develop as a cognitive science major are valuable in just about any field! You will have spent a great deal of time considering how humans perceive, understand, and learn about the world around us. You will have completed coursework in statistics and computer science, and have analyzed complex data. You will have honed your critical thinking and communication skills. All of these are valuable in just about any career you choose!

That said, many cognitive science students go on to careers in business and technology (marketing, interface design, etc.). Some students go on to careers in medicine or healthcare. Still others choose a cognitive science major in preparation for further education at the graduate level. Training in cognitive science will provide the student with a solid foundation for graduate-level work in any area of cognitive studies: psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics or neuroscience. 

Laura Droste is the Cognitive Science Career Advisor, and provides career exploration and job/internship search advising for students majoring in Cognitive Science. Feel free to contact her for more information. The Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) website is also a useful resource!

Who is my Cognitive Science Advisor?

erinleddon168x210.jpgDr. Erin Leddon is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Cognitive Science. To set up a meeting with her, please send an email to In the email, please say why you would like a meeting, and please include a copy of your current transcript (if possible) and a Major / Minor Worksheet.

When filling out the worksheet, please be sure to include which quarter you took the class (even though the form only asks for a Y/N response). Having a copy of this worksheet will greatly streamline the meeting!

The Program Assistant will respond with a link to choose a meeting time. Most meetings are less than fifteen minutes long.