Northwestern and the 2020 Census

All Northwestern community members who reside in the U.S. on April 1st, 2020 are required to participate in the Census.


COVID-19 Census updates

Click here for updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the Census process for Northwestern students

What You Need to Know

Here are a few highlights regarding how the Census works in the University context. More information and answers to frequently asked questions are posted below.

  1. Everyone who resides in the U.S. as of April 1, 2020 needs to participate in the Census – including international students. It’s required by law.
  2. Students should be counted based on where they are residing on April 1, 2020 – which means that students should be counted at the school address, not at their permanent address (with the exception of commuter students).
  3. Students residing on-campus will be counted by the University, so they do not need to respond separately to the Census. However, all students residing off-campus DO need to respond to the Census.

Why It Matters

An undercount of “hard-to-count” communities (which includes college students, along with low-income populations, minority communities, non-English speakers, and other marginalized communities) could have far-reaching implications.

The Census is used to determine representation in Congress. Current demographic trends suggest Illinois could lose at least one congressional seat as a result of the Census, and possibly more based on the response rate to the count. The population count is also used to determine the flow of more than $800 billion in federal funds, which could result in a significant reduction in funding and social services for communities with a high undercount.

A complete and accurate count is particularly important to universities too. Census data is often utilized by faculty, staff, and students in research efforts. Read more about why the Census matters here.

2020 Census Calendar


Census Day is April 1st, 2020. The Census first endeavors to contact every household by mail (i.e. every off-campus mailing address should get a letter asking the household to respond to the Census) in mid to late March.

Remember, on-campus students will be counted by the University. But off-campus students (including international students) will need to respond.

If you have roommates, one person can fill out the Census form to include information about each person who live there – you will want to coordinate this response among your roommates.

While the anchor date for the Census is April 1, 2020, the Census will be open for online responses between mid-March (whenever your household receives your Census letter) and July 31, 2020. Households will receive additional reminders if they do not respond. Starting around late April and continuing through July, households not responding will be visited by Census workers. The Census Bureau aims to have the count completed by the fall, and will deliver the count to the U.S. Congress and the President in December as required by law.

On-Campus Residents

If you live on-campus, the University is responsible for counting you. You don’t have to do anything! The University will submit information to the Census Bureau on your behalf. This process for on-campus student housing is part of the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Group Quarters Enumeration.”

A: On-campus housing includes all residence halls and Greek houses, and any other graduate or undergraduate housing administered by the University. In short, if your housing is charged through your Northwestern student account, you live in on-campus housing.

A: This process is described by the Census Bureau here.

Off-Campus Residents

If you live off-campus, you are responsible for filling out your own Census form. In mid-March, you should start to receive official mail from the Census Bureau with information about how to respond to the Census either online, by mail, or by phone. Student may live in any number of unique arrangements off-campus. Check out the FAQs below to find additional information about your specific situation.

A: Students who are living at home should be counted at their home address as part of that household.

A: One person per house/apartment unit should fill out the Census form. You’ll be considered a non-family household, or unrelated people living together. If you take responsibility for filling out the Census for your entire house/apartment, collect the required information from all of your roommates in advance so you can finish the form in one sitting. Please note: while not necessary or preferable, it is okay if the Census Bureau receives more than one response from a household.

A: No. Your answers are confidential and protected by law. All Census workers are sworn to protect the confidentiality of your information.

A: Yes. If it’s where you’re living on April 1, it’s where you should be counted.

More FAQs

A: Yes! If a question makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t fit your identity, you can always leave it blank and fill out the rest of the form.

A: No! Every person should be counted once and only once. Census guidelines state that residential University students should be counted at their University address as of April 1, 2020. Unless you commute from home, your parents shouldn’t list you as living at home.

A: Yes! The Census has nothing to do with where you vote, where you pay your taxes, what type of driver’s license you have, or the like. Filling out the Census form at your Illinois address will not impact any other registrations.

A: Yes. You don’t need to be a voter or eligible voter to participate in the Census.

A: You should try to avoid this, but sometimes overcounting or undercounting still happens. The Census Bureau will do a post-enumeration survey to try and capture and adjust for this.

A: Even if you’re moving, you should only be counted once at one address. Count yourself based on where you are living on April 1, 2020. If you’re moving into your new residence on April 1, 2020, you should count yourself at your new address. If you aren’t moving until after April 1, 2020, count yourself at your current residence – the one you’re still at as of Census Day.

A: Yes. Even if you are not a United States citizen or permanent resident, if you’re residing in the U.S. on April 1, 2020, you should still be counted in the Census.

A: Yes. International students residing in the U.S. on April 1, 2020, should still be counted in the Census. Even if your Visa is expiring or if you plan to move out of the country soon, you should still be counted in the Census.

A: Yes. The census won’t ask about your citizenship status or for a social security number. Your answers are confidential and protected by law.

A: If you are studying abroad outside the U.S, on April 1, 2020, you will not be counted in the 2020 census unless you are employed by the government.

A: Yes. If you are “living” in the U.S. on April 1, 2020 as part of a residential study abroad program in the U.S. (as opposed to a short-term vacation in the U.S. on that day), you should be counted in the Census at your (on or off-campus) school address as of April 1.

A: If you are only away from your residence on April 1, 2020 for a vacation or other short-term travel (not a different “living” situation) then you should still be counted at your regular place of primary residence.

A: You should be counted where you live on April 1, 2020, no matter your future moving plans.

A: You should still be counted at your primary residence on April 1, 2020, no matter your post-graduation plans.

A: Participating in the Census is required by law. Every person not counted means money lost for education, roads, hospitals, and other social service programs. Additionally, Illinois’ congressional representation is set based on data from each Census. The Census has important consequences for representation, social services, federal, state, and municipal funding, and public policy decisions.

A: Yes! The Census form and additional information is available in many other languages. The full Census is offered in 13 languages, and glossaries and other information is offered in 59 languages.

A: If you don’t have a fixed address, you can (and should) still fill out the Census. You can complete the Census in person, online, or on the phone by providing cross streets or other landmarks of the place where you live and sleep most of the time. If you live in a shelter or are accessing other social services, you can be counted there. Most public libraries can also help you respond to the Census.

Get Involved

Making sure that each community has a complete and accurate count is very important. Below is some information about other ways to help ensure a complete count beyond campus.

A: Check out this map of hard to count populations to see which areas around campus have higher hard to count populations.

A: One way to help is to consider a part-time job with the Census Bureau. Hourly Census jobs in Cook County pay between $26.50 and $29.50 per hour and are a great way to help reduce the undercount. Click here for more information about part-time Census jobs.