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Northwestern School of Communication

Northwestern Debate Society

The oldest continuous debate program in the country, the Northwestern Debate Society has a heritage going back to 1855. Debate is regarded as an educational tool for developing students' analytical and communication skill and the University's forensic success across the years is a record of unequalled distinction.

Members of the Debate Society have active schedules in the school year, often traveling to seven or ten intercollegiate tournaments a year, trips that are paid for by Northwestern. There also are opportunities to debate on campus.


Usually there are between 20 and 30 debaters, at varying levels of activity and ability, in the program. If you have limited or no high school experience, you may join the junior varsity or rookie program and enroll in the fall quarter course Argumentation and Debate, which prepares you for intercollegiate competition in the spring. If you are an experienced debater, you may join the group that begins work before the school year starts in the fall.


Preliminary Preparation

The intercollegiate debate topic for the academic year is announced on August 15. Debaters are expected to do a considerable amount of preliminary research on the topic before coming to school. Some debaters come to campus around Labor Day for a preseason workshop. Students with at least two years of high school debate experience are eligible and encouraged to attend.

During this preseason workshop, the debaters research the topic, engage in work sessions with the debate coaches and participate in practice debates. The workshop's coach-to-debater ration is one to four. The coaches guide group discussions on issues pertaining to the topic, lecture on contemporary academic argumentation debate theories, and instruct students in basic debating skills.

Intercollegiate Competition

Debaters have an extensive travel program. Students are selected for the various tournaments on the basis of their degree of preparation and ability and on the judgment of the coaches that the tournament will be a valuable educational experience. Our goal is to allow each student to achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Most debaters attend between seven and ten tournaments during the academic year. Freshmen tend to travel less often than the juniors and seniors accustomed to the academic demands of Northwestern. All members of the society are expected to maintain an outstanding academic record as a precondition for travel. Expenses on trips, including a meal allowance, lodging, transportation, and entry fees, are paid by Northwestern.

On-Campus Activities

In addition to the intercollegiate program, there are opportunities to debate on campus. Each year, the Northwestern Debate Society sponsors the Owen L. Coon Memorial Debate Tournament, the largest intercollegiate tournament in the nation. The society also hosts the National Novice Debate Tournament to decide the national championship for first-year college debaters. In addition, the society sponsors public debates on a variety of issues that interest the campus community.

Each spring, the Society sponsors the Clarion Dewitt Hardy National Invitational Tournament for high school students.

Hardy Scholarships

Each year, Northwestern awards Hardy Scholarships to two debaters who demonstrate financial need. These scholarships help to subsidize the students' personal expenses during the academic year. All students who apply for financial aid and demonstrate need are considered for University grants administered by the Office of Financial Aid.