How Does Kellogg Assess MBA Applicants?

MBA hopefuls are always looking for clues as to how the admissions process works. With that in mind, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has attempted to demystify the applicant assessment process with a series of blog posts this week.

Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for full-time MBA programs at Kellogg, addresses three key areas in this series: intellectual ability, work experience, and professional goals. While this information is tailored for a specific group of applicants, we believe the guidance holds true no matter where you’re applying.

Kellogg is looking for candidates who have demonstrated academic excellence. While your GMAT or GRE scores are key indicators that you can handle the work, the admissions team also wants to see what you’ve done to broaden your knowledge base and challenge yourself academically.

“If your scores or grades seem a little lopsided, we dig deeper into your application to look for evidence that you’ve taken steps to develop those skills,” says Tidmarsh. “That tells us if you’ve taken charge of balancing out your skill set.”

When in doubt, err on the side of explaining any dips or gaps in your academic record. You never want the admissions team speculating about your past performance.

Tidmarsh’s comments about work experience are particularly enlightening, and perhaps reassuring as well for some candidates. The director explains that applicants are analyzed within the context of their own career paths—not compared against each other.

Use your application to show how your work experience is noteworthy. If you’ve taken on more responsibilities, been promoted more quickly, and generally progressed faster than others at your same level, this is the kind of information the admissions officers want to hear, says Tidmarsh.

We really like her tip to help applicants avoid the trap of using too much industry-specific jargon.

“Think about how you would explain your job to a 10-year-old or your grandmother…This is a great place to show us how you can communicate ideas across fields and disciplines.”

Because the admissions team already has a copy of your resume, use the opportunities within the application to further explain your responsibilities and provide rich detail about your career to date. Don’t just copy your resume into the input fields, Tidmarsh admonishes.

Finally, it’s important to have a pretty clear picture of your career goals and how a Kellogg MBA will help you reach them. That’s not to say you can’t change your mind once you’re on campus. Students often explore new paths while in business school, and may decide to pursue a new direction after experiencing all that an MBA program has to offer.

“Our Admissions officers are checking to make sure you’ve got a plan in mind. We understand the plan may change over time, but do think about what areas and opportunities you would focus on if you were starting our program today,” Tidmarsh advises.

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