If you are getting ready to apply to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management this year, these Kellogg MBA essay tips will help you prepare to knock it out of the park.
Is Kellogg the right fit for you? The Kellogg School is a close-knit community. It values a diverse community and philanthropy. Our insiders tell us that candidates who show the right combination of high impact leadership and humility demonstrate “Kellogg DNA.”
Do your research on the programs, activities, clubs, classes, and professors about which you are most excited. While you are talking to students and alumni, look for ways you will contribute to the Kellogg MBA community.
Caryn Altman previously served as an admissions officer at Kellogg and also holds an MBA from the school. She is a tenured consultant on our SBC team. Caryn describes the importance of pinpointing “unique points of difference” throughout your entire application—essays, resume, interview, etc. It can be challenging to distinguish yourself from other applicants of similar backgrounds.
“This is especially the case for those coming from oversubscribed professional backgrounds such as consulting and banking, along with oversubscribed populations from particular areas of the world,” said Caryn.
According to Kellogg’s admissions criteria: “We look for people who are not afraid to question the status quo, can motivate a team to drive impact, and are eager to dive in and collaborate with an engaged, ambitious community of peers.”
That said, being overly coached won’t help you make a good impression on Kellogg. Therefore, keep yourself authentic in your communication and let your real self shine through.
Kellogg MBA Essay Tips for 2020-2021
The following two Kellogg MBA essays are required of all applicants:
Essay 1: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip, and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)
This essay focuses on leadership using a behavioral essay framework (the clue is “provide a recent example…”). Details about exactly what you did, said, and learned in your leadership story tell the reader how you approach issues and learn from experience. “Creating lasting value” is another key to this essay, and you should think about what you have done that endures.
As you structure the essay, spend some time to set up the background of the story. Then use most of the space to describe precisely what you did, thought, felt, and how you behaved. Also, use details to entice the reader and set yourself apart. A few well-placed specifics will add color without adding length to the essay.
You have discretion in your topic selection, as long as you demonstrated leadership and created value. It might be a time that everything went smoothly, and you learned how to work with a group or inspire people to action. On the other hand, it could be a challenging situation where you learned what not to do! Don’t be nervous about showing weakness here, as long as your story demonstrates that you have left your mark on the organization.
If you choose a challenging situation, then the learning part of the essay will be vital. In addition, show you can and do learn from experience. Every leader has to learn and develop, and willingness to be open to feedback and improve will be an asset.
Do not neglect to mention teamwork, which is a core value of Kellogg’s culture. Your leadership experience is likely part of a team at work or in an extracurricular activity, and sensitivity to teamwork and collaboration in any leadership story demonstrates maturity and social skills.
Essay Two: Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you, and how have they influenced you? (450 words)
This essay question is a hybrid of a classic career goals essay and a personal essay. Kellogg is interested in candidates who can integrate their values into their personal and professional goals. How have your values directed your actions in work and life?
When you describe how your values have influenced you in past decisions, make sure it is relevant to your plans to pursue an MBA at Kellogg. Therefore, the story you tell should provide insight into your decision to pursue an MBA and allude to your future goals. Because this isn’t a question about your entire work and life thus far, you should choose only one or two main experiences to share.
As you discuss how your values have guided you, specific examples will communicate concisely. For example, if you have a value of driving excellence, and that has led you to a consulting career where you help organizations become more efficient and achieve their goals. Or, your core value may be helping others, and you have chosen a career that provides the ability for you to give back to your community or lead a group of people.
The Video Essay
The Kellogg admissions team advises the following in regards to the video essay:
The video essay provides you with an additional opportunity to demonstrate what you will bring to our vibrant Kellogg community — in an interactive way. You will respond to several short video essay questions. The questions are designed to bring to life the person we have learned about on paper.
Read specific advice for how best to prepare for the video essay here.
Watching a video essay gives the admissions committee a sense of who you are and your personality. Therefore, the Kellogg admissions committee advises: “Be yourself. We don’t want scripted answers — we want to get to know you and learn something new. Please do not try to reuse an example from an essay that might, in some roundabout way, answer the video essay question asked. We already read that essay, so why tell us that story again?”
After you submit your application, you will receive your actual video essay questions. Therefore, prepare as if you would for an interview, drafting the topics you want to cover and practicing your presentation. Writing some bullet points down in advance will help you remember and focus as you answer the questions.
The video should accurately portray your personality and demeanor. Extensive preparation will help you be comfortable and be yourself when you are recording the video. That said, it’s essential not to sound overly scripted, as if you are “acting.”
Kellogg allows you to practice with the video format a few times with practice questions before you submit your official video. Also, it would be useful to do a few rounds of practice in front of the camera to get comfortable.
JD-MBA applicants: Please discuss your post-JD-MBA career goals and why the JD-MBA Program is the right program to help you reach those goals. (250 words)
Doing your research on Kellogg MBA’s academics and resources will help you answer the question about why you need a dual degree to achieve your goals.
The JD-MBA at Kellogg is a highly competitive admissions process and will require a clear explanation of what you will do with both degrees after school. Consider the unique attributes of the Kellogg JD-MBA program as compared to others, and also why you specifically need both a JD and an MBA to achieve your career goals.
MMM applicants: The five core values of the MMM Program are curiosity, creativity, empathy, open-mindedness, and a learning mindset. Describe a situation in which you demonstrated one of these values. Why is this value an important part of the MMM experience for you? (250 words)
Continuing the theme of “values” from the required essay, candidates for the MMM degree should reflect the intent of the program. Also, Kellogg is looking for design thinkers for this program, so you will need to demonstrate how you have shown curiosity, empathy, open-mindedness, and a learning mindset and are ready to contribute in the MMM program.
This is a behavioral essay question (“Describe a situation…”), and you will need to show the reader how you felt, acted, and made decisions in the situation.
Reapplicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 words)
While answering this question, make sure you provide tangible evidence that you have improved your candidacy. Some of the most visible improvements could be a higher GMAT score or grades from new quantitative classes you attended.
Other steps that you can describe would include a promotion at work or new volunteer activities. Another area could be increased responsibility at work or in your extracurriculars. If you don’t have something tangible and external to report, discuss how your career goals have changed or how you have refined your personal goals.
All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information. Use this section if you think the person reviewing your application might have a few questions about one or more of your responses. This could include:
• Unexplained gaps in work experience
• Academic, GMAT or GRE performance
• Extenuating circumstances that we should be aware of when reviewing your application
If there are any areas of concern, this is the correct place to address them. Strike an upbeat tone here and avoid excuses. Also, explain your issue clearly and focus most of the essay on the correction for the problem. For example, for a disciplinary matter, demonstrate that you learned from the experience and have been an ideal citizen since.
You should explain any Low GPA issues here. If there is a grade of C or below on your transcript, the admissions committee will want to know why and feel comfortable it is an outlier. For academic questions, emphasize your improved performance later in your college career or in work or classes since college.
Need even more Kellogg MBA essay tips and advice? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for a free analysis of your candidacy. For more details on the application process, visit the Kellogg MBA Admissions website.