How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough Northwestern Kellogg essay analysis, our friends at mbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.
The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has made minimal changes to its application essay prompts this year. The school’s required first essay has maintained its focus on leadership, but gone is the reference to teamwork, replaced by a request for evidence of “lasting value.” Kellogg also no longer stipulates that the incident candidates share be “recent,” thereby allowing applicants to plumb the full range of their history as needed to identify the most compelling or appropriate story. As for the video essays, we note that Kellogg is not stating this season that one of the questions will definitely be about a challenge, though we take this to mean merely that some applicants may receive such a question while others may not. The bottom line with Kellogg’s video questions is that they have no wrong answers and are intended to help the admissions committee get a more authentic impression of your personality (not to intimidate you!), so we hope applicants are not too concerned by that part of the application. In our Northwestern Kellogg essay analysis, we present our thoughts on how to address all the school’s prompts for 2017–2018.
Required Essay #1: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)
In reality, this is a fairly straightforward essay prompt, and we recommend responding in an equally straightforward manner. Launch directly into the story of your leadership experience and detail the specific actions you took in directing others to achieve some kind of enduring result. The key here is to show you shared a valuable experience with colleagues, extracted the most from your team members, and attained a desired outcome. Although we often note that not all great leadership stories necessarily have to end in success, Kellogg’s request for evidence of “lasting value” certainly implies that the school wants to hear about a situation that had a positive, if not victorious, outcome. You will need to convey not only your role in spearheading a group to achieve what you did but also how that achievement persists to this day.
Note that Kellogg does not specify that the experience you share must be related to your workplace or career. Leadership does not need to have an official title attached to it, and it can be expressed in a community service or even family life setting just as much as in a workplace, so explore all the different areas of your life for possible stories. We recommend using a narrative approach to presenting your story, but be sure to also share the thought process and motivation(s) behind your actions. This way, the admissions committee will take away both a clear picture of what you accomplished and the aspects of your character that inspired you and helped enable your success.
That said, the school acknowledges within the prompt that even endeavors that have a positive result are rarely smooth sailing from beginning to end—hence the question about challenges faced. A mistake applicants often make in writing this kind of essay is presenting a strong narrative in which they are incredible leaders, and then near the end, making a brief (and typically disjointed) reference to a hardship or conflict encountered along the way, meant to fulfill the “challenges” element of the essay query. To be effective and believable, your ups and downs must be woven intrinsically into your narrative, rather than simply acknowledged at the end. Clearly explaining how you approached and prevailed over the challenge at hand is crucial, so go beyond simply describing the roadblock itself and ensure that you detail your response and the inner workings of your decision making at that point.
Lastly, do not forget or neglect to explain what you learned from the experience—Kellogg specifically asks you to do so! And keep in mind that for your takeaways to be “meaningful,” they have to be profoundly connected to your narrative. The admissions reader should be able to easily understand the connection between the situation you describe and your subsequent learnings.
Required Essay #2: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)
How have you grown in the past? The best way to answer this question is to really take the question at face value and think about… how you have grown in the past! Kellogg has no preconceived notions of what applicants should offer in response to this query; it simply wants to learn more about who you are now and how you came to be this person. Rather than pandering to what you think Kellogg wants to hear or trying to conceive of a storyline that seems like it would sound good, truly reflect on your growth to date and focus on analyzing one or two recent experiences that effectively reveal how you have developed and matured.
You might use the first 200–250 words of your essay to share a brief anecdote or two illustrating your growth. These stories can be thematically connected, or they can present two separate circumstances in which you grew in different ways. This portion of your essay will show that you possess the capacity to grow, so in the rest of your submission, you can outline your agenda for growth at Kellogg. You can focus on academic and/or professional needs or on broader personal needs (such as intellectual growth or global exposure)—either option is fine. What is important is that you clearly show a genuine understanding of how Kellogg is the right catalyst for your anticipated development. If your connection to the school is merely superficial—based just on rankings or reputation, for example—you will reveal only that you do not truly grasp the potential inherent in your time in the program. So do your research and really learn about Kellogg in depth, and then present clear links between the program and your developmental needs, going beyond a simple listing of courses or resources and illustrating a more thorough and personalized connection between the offerings and your specific needs and interests.
This question involves many of the elements of a traditional personal statement essay, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide explains ways of approaching these topics effectively and offers several sample essays as examples. Feel free to download your copy today.
And for a thorough exploration of Kellogg’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Kellogg School of Management, which is also available free of charge.
Certain applicants will respond to additional questions:
Dual-degree applicants: For applicants to the MMM or JD-MBA dual degree programs, please explain why that program is right for you. (250 words)
If you are applying to one of Kellogg’s dual-degree programs, you should be ready to demonstrate a great deal of intentionality. After all, you are committing to a specialized path that requires additional time and cost. With a limit of just 250 words, you have no choice but to cut to the chase and specify how a dual degree is necessary for you to achieve your particular desired outcomes. After presenting your goals, you will need to tie these goals specifically to the Kellogg programs you are targeting and to their associated resources. This essay is essentially another opportunity (after Essay 2) to explain your distinct need to attend Kellogg, only here, you can focus on showcasing the non-MBA portion of your intended degree.
Re-applicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 word limit)
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Kellogg wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Kellogg MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.
All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information. If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (no word count)
However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to incorporate into any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. Consider downloading our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, along with multiple sample essays, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
Required Video Essays: The Video Essay is one component of the application and 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.
After submitting a completed application, you will be able to access the video essay through your application status page. One question will be a “get to know you” icebreaker type of question. The second question will be an opportunity to describe your plans for the future and how Kellogg will help you on that journey. The other questions will be randomly generated questions that will be similar to interview questions.
There are practice questions you may complete as many times as you like to get comfortable with the format and technology. The practice questions and experience will simulate the actual video essay experience, so this is meant to be a useful tool to help you feel prepared.
We encourage you to practice so you are comfortable with the format once it is time to complete the official video essay questions. There is not an opportunity to re-do the answer to the official video essay questions.
You will have 20 seconds to think about the question and up to one minute to give your response.
We estimate the video essays will take 20–25 minutes to complete—which includes time for set-up and answering all the practice questions.
Start by taking a deep breath. We understand that these video essays can make you feel like you are being put on the spot, but Kellogg is really not trying to scare you. The admissions committee simply wants a more dynamic representation of your personality than a written essay can provide. You cannot answer any of the school’s video questions incorrectly, so do not concern yourself with trying to give the “right” answer. Just respond to each query honestly, as smoothly as you can (despite any nervousness you may be feeling), and be yourself so the school can get a better sense of the unique individual you are. Thankfully, Kellogg provides some basic information about the nature of several of the questions you will encounter in the application’s video segment, so you will not be going in totally blind.
The “get to know you” question will be about a topic you know very well—you! Kellogg refers to this question as an “icebreaker,” so imagine meeting someone for the first time at a party or other event. Similar questions to what you might ask each other in the process of getting acquainted are what you can very likely expect from Kellogg. Examples we can imagine are “What is your favorite book and why?,” “If you unexpectedly had 24 work-free hours, how would you spend them?,” and (as Kellogg itself offers on its site) “If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be and why?” Although we are going to assume that you already know yourself pretty well, these types of queries sometimes require a moment or two of thought before a clear answer can be offered. So take some time to imagine these sorts of questions (you can even Google “icebreaker questions” to find lists of general examples) and practice delving into your personality in this way. Who knows, you might even learn something new about yourself in the process!
Fortunately, Kellogg very kindly provides the school-specific question in advance: “What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?” With respect to your interest in Kellogg, you need to truly understand why you are choosing this specific program for your MBA. By that, we do not mean that you should create and memorize a laundry list of reasons. Instead, you must have a comprehensive understanding of the resources the school offers and be able to clearly and concisely express which ones are of particular importance and significance to you—and why. Then, when you are recording your video response, you will need to convey this information in a way that is sincere and compelling. That will not happen if you are listing facts you have simply committed to memory! Kellogg offers very clear advice on this: “We don’t want scripted answers—we want to get to know you and learn something new. … When you record your answer speak authentically—we can tell if you are reading notes! And, no need to memorize an answer to the Kellogg question… it might make you sound like a robot.” The research you do on the school for Essay 2 will of course be valuable here as well.
As we noted in our introduction, you cannot expect for sure that you will be asked to describe a challenge, but do not dismiss this possibility altogether. Kellogg says that some of the questions posed will be “similar to interview questions,” and queries about past challenges are most definitely common in MBA interviews! You may wish to download a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, which, in addition to advice on preparing for and mastering the interview process, includes several pages of common interview questions that could be helpful in approaching your Kellogg video essays.
One minute is not very long, so run through several practice sessions—perhaps in front of a mirror—to get a sense of how quickly those 60 seconds will pass when you are in front of the camera. Although you can prepare as much as you want (the school even provides practice questions to help you do so), you get only one chance at the recording. If you stumble while answering or ultimately are unhappy with your answer, unfortunately, you cannot do anything about it. You will not be able to rerecord your responses or try again another time. This may make you nervous, but we encourage you to view the situation a little differently. Kellogg wants to get to know the authentic you through these video essays. If you fumble for words or lose your train of thought, just laugh or shrug and continue with your response. Accepting a mistake with a sense of humor and grace will give the admissions committee a more positive and natural impression of your personality than rigid scripting and overpreparation ever could. 📝
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