Today we dig into the application essays for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management for the 2012-2013 admissions season. Continuing the trend we have seen among other top MBA programs, Kellogg has made some significant changes this year. In fact, Kellogg has perhaps gone further than any other school this year, completely replacing its essay set and making the total word count much lower in the process.
Here are the school’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Kellogg School of Management Application Essays
- Discuss moments or influences in your personal life that have defined who you are today. (500 words)
As we mentioned above, Kellogg has replaced every one of its admissions essays this year. Business school application essay sets often (though not always) start with “Why an MBA? Why this school?” questions, and it’s interesting that Kellogg chose to lead off with an essay prompt that has more to do with getting to know you as a person. This question is the perfect example of one where an honest, personal answer will be much more interesting to admissions officers than one might sound “impressive” to a novice’s ears. While some applicants will surely write something along the lines of, “Learning about Steve Jobs has profoundly influenced the way I think about innovation,” you’ll do best by focusing on moments and relationships closer to home. Describe what has shaped you, how it’s shaped you, and why… If it weren’t for these influences, how would your life be different today? If you can answer that honestly, you may have the makings of a great essay. Finally, most applicants will likely read this as a prompt that asks for positive moments or influences, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You don’t necessarily want to be a downer with this essay, but if earlier in life you faced a rough setback that really defined who you are today, then that is definitely fair game here.
- What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely (personally and/or professionally). (500 words)
This is another all-new question. Since you only have 500 words, we advise that you focus on no more than two short stories (or possibly three, but no more than that!). The fewer, the better, since including too many examples means that no one story will have very much impact. Be as specific as possible here, rather than discussing leadership in broad terms or with vague generalities. We always tell applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation – Action – Result) response outline, and notice that Kellogg is pretty explicitly asking for at least two of those (“What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have?”). Also, notice how Kellogg squeezed in its new slogan (“Think Bravely”)… The school looks for applicants who are willing to go outside their comfort zone, go beyond their job descriptions, and challenge established thinking. The most effective responses to this question will describe times when you have done these things.
- Imagine yourself at your Kellogg graduation. What career will you be preparing to enter, and how have the MBA and Kellogg helped you get there? (Please answer in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA) (500 words)
Earlier we mentioned that Kellogg decided not to make its first essay the standard “Why an MBA?” question. Well, it’s still present, but it’s just wearing a new, more creative skin. The admissions committee looks for a couple of key things here: First, do you have clear, realistic post-MBA career goals? No, you don’t need to know for certain what you will be doing three years from now, but take your best guess given the path that you’re trying to pursue. Show them that you have a good grasp of how you will grow at Kellogg and what opportunities you will have upon graduation. Second, Kellogg wants to see that you’ve done your homework and can convincingly articulate why Kellogg is the right school for you, given where you’ve come from and where you want to do. Don’t only think in terms of what you will experience in your time on campus… What else does Kellogg bring to the table (hint: alumni network!) that could help you get there? Rattling off clubs and course names isn’t particularly interesting or convincing… Help admissions officers envision you as a successful Kellogg student and as a successful alum well beyond your time in Evanston!
- What one interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you? (25 words)
Yes, you read that word limit right… just 25 words! It’s easy to over-think this question and end up writing something that’s neither interesting nor fun. Admissions officers frequently say, “There is no right answer to our essay questions,” but this guidance is particularly true in this case. They truly just want to get to know you a little better… Until you interview with a Kellogg admissions representative, you are just words and numbers on a page, so help add some more dimension to your application by making yourself sound more human! No need to be gimmicky, but don’t be afraid to take a chance and tell that something truly unusual about yourself. It will be pretty hard to ruin your chances with this response… If anything, this is a chance to have a little fun and stand out from the pack!
- (Re-applicants only) Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (400 words)
This last question says it all when it comes to describing what every top MBA program looks for in any re-applicant. Ideally you will have at least one or two significant achievements or experiences that will bolster a weakness that may have kept you out of Kellogg last year. The most obvious examples are a big promotion at work, a higher GMAT score, or strong grades in some post-college coursework, but anything that demonstrates leadership, teamwork, maturity, or innovation — if one of these was a weakness in admissions officers’ eyes last year — can help your candidacy.)
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The University of Chicago Booth School of Business recently released its admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Yet another top-ranked business school has significantly cut back on its essay load this year: While last year’s essay word count was 1,350 (not counting the “PowerPoint essay”), this year’s total word count is just 900 words. Read on to see what we make of the changes.
Here are Booth’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Chicago Booth Application Essays
- What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will an MBA from Chicago Booth help you reach them? (500 words)
This question is essentially the same as last year’s first question, aside from a very slight wording tweak and a reduction in word count from 600 to 500 words. This is the fairly standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most business school ask. Note that, as important is it is to make a convincing case about your career goals and your reasons for wanting an MBA, you also really need to take the Booth part of the question seriously… What about Booth attracts you to the school? This is where you need to show that you’ve done your homework, and convince the school that you’re not only applying because Booth is highly ranked. Chicago Booth looks for a specific kind of applicant — one who’s intellectually curious and is not afraid of rigor. Does that appeal to you? If so, show it here!
- a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it? (200 words maximum)
This question is new this year. Yes, with a limit of 200 words, this essay doesn’t give you much to work with. With these types of questions, particularly when a school explicitly asks what you learned from a situation, we encourage applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) method, with a lot of emphasis on the “Result” part. In this case, the result addresses the second and third questions in the essay prompt: What happened? What did you learn as a result? You only have 200 words here, so you must describe the situation VERY briefly, and then move on to the rest. This makes choosing a work situation ideal, since admissions officers will already have a basic understanding of where you work and what you do for a living. Also plan on keeping the “Action” part relatively tidy; the real key is devoting enough words to what you learned. Ideally, you can then describe how you took what you learned and put it into action in another, later situation. This is the very definition of growth.
- b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)
This question is also new this year. It replaces one that Booth tried for just one year, which asked, “How has your family, culture, and/or environment influenced you as a leader?” Clearly the school didn’t love the answers it got from that question, and now wants to try a different approach to better understanding what makes its applicants tick. With an essay like this, many applicants are tempted to “talk fancy” and tell stories along the lines of “My three months of inoculating mountain goats in Machu Picchu changed my life,” when the thing that truly influenced them on a profound level was something much closer to home. Even if something sounds mundane, if it really meant something to you and transformed the way you think, then we advise choosing that story over one that sounds impressive. The story could be about a professor that you had (the more recent, the better), a terrific boss you worked with, or something outside of the workplace. But choose something real over something that sounds flashy. And be sure to adequately describe the transformation that resulted from the experience!
- The Chicago experience will take you deeper into issues, force you to challenge assumptions, and broaden your perspective. In a four-slide presentation or an essay of no more than 600 words, broaden our perspective about who you are. Understanding what we currently know about you from the application, what else would you like us to know?
We have set forth the following guidelines:
* The content is completely up to you. There is no right, or even preferred, approach to this presentation.
* There is a strict maximum of four pages (presentation) or 600 words (essay), though you can provide fewer if you choose.
* Acceptable formats for upload in the online application system are PowerPoint or * The document will be viewed electronically, but we cannot support embedded videos, music, or motion images. Additionally, all content MUST be included in the four pages; hyperlinks will not be
* The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.
Ahh, Chicago Booth’s “PowerPoint question” is still here, although it’s been reworded again this year. The new wording puts emphasis on broadening perspectives… Both having your own perspective broadened at Booth, and you working to broaden the admissions team’s perspective of you. Last year the school more explicitly asked applicants to consider “what you’ve already included in the application,” and while this is worded differently, they’re mostly getting at the same thing: “Tell us something new and different about you.” You therefore really must ensure that these pages add something new to your application — don’t use it to just show off professional achievements that you already cover elsewhere in your application. Be creative! The reason Booth kept this question is because, while it hasn’t worked perfectly for the school so far, it really is the admissions committee’s best chance to tease some personality out of your application. So don’t be afraid to give them some!
- (Re-applicants only) Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application? (300 words)
This re-applicant question is the same as it was last year, so our advice carries over mostly unchanged. This question gets at the heart of what MBA admissions officers ask when they see a re-applicant: “What has changed since last time?” While we don’t believe the Booth admissions committee did it deliberately, we do think that the phrasing here can be a bit misleading. The way it’s written, this question may lead some applicants to believe that they didn’t get in before because of something wrong in the way they answered the “Why an MBA? Why Booth?” question, but that may not at all be why they were rejected last time. Imagine you’re an applicant who had all the right reasons for applying to Booth last year, but you had some other big weakness that kept you out, such as a low GMAT score or not enough meaningful work experience. Now you’re back, and you’ve worked hard to plug those holes, and now you need to manufacture a reason why your thinking is now different, although that thinking wasn’t the problem the first time around.
So, our advice here is to answer the question (ALWAYS answer the question asked!), but keep in mind that the phrasing may mislead you a bit. If you’re certain that it was something else that kept you out, be sure to work that into this essay, particularly if it’s something that won’t immediately jump out at admissions officers when they review your application data sheets.
For more advice on getting into Booth, download our Essential Guide to Booth, one of our 15 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Booth and other top business schools, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!
To stay on top on all of the latest news about Chicago Booth and other top-ranked business schools, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!
UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. The Haas admissions team has trimmed down its essay count, going from six to five required essays in this year’s application, and shortening one essay from 1,000 to 750 words. Beyond that, there haven’t been too many dramatic changes this year, although the school’s new Essay #1 is definitely new and different.
Here are Haas’s essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Berkeley (Haas) Application Essays
- If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 words)
This question is new this year, and replaces another essay prompt that asked “What brings you the greatest joy?” We expect that many applicants will over-think this essay, and trick themselves into coming up with a song that is neither close to their hearts nor does a good job of expressing who you are. Admissions officers frequently say, “There is no right answer to our essay questions,” but this guidance is particularly true in this case. Do not be afraid at all to have a little fun with this essay. Ideally your response will be deeper than saying “‘Call Me Maybe’ expresses me best,” but if a fun pop song expresses some aspect of you very well, then so be it! We doubt that many applicants’ chances will be ruined by this essay… If anything, this is a chance to have a little fun and stand out from the pack. Completely stumped? Then don’t sweat it… Don’t feel the need to pull off an irrational gimmick here just to try to stand out.
- What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 words)
This question carries over unchanged from last year. Ideally the story you choose will demonstrate at least one or two of the key themes in your application. All things being equal, a story from your professional life will serve you best, but don’t feel that your significant accomplishment MUST be from the workplace.
- Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 words)
This question also carries over unchanged from last year. This question is quite specific as far as essay prompts go, and hits on what MBA admissions officers really wan to see in applicants: a willingness to go beyond the norm, go outside of their comfort zone, and improve on the status quo (and don’t miss the fact that “question the status quo” is one of the school’s four key principles). Note the second part and its emphasis on “positive change”… this also gets to the heart of the matter. They don’t want to just see that you question everything all the time, but rather than you do it when there’s an opportunity to make things better. Anyone can be a thorn in everyone else’s side, but how did you make a positive impact on the community or organization around you?
- Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 words)
This question is also unchanged from before. Again, notice how Haas uses the second part to specifically call out what the admissions committee looks for in your response. As we always advise with “failure” questions, this is the real meat of the essay — illustrating what you learned and, ideally, describing a later time when you put that lesson to work. These essays are all very short, so that last part may not make the final cut, but be sure to give enough emphasis to what you learned. In an essay this short, it’s easy to finish describing the failure and then realize you’ve already hit the word limit; you can’t afford to let that happen here.
- a. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (750 words for 6a. and 6b.)
This question also carries over unchanged from last year, although the word limit has dropped from 1,000 to 750 words. Once again, we find it interesting how Haas so specifically calls out what it wants to see in your response. This question is essentially the typical “Why an MBA? Why this school?” essay that most schools ask, although Haas makes an effort to explicitly call out parts a and b, which suggests that past applicants haven’t sufficiently answered both parts — especially the “Why Haas?” part. Ask yourself these questions: Where do you see yourself in a few years (and beyond that), and why do you need an MBA to get there? Specifically, why do you need a Haas MBA to get there? Why not another top-ten MBA program? Really force yourself to answer that question, even if not all of your answer makes its way into your final essay response!
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Darmouth’s Tuck School of Business recently published its application deadlines and admissions essay topics for the Class of 2015. Yet another top school has slimmed down its essay count this year. In this case, Tuck actually merged two questions into one, reducing the total number of essays you will need to write for your Tuck application.
Here are the school’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Dartmouth (Tuck) Application Essays
- Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you, and what will you uniquely contribute to the community? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.) (500 words)
This question has evolved slightly this year, with the addition of the “uniquely contribute” part this year, which used to be addressed in a separate question. Overall, you may consider this the fairly standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most schools ask. Tuck takes the concept of “fit” very seriously when evaluating candidates — maybe more so than any other top school, given its small class size and remote location — so it’s no surprise to see the “uniquely contribute” question here. Clearly the school doesn’t want you to only focus on your plans beyond Tuck, but also wants to see that you have thought about your two years in Hanover and can make a convincing argument as to why you will be a positive addition to the program.
- Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience? (500 words)
This question remains the same since last year. Follow this question to the letter: You should focus on one single experience. In 500 words you will need to describe what the situation was, what action you took, and what the results were (“Situation-Action-Result,” or “SAR” as we call it). Note the second part of the question, about what you learned about yourself. What exactly happened is very important, but so is evidence of self-reflection. Ideally you can show that you learned something about yourself, such as a shortcoming or lack of experience, that you were able to act on and improve. That’s the richest type of response one can give here.
- Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience?
This question also carries over unchanged from last year. This question very clearly illustrates a trait that Tuck looks for in all of its applicants: The ability to objectively take a challenge and setback and turn it into something positive, coming out better in the end. No matter what you might think or may have read, you shouldn’t be afraid to write about a failure or shortcoming. In fact, writing a response about overcoming a failure or weakness will usually more powerful than answering with “My biggest challenge was completing a marathon.” While that’s impressive, it’s far less revealing than a story about a time when you had to make a more fundamental change to who you are as a person and as a leader.
- (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.
As we always tell our clients when it comes to optional essays, only answer this essay prompt if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay. Less is more!
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MIT Sloan has released its admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Sloan has made some tweaks this year, including dropping an essay, which continues a trend that we have seen among top MBA programs so far this year. However, the school’s famous cover letter returns. This cover letter is still unique among other top MBA programs’ application essays; apparently its still works well enough that the Sloan admissions committee wants to keep it around.
Here are Sloan’s application essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:
MIT Sloan Cover Letter
Please prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.
This isn’t an admissions essay in the traditional sense, but the cover letter is a rite of passage for MIT Sloan applicants every year. Over the years the prompt has evolved a bit, but at its core it remains the same: It serve as your all-in-one, cut-through-the-noise, “This is who I am, this is what I’ve done, and this is why I want to earn an MBA at MIT Sloan.” Whatever core themes you have decided to emphasize in your application, be sure that they are well represented here.
MIT Sloan Application Essays
We are interested in learning more about how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response. Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.
In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.
- Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words)
This question carries over from last year with just some very subtle tweaking. Last year, Sloan’s questions (including for its cover letter) put a great deal of emphasis on the traits that demonstrate leadership. Sloan has toned it down a bit this year, but you can be certain that Sloan admissions officers are still looking for leaders in the applicant pool. If you just read that last sentence and thought, “Uh oh, I’ve never managed anyone or been a team lead,” don’t despair. That’s not how Sloan (or any top MBA program) defines leadership. One practical definition of leadership is the ability to positively influence others, and Sloan directly asks for an example of that ability with this question. Even if your example feels fairly mundane (such as an engineer convincing other engineers to pursue a certain technical solution), you will be successful if you can show real skill maturity in HOW you go it done. That’s what MIT Sloan is looking for.
- Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words)
This question is new this year, and it also addresses some of the traits that admissions officers look for in emerging leaders: the ability to objectively take a challenge and setback and turn it into something positive, coming out better in the end. Many applicants see “setback” and think, “Oh no, a failure essay,” but you shouldn’t be afraid to write about a failure or shortcoming. (You also don’t need to write about one of these… a setback could also be something that happens to you, such as a devastating sports injury.) In fact, writing a response about overcoming a failure or weakness will usually more powerful than answering with “My biggest challenge was completing a marathon.” While that may sound impressive, it’s far less revealing than a story about a time when you had to make a more fundamental change to who you are as a person and as a leader.
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