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.)