Northwestern University (Kellogg) Essay Analysis, 2008-2009

With Harvard Business School scaling back to four essays (from five in 2007 and six in 2006) and Stanford making a similar reduction (its main essay has “shrunk” from a seven-page limit two years ago to a 750-word limit today), Kellogg now demands the most in terms of volume of writing required to complete an application. The minimization of such demands at other schools seems to have a great deal to do with rising application volumes and overtaxed admissions staffs. So, Kellogg’s Admissions Committee might be lauded for taking on such a challenging task. Last year, Kellogg made the first major changes to its essays in years. This year, it has merely tweaked essays 3 and 4, with essays 1 and 2 remaining longstanding, traditional questions. 

All applicants are required to answer questions 1, 2 and 3 in addition to two of the essays in question 4. For questions 1-3, please limit responses to 2 pages.

1: Briefly assess your career progress to date.  Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at Kellogg.

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the “MBA Mission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer this guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today. 

For additional information on the Kellogg experience, please consult the MBA Mission Insider’s Guide series.

2: Describe how your background, values, academics, activities and/or leadership skills will enhance the experience of other Kellogg students.

This essay is broad and sweeping in nature, so it allows you to strategically showcase a mix of your greatest strengths—professional, community, academic and personal. You should strive to select a diversity of experiences and present them in such a way that you will be able to relate them back to your ability to contribute to Kellogg in a variety of areas, such as the classroom, your study group and/or the community at large. A successful essay will be one that not only details unique personal strengths, but also clearly illustrates how these strengths will be put into action at Kellogg—meaning that you will have an opportunity to show your intimate understanding of and connection to the school.

Please see our Monday Morning Essay Tip: Your Contribution.

3: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experience.

Because essay two is so open-ended, you will need to carefully consider how and where to “spread” your stories. In essay 3, you must discuss your leadership experiences (note: “experiences” is plural), so you will have to “save” certain stories for this essay and not expend all of your ideas in this area in essay 2. You might offer two simple vignettes that showcase your leadership via a narrative, then evaluate yourself and illustrate certain areas for development. Although you are expected to be critical in discussing these areas for development, you should not deride your existing skills. Rather than thinking about ways in which you are lacking as a leader, you should focus on true opportunities to become a more complete and capable one. Again, in this essay (much as in essay 2), specific reference is made to your MBA experience. In answering this question, you should seize the opportunity to create a connection between yourself and Kellogg by showing that you understand how the school’s resources will facilitate your development as a leader.

Choose two of the following three essays…

4. Applicants must answer two of the below essays.  (Re-applicants must answer question 4D and one other essay).  Please keep responses to two paragraphs. 

4A – Describe a time when you had to motivate a reluctant individual or group.

Because of space limitations, starting this essay in a detailed and descriptive way is essential to conveying the intensity of the experience—to essentially paint a picture of the situation’s troubled dynamics. You will then need to transition quickly and analyze the actions you took to diplomatically navigate the situation and motivate the seemingly immovable individual or group. Your goal is to ensure that as the Admissions reader completes this essay, he/she understands both that you exercised sound judgment and discretion and how you did so. Implicitly, the reader should be able to extrapolate that as part of a study group at Kellogg, you would be an effective facilitator and leader— one who legitimately cares about others’ contributions, even when those others are reluctant to contribute.

4B  – I wish the Admissions Committee had asked me…..

This essay is essentially an open invitation to present anything vital about yourself—compelling stories or differentiators—that you have not otherwise been able to showcase. Basically, you could not ask for a better opportunity to explain to the Admissions Committee how you are unique. Many candidates use this essay to discuss a particular hobby or interest. If this is your choice as well, your inordinate passion for the activity in question must be fully and clearly expressed—otherwise, this window into your life will be boring and unconvincing. Ask yourself, “How can I show that I take this passion further than others?” This essay should not be a fallback option you choose because you have run out of creative ideas. Rather, it should allow you to offer your reader something exceptional about yourself and add depth of character to your application.

4C – What do others admire about you?

This essay challenges the notion that MBA candidates must remain humble and let their actions talk for them. If you choose to answer this question, be very careful not to brag or display arrogance. You will need to show that you have truly excelled in a certain area or way and ideally show “proof” of others’ admiration of you, perhaps by including a well-placed quote or referencing an award you have received. In general, we recommend that candidates tread carefully in this space. The line between displaying a favorable trait and offending others with a lack of self-awareness is a fine one—and easily crossed. To be honest, we are surprised that this question is offered as a choice.

4D – For re-applicants only: Since your previous application, what are the steps you’ve taken to strengthen your candidacy?

Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement or taken on a personal challenge of sorts, the key to this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Kellogg wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Kellogg MBA is vital to you. This essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, as each person’s needs and experiences will differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that the above requirements are met.

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