Northwestern University (Kellogg) Essay Analysis, 2010–2011

Recently, mbaMission Founder Jeremy Shinewald discussed Kellogg’s essays as part of Beat the GMAT’s “Write Like an Expert” Series. Check out the video from that presentation below. To see the video alongside the presentation slides, visit Beat the GMAT:

Kellogg’s essay questions have changed very little this year, with primarily just a few tweaks to the options offered in essay four. Kellogg is among the most demanding of the top business schools, requiring that applicants write four essays, three of which are 600 words long. A general tip for approaching these essays: keep the admissions committee learning about you. If the demands of the essay questions become too much and you end up telling the same story over and over again, you will not likely succeed in winning over the admissions committee.

a) MBA Program applicants – Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA. (600-word limit)

b) MMM Program applicants – Briefly assess your career progress to date. How does the MMM Program meet your educational needs and career goals? (600-word limit).

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of Kellogg’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Kellogg School of Management.

2. Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experiences (600-word limit).

In this essay, you might offer two simple vignettes that showcase your leadership experience narratively, and then evaluate yourself and denote certain areas for development. Although you are expected to be critical in discussing these areas for development, you should take care not to deride your strengths. Rather than thinking about ways in which you are lacking as a leader, focus on ways you could become a more complete and capable one. In this essay (much as in essays one and three), specific reference is made to your future experience as an MBA student at the school. So, you should seize this opportunity to illustrate a connection between you and Kellogg by showing that you understand how specific resources at the school will directly facilitate your development as a leader.

3. Assume you are evaluating your application from the perspective of a student member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Why would you and your peers select you for admission, and what impact would you make as a member of the Kellogg community? (600-word limit).

No doubt, many candidates will wonder whether they should respond to this question in first person or third person. We would guess that most applicants will choose to respond in third person, but there is really no right answer. What is important is that your content is compelling.

Because this essay is so open ended, we strongly recommend that you outline your thoughts before beginning your first draft and that you avoid reviewing every single element of your profile. Many candidates will fail to write a compelling essay here because they will instead focus on their transcript, GMAT score(s), professional history, GPA, community activities, personal life, etc. You have only 600 words with which to craft your message in this case, so give careful thought to what an objective outsider might think about you, and play to your strengths rather than offering a survey of everything in your profile. In short, we encourage candidates to think in terms of anecdotes for this essay and not default to simply “listing” qualities and accomplishments.

A strong self-assessment will prepare you to do more than merely reiterate experiences and instead effectively bring color to certain events and attributes and then link them to the Kellogg community. By doing so, you will not only present your strengths and place them in a unique light, but you will also show your fit with Kellogg and prove to the admissions committee that you profoundly understand how you will contribute.

(Note: We strongly advise that you not get bogged down in discussing your GMAT score and/or GPA.)

4. Complete one of the following three questions or statements. (400-word limit)
Reapplicants have the option to answer a question from this grouping, but this is not required.

a) Describe an instance where you encountered resistance in a professional team setting. How did you address the situation?

Although the kind of resistance you faced is important here, the real key to mastering this essay is effectively explaining how you dealt with the obstacles you encountered. To do so, you may play on the themes of diplomacy, persuasion, maturity, ethics, creativity and more. Revealing a certain thoughtfulness and problem-solving ability as you overcame the resistance and did your best to advance the team’s cause is crucial to writing an effective essay. You need not “win” (though a win is fine as well)—this is a character piece, and thus your actions need to be “noble” in victory or defeat.

b) People may be surprised to learn that I…..

We suggest that candidates give profound thought to the image of themselves that they have presented thus far in their application, and especially in their other essays, before writing this essay. Many applicants believe that they are offering a unique window into their experiences and personality when they are really only presenting a different side of the same coin: “You know that I am an engineer, but did you know that I also do training?” (This just will not work.)

For this essay, your reader needs to be truly surprised—and pleasantly so—by what he/she learns about you—for example, the former college shot putter now performs in an ethnic dance troupe, or a former drama star now competes regularly in crossword puzzle championships. Of course, your story need not be as over the top as this, but your reader should certainly have the opportunity to get to know a new and ideally courageous side of you that he/she may not have otherwise expected or seen.

c) The best mistake I ever made was…….

Ahh, sweet fortuity. For this essay, candidates may write about a time when they stumbled along the wrong path only to discover or accomplish something new or exciting. Alternatively, candidates can simply admit an error from which they learned something significant and/or that better prepared them for a later attempt at whatever they were originally trying to achieve. This Kellogg essay question takes a different approach to the classic “mistake” question, but this does not mean that you should shy away from accepting responsibility for your error and honestly and critically considering your actions. Any attempt to shirk responsibility will undermine your candidacy. If you are not ready and willing to own your mistakes, then you absolutely should not write this essay!

Required essay for reapplicants only – Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (400-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 a personal challenge of sorts, 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 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, 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.

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