Northwestern University (Kellogg) Essay Analysis, 2012-2013

Kellogg’s essays have barely changed over the past decade—but everything is different now! This application season, Kellogg candidates will be working with four completely new essay prompts, and one of the required essays is a mere 25 words long. We suspect this should make for some entertaining reading for the school’s admissions committee! This mini essay is not the only quirk, though—check out our analysis to learn more…

1. Discuss moments or influences in your personal life that have defined who you are today. (500 word limit)

Personal. Personal. Not professional. Personal.

In 500 words, you can tell someone an awful lot about yourself and the moments that have defined you as an individual. Resist the urge, though, to use this space to try to “say it all” by writing a 500-word chronology of your entire life to date—no one asked for a biographical statement! As the school notes, pick and choose specific significant events and influences that tie most directly and intensely to who you are as an individual. Most likely, these will be situations and forces that are important to you in some way or for which you have affection, but keep in mind that such influential factors can also be unexpected and even undesired occurrences (e.g., the sudden death or illness of a friend, a financial loss, a missed opportunity). Give appropriate emphasis to these standout events and influences, recognizing that you are trying to paint a picture of yourself and your values, not brag about how well (or how much) you have done. Do not shy away from discussing the bumps and bruises you have experienced along the way, if these have played a part in developing your character, and especially if you can reflect on them now with humor and wisdom. Sometimes, acknowledging a tough path can implicitly demonstrate a certain level of humility and an aptitude for learning, and these are appealing traits to an admissions team.

To make the most of the broad opportunity Kellogg is offering you with this essay question, make sure that the story you tell reveals not only crucial events, but also your personality.

2. 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 word limit)

A key thing to note about this essay prompt is the word “experiences”—plural. You should therefore be prepared to discuss more than just one significant event in the 500 words allotted. Optimally, you would present two (or more) distinct experiences from two (or more) different areas of your life, but even if you have to rely on just two experiences from within the same environment, that is okay—what is key is showing that you have a variety of skills in the area of leadership. The setting is less important than your role in the events you are describing. For example, if you have one story about leading a team to a new product launch (directing creative thought and its implementation) and another about mentoring an individual who moved from being a low performer to a high performer (maximizing talent and boosting morale), you would effectively be displaying two different skills.

The “think bravely” element of this essay prompt will no doubt give some applicants pause. Determining whether your thought process was in fact “brave” does not sound like a simple thing to do. The odds are, though, that if you have two or more leadership stories that are worth telling, you most likely had to implement some ambitious thought and tried some new tactics or approaches that ultimately worked in your favor. Think about the question as more “What risk did you take?” than “What did you do that was unique?”

3. 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 word limit)

Kellogg has put a small spin on the traditional Personal Statement essay here, asking you to imagine yourself in the future, reflecting back on your years at the school. Worry not! (In fact, we encourage you to view this essay as an opportunity to show some creativity.) You may be writing in a different tense and viewing your journey from a different angle—looking backward rather than forward—but by and large, this is still a Personal Statement, one that incorporates the familiar question of “Why our school?” A successful essay will present relevant information from your career to date and note the achievements you expect or hope to have while in the MBA program—such as mastering new knowledge sets, taking advantage of study abroad opportunities or hands-on project work and serving as an officer in one or more student clubs—that relate to your goals and to the kind of student you want to be.

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

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

4. What one interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you? (25 words or less)

“As a former ‘The Price Is Right’ contestant, I still cherish my beloved consolation prizes: a motorized wheelbarrow and a signed photo of Bob Barker.”

That is mbaMission Founder Jeremy Shinewald’s 25-word answer, and it is undeniably his. He “owns” it, by which we mean that more than likely, no one else can make that exact statement. This kind of singularity is what makes an impression on the admissions committee and helps a candidate stand out. Moreover, the statement speaks well of him by showing that he has a sense of humor and irony, in addition to an obvious sense of adventure. And, as the question asks, it is undoubtedly a “fun” fact. This single sentence manages to say a lot—and you can, too. You do not need to mine your past for anything this absurd to make an impression, but you do need to reveal your personality through your statement. Think carefully about what you want to say about yourself, and make sure that it does not overlap with everything else you have written in the other essays. We strongly recommend that you respond to this essay prompt last.

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