Northwestern University Kellogg Essay Analysis, 2015–2016

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2015-2016 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has two brand spanking new essay questions this admissions season. They are a fairly straightforward pair: a leadership essay query and a small twist on a goal statement prompt. Kellogg’s somewhat unique application component is its video essay—we would call it truly unique, but the Yale School of Management also requires candidates to submit a video essay. Unfortunately for applicants, Kellogg has repeatedly decreased the word limit for its essays in recent years, and it has not given candidates the same opportunities to roam as Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and its crosstown rival Chicago Booth all do. Kellogg’s essays are not very open-ended, meaning that the school’s applicants may worry that they can present only a narrow slice of their best to the admissions committee. Be sure to make especially good use of your recommendations, resume, interview, and short-answer responses, so that Kellogg gets to know the full you.
Northwestern University Kellogg Essay Analysis, 2015–2016

For 2015–2016, the following two essays are required of all applicants.

Essay 1: Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

This is a fairly straightforward essay prompt. You should launch directly into your narrative and detail the specific actions you took in leading your team. Although we imagine most candidates will write about a success, some applicants may choose to recount a leadership experience that was particularly meaningful, even if the intended goals were not achieved. Indeed, the key here is not necessarily to show that you were a rousing leader who carried your team on your back, all the way to victory, but rather that you shared a valuable experience with others and extracted the most from your team members, regardless of the outcome. The school makes a point of acknowledging within this essay prompt that “leadership and teamwork are integral parts of Kellogg,” seeming to highlight the collaboration and cooperation ideally involved in such arrangements—and thereby implying that the spirit of teamwork should be somehow implicit in your essay.

A mistake applicants often make in writing this kind of essay is presenting a strong narrative wherein they are incredible leaders, and then near the end, making a brief (and typically disjointed) reference to a hardship or conflict encountered along the way, meant to fulfill the “challenges” element of the essay prompt. To be effective and believable, your ups and downs must be woven intrinsically into your narrative, rather than simply being acknowledged at the end.

Do not forget or neglect to explain what you learned from the experience—Kellogg specifically asks you to do so! And keep in mind that for your takeaways to be “meaningful,” they have to be profoundly connected to your narrative. The admissions reader should be able to easily understand how your situation and actions led to your subsequent learnings.

Essay 2: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)

How have you grown in the past? The best way to answer this question is to really take the question at face value and think about… how you have grown in the past! Kellogg has no preconceived notions of what applicants should offer in response to this query; it simply wants to learn more about who you are now and how you came to be this person. Rather than pandering to what you think Kellogg wants to hear or trying to conceive of a storyline that seems like it would sound good, truly reflect on your growth to date and focus on analyzing one or two recent experiences that effectively reveal how you have developed and matured.

You might use the first 200–250 words of your essay to share a brief anecdote or two illustrating your growth. These anecdotes can be thematically connected, or they can present two separate circumstances in which you grew in different ways. This portion of your essay will show that you possess the capacity to grow, so in the rest of your submission, you can outline your agenda for growth at Kellogg. You can home in on academic and/or professional needs or on broader personal needs (such as intellectual growth or global exposure)—either option is fine. What is important is that you clearly show a genuine understanding of how Kellogg is the right catalyst for your anticipated development. If your connection to Kellogg is merely superficial, you will reveal only that you do not truly grasp the potential inherent in your time at the school. So do your homework to learn about Kellogg in depth, and then present clear links between the program and your developmental needs.

Because personal statements are generally 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. Please feel free to download your copy today.

And 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.

Certain applicants will respond to additional questions:

Dual-degree applicants: For applicants to the MMM or JD-MBA dual degree programs, please explain why that program is right for you. (250 words)

If you are applying to one of Kellogg’s dual degree programs, you should be ready to demonstrate a great deal of intentionality. After all, you are committing to a specialized path that requires additional time and cost. With a limit of just 250 words, you have no choice but to cut to the chase and specify how a dual degree is necessary for you to achieve your particular desired outcomes. After presenting your goals, you will need to tie these goals specifically to the Kellogg programs you are targeting and to their associated resources. This essay is essentially another opportunity (after Essay 2) to explain your distinct need to attend Kellogg, only here, you can focus on showcasing the non-MBA portion of your intended degree.

Re-applicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 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 some sort of personal challenge, 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 yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Kellogg MBA is vital to you. The responses to 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.

All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information:

If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (no word count)

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to incorporate into any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

Video Essays (required): The Video Essays provide applicants with an additional opportunity to demonstrate what they will bring to our vibrant Kellogg community – in an interactive way. Each applicant will complete two short video essay questions. The questions are designed to bring to life the person we have learned about on paper.

After submitting a completed application, each applicant will be asked to complete two Video Essay Questions. One will be about the candidate’s interest in Kellogg and the other will be a “getting to know you” type of question.

There are 10 practice questions which candidates can complete as many times as they like to get comfortable with the format and technology. The practice questions and experience will simulate the actual video essay experience, so this is meant to be a useful tool and help applicants feel prepared.

There is not an opportunity to re-do the answer to the official video essay questions. We encourage applicants to practice so they are comfortable with the format once it is time to complete the official questions.

Candidates will have 20 seconds to think about their question and up to 1 minute to give their response.

We estimate the Video Essays will take 15–20 minutes to complete—which includes time for set-up and answering all the practice questions.

So, for its video essays, Kellogg has two questions for you: one about Kellogg and one about you. How do you prepare? Fortunately, Kellogg provides the school-specific multi-part question in advance: What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?” With respect to your interest in Kellogg, you need to truly understand why you are choosing this specific program for your MBA. By that, we do not mean that you should create and memorize a laundry list of reasons. Instead, you must have a comprehensive understanding of the resources the school offers and be able to clearly and concisely express which ones are of particular importance and significance to you—and why. Then, when you are recording your video response, you will need to convey this information in a way that is sincere and compelling. That will not happen if you are listing a few facts you have simply committed to memory!  Kellogg offers very clear advice on this topic: “We don’t want scripted answers—we want to get to know you and learn something new…when you record your answer speak authentically—we can tell if you are reading notes! And, no need to memorize an answer to the Kellogg question… it might make you sound like a robot.”

Kellogg’s “get to know you” question will be about a topic you know very well—you! So, as we often advise candidates, do not try to anticipate what the school will ask or guess what it wants to hear and skew your response to match. Be sure to answer the question honestly and authentically, and use this “live” opportunity to show the admissions committee your personality and character. The type of question you might be asked could be “What is your favorite book and why?” or “If you unexpectedly had 24 work-free hours, how would you spend them?”

Given that one minute is not very long, you should definitely run through several mock interviews—even if they are just in front of a mirror—to get a sense of how quickly those 60 seconds will pass when you are later in front of the camera. Marshall McLuhan famously stated, “The medium is the message.” We can skip the philosophical debate about the validity of “McLuhanism” here, but in our opinion, being calm, confident, and sincere is a very important part of this battle. Whether you are answering the school-specific question or the “get to know you” query, simply relax and strive to share your thoughts in a way that does not seem rehearsed—absolutely do not try to use notes that you have hidden somewhere. Be yourself, and if you need help reaching that comfort zone, we can provide assistance with mock interviews.

One final note about authenticity: although you can prepare for Kellogg’s video essays as much as you want (the school even provides ten practice questions to help you in your preparations), you only get one chance at the recording. If you stumble while answering or ultimately are unhappy with your answer, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about it. You will not have the option of rerecording your response or trying again another time. We understand that this may make you nervous, but we encourage you to think about the situation a little differently. Kellogg wants to get to know the authentic you, not a scripted you, through these video essays. If you fumble for words or lose your train of thought, just laugh or shrug and continue with your response. Accepting a mistake with a sense of humor and grace will give the admissions committee a more positive and natural impression of your personality than rigid scripting and overpreparation ever could.

The Next Step—Mastering Your Kellogg Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Northwestern Kellogg Interview Primer today.

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