After introducing two completely new essay questions last season, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has made no changes at all to its prompts this year—at least not for the written essays. Candidates who are already anxious about the school’s somewhat unique video essay component may not be too pleased to learn that Kellogg is now asking three video questions rather than two, having added a query about facing a challenge. However, as we discuss more fully later in our analysis, these questions have no wrong answers and are intended to help the admissions committee get a more authentic impression of your personality (not to intimidate you!), so we do not believe applicants should be too concerned by this part of the application. Perhaps Kellogg simply felt it needed a little extra time in the video essays to make more fully developed assessments of its candidates. Read on for our thoughts on how to address all the school’s prompts for this season.
Required 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 may choose to recount a leadership experience that was particularly meaningful, even if the intended goals were not ultimately achieved. Indeed, the key here is not necessarily to show that you were a rousing leader who carried your team 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.
Also, 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 the connection between the situation you describe and your subsequent learnings.
Required 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 stories 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 focus 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 the school is merely superficial—based just on rankings or reputation, for example—you will reveal only that you do not truly grasp the potential inherent in your time in the program. So do your research and really learn about Kellogg in depth, and then present clear links between the program and your developmental needs, going beyond a simple listing of courses or resources and illustrating a more thorough and personalized connection between the offerings and your specific needs and interests.
This question involves many of the elements of a traditional personal statement essay, and 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 other key features, 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 Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, along with multiple sample essays, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
Required Video Essays: 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 three 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 three Video Essay Questions. The first will be a “getting to know you” type of question, the second will be about the candidate’s interest in Kellogg, and the final question will ask about facing a challenge.
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 20–25 minutes to complete—which includes time for set-up and answering all the practice questions.
Start by taking a deep breath. We understand that these video essays can make you feel like you are being put on the spot, but Kellogg is really not trying to scare you. The admissions committee simply wants a more dynamic representation of your personality than a written essay can provide. You cannot answer any of the school’s video questions incorrectly, so do not concern yourself with trying to give the “right” answer. Just respond to each query honestly, as smoothly as you can (despite any nervousness you may be feeling), and be yourself so the school can get a better sense of the unique individual you are. Thankfully, Kellogg provides some basic information about the nature of the questions you will encounter in the application’s video segment, so you will not be going in totally blind.
The “get to know you” question will be about a topic you know very well—you! Kellogg refers to this question as an “icebreaker,” so imagine meeting someone for the first time at a party or other event. Similar questions to what you might ask each other in the process of getting acquainted are what you can very likely expect from Kellogg. Examples we can imagine are “What is your favorite book and why?,” “If you unexpectedly had 24 work-free hours, how would you spend them?,” and (as Kellogg itself offers on its site) “If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be and why?” Although we are going to assume that you already know yourself pretty well, these types of queries sometimes require a moment or two of thought before a clear answer can be offered. So take some time to imagine these sorts of questions (you can even Google “icebreaker questions” to find lists of general examples) and practice delving into your personality in this way. Who knows, you might even learn something new about yourself in the process!
Fortunately, Kellogg very kindly provides the school-specific 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 facts you have simply committed to memory! Kellogg offers very clear advice on this: “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.” The research you do on the school for Essay 2 will of course be valuable here as well.
Kellogg’s new video question will ask you about a challenging experience you have had, and the school offers this example to help candidates better understand what that might look like: “Tell me about a time you were not going to be able to meet a deadline. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?” Few people could argue that the experience of earning an MBA is free of challenges. Kellogg knows that once you are in its program, you will be challenged in many different ways—by the differing viewpoints of your classmates, by the difficulty of some course work, by the struggle to efficiently manage your time, by the intensity of recruiting, by the business problems you will address, and by so many other people and issues. Naturally, the admissions committee wants to know that you can handle such challenges and get an idea of how you might do so with respect to your subsequent thoughts, decisions, and actions.
We suggest that to prepare for this question, identify three times when you encountered some sort of resistance or obstacle that stood between you and something you wanted to do or accomplish. Ideally, you should have one story each from your career, your personal life, and your community activities, and each anecdote should involve a different kind of challenge. For example, perhaps you ran up against a budget shortfall on a critical work project, clashed with a sibling over how to manage a parent’s health or estate, and had a volunteer event you organized be almost derailed by budget or weather issues. By having multiple stories that draw from the primary areas of your life and entail different types of obstacles or setbacks, you should be well equipped to respond to a challenge question. Keep in mind, however, that having an appropriate story to tell is only half the task. You must be sure to also share how you felt, your thought processes, and/or what you took away from the experience. Again, Kellogg does not want to know only that you have faced and overcome challenges in the past, but also how you behaved in the moment and any lessons you learned.
One minute is not very long, so definitely run through several practice sessions—perhaps in front of a mirror—to get a sense of how quickly those 60 seconds will pass when you are in front of the camera. Although you can prepare as much as you want (the school even provides practice questions to help you do so), you get only one chance at the recording. If you stumble while answering or ultimately are unhappy with your answer, unfortunately, you cannot do anything about it. You will not be able to rerecord your responses or try again another time. This may make you nervous, but we encourage you to view 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.