B-School Insider Interview: First-Year Student, Northwestern Kellogg, Class of 2014

We spoke with a first-year student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management just as she was completing the initial year of the MBA program. With a major in finance and a certificate in international business from the University of Notre Dame, she spent several years working in consulting before deciding to go to business school, where she believes her focus will ultimately be on management strategy and social enterprise. At this point, she hopes to find a post-MBA position in the education technology space, perhaps at a start-up or within a university.

mbaMission: Thank you for speaking with me about your experience as a Kellogg student. What specifically attracted you to the school in the first place?

Kellogg First Year: I think more than anything, overall, the culture. I think, you know, once you start looking academically, you’re definitely going to get a good academic value, so I was really looking for what felt right. But also important to me was finding a community that supported the more social education focus that I knew I was coming back to school for. And I found a lot of places, they had clubs that were either education industry focused or even just community service groups, but when I asked students about them, nobody really knew anything about them. But at Kellogg, people could automatically introduce me to—“Oh, this person is into education and wants to start a charter school” or “Let me introduce you to this person that’s leading the Habitat for Humanity build next week.” So it was much more inherent to the culture. Not that I wasn’t looking for that from a networking perspective, but just more so to have a community of people that accepted wanting to do something with a business degree outside of the normal finance and consulting, CPG [consumer packaged goods], and kind of that understanding of the broader use.

mbaMission: I see. So are you involved with any of the clubs or other activities like that?

KFY: I am. I think Kellogg is one of those schools—though I didn’t ask questions about clubs when I was looking at schools—but I think I’m overwhelmed by the amount of student activity and involvement there is, just because I feel like there’s 20 student activities every day, so it’s hard to not be involved. Personally, I try to [commit to] one community service only club, one activity with the admissions office, working with the dean’s office and then two things purely for fun.

mbaMission: So how many clubs or activities would the average Kellogg student be involved in, do you think?

KFY: That’s a good question. I would say that everybody is actively involved in at least three, but you’ll find people that are technically part of 20 clubs. But whether they’re actively involved? Probably not. I would say, on a minimum, three, but it’s definitely not unusual to find people that are involved with ten.

mbaMission: Sure. If you could capture the Kellogg student experience in one word, what would that be? I realize that’s sort of a daunting question.

KFY: Oh, I don’t even know where to go with that—one word… Teamwork.

It’s one of the guiding principles [at Kellogg], and I think that encompasses academically the philosophy of the school, but also truly everything outside of school sort of has that teamwork mentality. I feel like no matter who’s planning, whether it’s a dinner, a night out at a bar or a big event for the school, everybody’s very inclusive, and its more about bringing everybody else along and not being exclusive.

mbaMission: So would you say that teamwork’s been an important factor in your Kellogg experience?

KFY: Yes, definitely. And everything centers around that, both in school and out.

mbaMission: Right. Kellogg has a strong reputation for marketing, of course. Would you say that’s a fair characterization?

KFY: Yes. I would say that it’s definitely where the majority of students go. It’s definitely where the best professors are, and I think the most interesting classes, but I think—being someone that’s outside of that bubble—I don’t feel like I go to a “marketing only” school. I definitely have more choices. I mean, those teachers are incredible, and I love taking those classes, but I think it kind of masks all the other things that Kellogg is good at, too.

mbaMission: So what are some of those other strengths that you think the school should be known for?

KFY: In terms of industries or jobs, I think social enterprise is something that doesn’t get enough spotlight, just because it doesn’t get the spotlight in the business world. The health care program is really growing, and the support and the access to industry that they have right now, it’s pretty amazing. Of course, always consulting, and honestly, I think with [Chicago] Booth so close-by, we get overshadowed in terms of finance, but I think there’s a very big advantage for people to come to Kellogg, because it is a smaller group, yet all of the same banks recruit here.

mbaMission: Sure. I imagine you know about Kellogg’s efforts to shrink its two-year MBA class size and increase the size of its one-year program?

KFY: Yes.

mbaMission: How do you think that will affect the student experience? Are students generally aware of these changes, and do they feel that this is a positive direction for the school?

KFY: I think everybody’s aware, and I think there’s—it’s kind of a tough question, because I think there is a little bit of a misperception. I think the one-year program is a great option, especially as opposed to part-time. You’re just able to get more of the student experience because you are there full-time. But I think they’re still very separate from the two-year program, just in terms of socialization, if that makes sense. So I don’t think anybody thinks that they’re missing out on anything. It’s just definitely a different experience that fits some better than others.

mbaMission: You mentioned teamwork earlier. Do you think the emphasis on teamwork translates to the one-year program, or is there a sense that it’s different?

KFY: I think it still does, because for every class, you’re going to be in a different team, and it’s not that it’s the same team or the same teamwork for two years. I almost think it adds more diversity and more of a learning experience into that teamwork element, because in that second year, you have, you know, a hundred more people to form teams with and learn from. At least my experience so far has been that those people tend to be a little bit closer to industry experience. They have much more specific goals, and at least at Kellogg right now, it seems like more of an international population, too. So I think that’s a good diversity mix that’s being added in, and it’s definitely, in terms of a business perspective for Kellogg, a very smart thing to do.

mbaMission: I see. Interesting.

KFY: But there’s definitely division, though. We just had a comedy show, our Kellogg comedy show, last week, and jokes are always going to be about the differences between 1Ys [first years] and 2Ys [second years].

mbaMission: Of course. Another change, not so recent, but the school hired Sally Blount as the dean in 2010. What would you say students generally think of her vision for the school? Has she shaped Kellogg’s culture in any noticeable way?

KFY: I think it’s noticeable every day. Between Dean Blount and Dean [Elizabeth] Ziegler, the [associate dean of MBA programs and] dean of students, I think more than anything they have a very clear vision, but it’s more that they’re getting things done quickly. The input that they get, they ask for from students. It’s a very quick turnaround time, which is great, especially since we’re only there for one or two years, so you can see the change happening. And I think it’s more so that it’s being very responsive to what the needs are, industry needs or what the market will look like and how we need to best be prepared. So I can already feel the changes, maybe not so much with the curriculum, but I think the biggest place that I’ve seen it is in terms of technology—they’re trying to incorporate technology more and more into the classroom—and how involved students have been with that and the quick turnaround and change that is happening.

mbaMission: Do students feel like they can express complaints or ideas to the administration pretty easily?

KFY: Yes. There are always forums. The deans all have lunches that you can sign up for or fireside chats or cocktails, and I don’t know how true it is, but they claim to all have an open-door policy. But also, something that I was involved with that I thought was very cool is that there’s a Dean’s Consulting Alliance now. So we got credit last quarter for basically being on a small consulting team, working on an issue or something that the leadership wanted to look at. We presented it, and now we’re actually implementing what we suggested, because they wanted us to just take ownership and have that contribution.

mbaMission: That’s great. Would you say students at Kellogg pay attention to the rankings? Are they considered important?

KFY: I would say they’re important, but they’re not the most important thing. I think it is important for us to be in the top five or somewhere near the top, but I wouldn’t say people obsess over that importance. I think it goes back to the culture, though, because our network is going to be based more so on that culture and that common bond of the experience more so than the number.

mbaMission: Sure. So in terms of the culture, what would you say is special about the culture at Kellogg?

KFY: I think the size is an advantage for the culture. It’s not too large, but yet, I like to describe the culture as everybody recognizes everybody else, but you can still walk into a room and be meeting somebody new for the first time. And people are very open to that. I would say the culture makes a difference because it’s more about the experience and not just about the ranking and the academics. I think if you talk to anybody at Kellogg, they’ll say that the value that we’re getting at Kellogg is more based on the holistic experience than just the academics, the name or the ranking.

I mean, I don’t want to downplay that the academics aren’t just as grueling or as hard core. People are serious about their academics, but they’re not going to be competitive about it.

mbaMission: Sure. What would you tell a prospective student are the best social or community events that happen at Kellogg?

KFY: I think Ski Trip is the first thing that comes to mind, because it encompasses everything that Kellogg does well. I think a lot of the cultural, diversity-type events—especially that incorporate the different country business clubs. Just basically the general social big blockbusters.

mbaMission: Okay. Are there a lot of travel opportunities at Kellogg?

KFY: There are. And honestly that was one of the things that I really liked about Kellogg, too, because I think there’s a good mix of opportunities for academic and class-related things for community service. Maybe it just is the culture that everyone travels and everybody wants to explore, so just that mind-set. I guess people aren’t limited by their fear of debt. I don’t know, people just want to explore, and everybody travels a lot.

mbaMission: Right. Do you have any favorite professors?

KFY: That’s tough, because I haven’t had a lot of choice yet. This is my first quarter outside of the core. I would say, even though I did not have her for a full class, I would say Professor [Julie] Hennessy. She will say that she’s good at teaching because she loves it, and that’s completely true. You can tell it’s her passion because of the energy and excitement she brings to the classroom. She brings the industry expertise, and teaching is what she does full-time. As of right now, I would say Professor [James] Conley teaches a lot of intellectual property–type classes, and because he is so passionate about the subject matter, it makes class that much more engaging.

mbaMission: Were there specific courses in the core that you really liked?

KFY: Yeah. Even though I don’t consider myself part of the marketing bubble, so to speak, the core marketing class was very eye-opening to me, just because it was taught in a very different way than [at] my undergrad institution. And I think it clicked for the first time that it’s definitely an advantage of going to a school like Kellogg, where it is such a strong suit. And I would say even just your basic strategy class, core-wise, because we do it with our section, with a great baseline for everything to build on top of. To do it amongst a group of peers that you’re already comfortable with, I think really kind of got everybody more comfortable with engagement and class discussion and participation.

mbaMission: Sure. I really appreciate your taking the time for this interview.

KFY: Sure. Thank you, too.

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