Applicants to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University must provide two required written essays. The first deals with an experience in which the candidate applied certain skills to successfully manage an obstacle, while the second focuses on the applicant’s unique abilities and experiences that will be additive to Kellogg. In addition, the admissions committee requires that candidates respond to three brief questions via video. Together, the school’s essays appear designed to extract a good deal of information about applicants’ personalities and strengths. For more advice on interpreting and approaching the school’s prompts for 2023–2024, read on.
Northwestern Kellogg 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Required Essay 1: Kellogg Leaders are primed to tackle today’s pressing concerns everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Tell us about a time in your life where you’ve needed a combination of skills to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Which skills did you use? What did you accomplish? (450 words)
Challenges and obstacles can be powerful learning opportunities. Kellogg wants to learn three primary things here: (1) what are some of the key skills and strengths you already possess, (2) how do you apply them and use them synergistically, and (3) how do you act (and react) in situations that do not go as planned. You of course want to convey that you are not easily discouraged by setbacks and instead use them as learning tools or stepping-stones on your path forward.
For this essay, you could discuss a one-time occurrence or an ongoing issue that you deal with regularly (and have learned to “overcome” when it arises). And because the school does not stipulate that the challenge you share be strictly professional or personal, you should consider every possible option you have from the various facets of your life—your workplace, academic background, family, personal life, community engagements, and so on. Also, the problem could be something you faced alone or as part (or leader) of a group. We recommend using a narrative approach to present your story, but in addition to clearly explaining how you approached and prevailed over the challenge at hand, ensure that you detail the inner workings of your decision making—the thought process and motivation(s) behind your actions. This way, the admissions committee will get a clear impression not only of what you accomplished but also of the abilities and aspects of your character that enabled your success. And be sure to not focus solely on one skill; the prompt specifically notes “a combination of skills,” so you will need to describe a situation in which you drew from different areas and capabilities to create synergy.
With just 450 words for this essay, you have limited space, but if you can work it in easily, consider mentioning a skill that you could gain at Kellogg that would have made your experience easier or somehow more successful. Similarly, Kellogg does not specifically ask you to explain what you learned from the experience, but if word count allows enough for you to include this element in your essay, we would encourage you to do so. This would demonstrate to the admissions committee an advanced level of self-awareness and highlight your ability to learn from obstacles, rather than be daunted by them.
One final note: do not be afraid to reveal a weakness or error on your part. Although this is not a “failure” essay, if your own actions helped create the problem or you failed to see the obstacle right before you (and should have), you should not shy away from an honest discussion of your responsibility. Such incidents are usually very effective learning opportunities and could therefore make for a compelling essay.
Required Essay 2: At Kellogg, our values are based on research that concludes organizations comprised of leaders with varied backgrounds and perspectives outperform homogeneous ones. How do you believe your personal and professional experiences to date will help to enrich the Kellogg community? (450 words)
At its core, this is a kind of diversity, equity, and inclusion essay, which many top schools are introducing this year (if they did not already have one). Kellogg is directly stating its belief that when people who represent a diversity of experiences, viewpoints, and capabilities work together, the results are better than those produced by teams of individuals who are more similar than different. The admissions committee is not asking you to comment on this part of the prompt specifically, though, but rather to keep it in mind when formulating your response. Your job with this essay is to convey the special attributes you possess that would be additive to the Kellogg learning environment and community by describing the situations and circumstances that have helped you develop them. Although your personal background, strengths, and abilities might overlap with those of other Kellogg applicants in some way, you can differentiate yourself here via the stories you choose to illustrate them.
A good way to start identifying your best options for this essay is by making a list of things you believe are notable about you and that would be helpful to have in an MBA environment and then pinpointing the experiences you have had that engendered these qualities. As the prompt notes, you can draw from both your career and your personal life. Look for and especially consider experiences from your past that not only allow you to discuss your strengths and standout characteristics but also involve situations in which you worked with or alongside individuals who were different from you. If you can show the admissions committee concrete evidence that you know how to collaborate and communicate effectively with diverse coworkers, clients, and/or team members, your essay will be even more powerful.
You will then need to demonstrate both self-awareness and a thorough understanding of the Kellogg MBA experience by drawing connections between (1) what you have done and who you are and (2) what you can subsequently provide at the school as a member of its community. To do this effectively, you will need to truly familiarize yourself in depth with what the Kellogg MBA experience is like. Go beyond the school’s website and published materials and connect directly with students, alumni, and other people who can provide firsthand, insider knowledge. Absolutely visit campus if at all possible, and sit in on a class. Read news articles about the school as well as student blogs, check out Kellogg’s YouTube channel, and, if offered, attend admissions events in your area. As you do all this research, look for places where your skills, strengths, and personality would not just fit but also contribute in some way. You want to make sure that in your essay, you are not merely showcasing traits, events, and achievements that you think are interesting or singular. They also need to clearly fit with Kellogg specifically.
To further familiarize yourself with the Kellogg program and get an insider’s perspective on its academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download a complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Kellogg School of Management.
Reapplicants: How have you grown or changed personally and professionally since you previously applied and what steps have you taken to become the strongest candidate you can be? (250 words)
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.
Additional Information: We know that life is full of extenuating circumstances. Whether you want to explain gaps in work experience, your choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance or something else, you can use this section to briefly tell us anything we need to know about your application. (280 words)
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 questions an admissions officer might have about your candidacy. We encourage you to download our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which 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.
Video Essays: We’ve read your essays, we’ve read your resume — now we want you to bring all that to life in a video. Show us the person behind all those carefully crafted words. The video will be comprised of three questions, each designed to help you showcase your personality and share some of the experiences that brought you here today.
We find these videos to be a great opportunity for you to tell us more about your story, experiences and why Kellogg is the right place for you.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to complete this section:
Video essays are due 96 hours after the application deadline.
A video essay link will appear on your application status page after you submit your application and payment.
You will need an internet-connected computer with a webcam and microphone
The video should take about 20-25 minutes to complete, which includes time for setup.
After submitting your application and payment, you will be able to access the video essay through your application status page.
Here are some additional tips:
There are practice questions that you may complete as many times as you 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 to help you feel prepared.
We encourage you to practice so you are comfortable with the format once it is time to complete the official questions. You will not have an opportunity to re-do the answer to the official video essay questions.
You will have 20 seconds to think about the question and up to one minute to give your response.
During a Q&A session at a past mbaMission annual conference, a Kellogg admissions representative explained that the school’s video component sprang from the admissions committee’s desire to actually see and hear the applicants they were evaluating. Given that Kellogg’s interviews are conducted by alumni, the video is the committee’s only “live” interaction with candidates. Keep this in mind as you tackle this segment of the application, and make being authentic and natural your primary goal. Kellogg is not looking for the next viral TED Talk presenter or late-night TV host. They just want to get to know you as a unique individual who may one day join its community.
So, 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.
In the past, Kellogg has provided the questions applicants would encounter in the application’s video segment, but this year (at least at the time this post was written), the specific questions posed are unknown. Do not let this panic you. The core reason for this component is still to put a face to a name for the admissions committee and to see how you communicate and conduct yourself when questioned in this way (very similar to how you will eventually be interviewed by recruiters as a Kellogg student). Not knowing the questions beforehand just ensures a higher level of spontaneity and therefore authenticity. We would not be surprised to learn later that candidates were asked similar questions to those posed in the past, which focused on introducing oneself, one’s career goals, one’s interest in the Kellogg MBA program, and a challenge one has faced—pretty basic stuff for an MBA admissions interview, really.
Remember to speak with energy and enthusiasm. You are trying to connect with others, so charisma is welcome, and a little less rigid and traditionally “professional” demeanor is okay. Forego any fancy or dramatic tactics, and just be as natural and authentic as possible. As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so dedicate some time to prepping (just in case) to ensure that your introduction is engaging, substantive, and true to who you are.
Even though you do not know exactly what you will be asked, you can still practice and prepare to some extent. We encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, which includes a list of 100 common MBA interview questions that you can use in getting comfortable with responding to the types of queries you will likely encounter for these videos. And even though this is not an official Kellogg interview, our school-specific Northwestern Kellogg Interview Guide could still be a helpful resource. One minute is not very long, so 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, 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 might make you nervous, but we encourage you to view the situation a little differently. Kellogg wants to get to know the authentic 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 to help you develop this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Guides! Download your free copy of the Northwestern Kellogg Interview Guide today.
To learn more about the essays for other top business schools, visit our MBA Essay Tips and Examples Resources Page.