Northwestern Kellogg School of Management Essay Tips and Examples

Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Applicants to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University must submit two written essays. For the first, candidates are asked to provide a somewhat short, but dense, explanation of their path to and motivation for pursuing an MBA from Kellogg and their vision for their professional future. The second essay deals with an experience in which the applicant had to navigate a  challenging decision. In addition, the admissions committee requires that candidates respond to three brief questions via video. Although all of Kellogg’s required submissions are on the shorter side, they cover a lot of territory, so together, they should allow you to share a good deal of information about your past, your personality, and your strengths. For more advice on interpreting and approaching the school’s prompts for 2024–2025, read on.

Northwestern Kellogg 2024–2025 Essay Tips

Essay 1: Intentionality is a key aspect of what makes our graduates successful Kellogg leaders. Help us understand your journey by articulating your motivations for pursuing an MBA, the specific goals you aim to achieve, and why you believe now is the right moment. Moreover, share why you feel Kellogg is best suited to serve as a catalyst for your career aspirations and what you will contribute to our community of lifelong learners during your time here. (450 words)

“Intentionality” is clearly an important concept here—Kellogg has put the word front and center, after all—but do not let it distract you from what the admissions committee is really wanting here. (Hint: It is not an essay about the importance of being intentional.) At its core, this essay prompt is essentially asking you to provide a pretty standard personal statement: 

  • “the specific goals you aim to achieve” = What do you want to do? 
  • “your motivations for pursuing an MBA” = Why do you need an MBA to do it?
  • “why you believe now is the right moment” = Why now? 
  • “why you feel Kellogg is best suited to serve as a catalyst” = Why our school? 

Add in a little context for your goals (“help us understand your journey”) and a dash of how you will be additive to the Kellogg experience (“what you will contribute to our community”), and you have yourself a very robust personal statement indeed.

For some applicants, at least, the most vexing part of this essay will likely be figuring out how to fit all of this information into a mere 450 words (the prompt itself is 75), which is a scant two or three paragraphs, at best. So you will need to be concise, direct, and clear. This is, we believe, where the “intentionality” factor really comes in. If you are truly focused on your goals and your vision of your future—in other words, if your intentions are strong and set—you should be able to articulate the different elements of your path pretty easily. Think of how entrepreneurs are often given mere seconds in which to convey their concept and expected game plan when pitching to investors. The ones who have the clearest and most definitive message about what they want to do and how they are going to make it a reality are the ones who tend to get awarded the funding they need. In this case, you are the entrepreneur of your future, and Kellogg wants you to convince them that you are a smart investment.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that you cannot change paths once you are in the MBA program. That is not what we are saying here. No one from the admissions committee is going to monitor your coursework or recruiting choices and raise a red flag if you deviate from what you present in this essay. But the school wants to know you are coming into the program with a fire in your belly, so to speak, and a real sense of direction. 

In the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, we go into detail about why these elements (why you need an MBA, why now, etc.) matter to admissions committees and offer expert guidance on how to approach and frame this information effectively in your application essays. The guide also includes a number of illustrative sample essays. We encourage you to download a free copy of the guide in preparation for writing this essay for Kellogg. Also, because one element of this essay relates to how you anticipate contributing to the Kellogg community, you will need to ensure that you are thoroughly familiar with the school’s MBA program, from its location to its extracurriculars, core curriculum, standout faculty members, special programs, and other key features. So, in addition to reading Kellogg’s site, checking out its YouTube channel, reading student blogs, and connecting with students and alumni, be sure to download a free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Kellogg School of Management.

Essay 2: Kellogg leaders are primed to tackle challenges everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Describe a specific professional experience where you had to make a difficult decision. Reflecting on this experience, identify the values that guided your decision-making process and how it impacted your leadership style. (450 words)

Again, the Kellogg admissions committee is tasking you with covering a lot of material in relatively little space, so making every word count is imperative here. With this prompt, the school wants to know how you approach and navigate situations in which things are not as clear-cut as you would like or you might need to make a sacrifice of some kind. How do you reason through options and reach conclusions, especially when doing so is complicated? The prompt very clearly states that the experience you discuss in this essay must be one from your professional past, but the scale or scope of the situation in an objective sense is not as important as how affecting it was for you personally and how revelatory it is of who you are and how you think and operate. This is really what the admissions committee is looking to learn.

For this essay, you will need to share an anecdote in which something was at stake—the reader must feel and understand that your decision involved some level of risk. If you faced no possibility of negative ramifications, making the choice involved could not have been very complex or daunting. You need to convey that you had an indisputable quandary on your hands and had to weigh your options carefully. 

The phrase “difficult decision” might immediately lead you to start combing through your experiences to identify a time when you had to choose between two equally good (or perhaps bad) options, but decision-making can be complicated in other, more subtle ways as well—beyond just having multiple options. So we encourage you to think more broadly to ensure that the anecdote you choose is indeed the best one for this prompt. Thoroughly consider what the nature or source of the difficulty was in each potential story. For example, was a lack of key information the complicating factor? Was the “difficulty” the anticipated fallout or repercussions of your choice? Perhaps, for example, your decision was objectively, maybe even undeniably, positive but would inevitably upset someone who was important to you. Maybe you knew were making the right decision but had to overcome resistance from your supervisors or other authority to move forward. When you are brainstorming for this essay, temporarily disconnect the word “difficult” from “decision” here to really open your mind to story options you might not have otherwise considered.

In your essay, take the reader through your decision-making process, briefly noting the different possible consequences of your various choices—as much as Kellogg’s word limit will allow. Sharing your motivations and the factors you weighed most heavily (or discounted) will give the admissions committee insight into your values, as the essay question stipulates. You must also share what you learned from the experience and how it has subsequently made you a better leader. Kellogg needs to know not only that you have faced and worked through the demanding process of reaching a particular resolution but also that you are capable of growing and improving from such situations and know how to use them as building blocks.

Keep in mind that your decision does not need to have been proven right, and you could even show that all the options available to you at the time were less than ideal and explain how you optimized the imperfect outcomes. At the same time, a “difficult” decision is not the same as a “wrong” decision, so do not interpret this to be an essay about failure, either. The question allows you to discuss a situation in which you might have struggled but that did not necessarily end in defeat or disappointment. Your ultimate goal with this essay is to help the admissions committee understand how you process complex information, what motivates you to act, and that you can identify and apply takeaways to continue evolving professionally.

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.

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, to help you prepare.
  • 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.

onTrack by mbaMission

A first-of-its-kind, on-demand MBA application experience that delivers a personalized curriculum for you and leverages interactive tools to guide you through the entire MBA application process.

Get Started!

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Deadlines

  • Cambridge Judge (Round 1)
  • HBS (Round 1)
  • INSEAD (August Intake)
  • Yale SOM (Round 1)
  • Berkeley Haas (Round 1)

Click here to see the complete deadlines

2024–2025 MBA Essay Tips

Click here for the 2023–2024 MBA Essay Tips

MBA Program Updates

Explore onTrack — mbaMission’s newest offering allowing you to learn at your own pace through video. Learn more