Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 18, 2008

Kellogg 2008-2009 MBA Essay Questions

Some thoughts on Kellogg's location: A highly biased commentary on why location matters.

Northwestern University has the good fortune to be located on one of the prettiest spots in Chicago. Unlike its neighbor to the south, the University of Chicago, Northwestern is located in the pleasant and safe town of Evanston. If ever there was proof that location impacts an institution, the placement of both of these schools certainly is that. I first became aware of this contrast 22 years ago when my parents moved from LA to Chicago. Since that time, I lived in downtown Chicago for over a year, in Hyde Park for about six months, and visited Chicago at least once a year.

The University of Chicago is an academic powerhouse located in a not so nice neighborhood with little to do in the way of fun except for buying books (Hyde Park has great bookstores!). Students at University of Chicago either live around the campus protected by a large private police force or decide to move North. Many of the GSB students live in downtown Chicago. I lived in Hyde Park and I can say that while I did go out at night, there was not much to do, especially once the bookstores closed. Chicago has many fine restaurants, but Hyde Park does not have them. Also, unlike the rest of a city well know for sports, the University of Chicago is not. As to bars, it has one good bar (there were two, but the other one, Cyril's House of Tiki, closed). The University of Chicago is an intellectually serious place and ideal for those who are looking for such an atmosphere. Personally, I like the atmosphere there and always enjoy visiting. One can find social life at GSB. On my visits to the GSB, I found it to be a friendly environment. Like the rest of the University of Chicago, the GSB is a great place to study.

Northwestern University is located in an affluent community with a large number of bars, a wide variety of restaurants, nice shopping (but not for books!), and, just for the record, a great dog beach (Evanston residents can use it for free, but my brother, a resident of the City of Chicago pays $100
a year for his dog's permit). Evanston is quite a pleasant place, but I never felt like it had the kind of serious academic atmosphere that one could find in Hyde Park, Berkeley, or Cambridge MA. It is too suburban for that. Northwestern, unlike its neighbor to the South, has a huge sports program (For more about that, see NUASports.cstv.com). With more to do, one can imagine it is harder to stay in the library at Northwestern than it is at the University of Chicago.

If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus., but nothing can compare to the intensity of social life at Kellogg. The place simply is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don't apply there. If you are, it will be heaven. At Kellogg, they call it the "Kellogg Culture":

"Student culture at Kellogg is rich and multi-faceted, but a single principle ties it all together: teamwork.
Our students collaborate in the classroom (and outside it) to meet professors’ exacting standards. They organize conferences, chair student groups and invite distinguished leaders to speak on campus. They travel to nations around the world to complete coursework of their own design.
At Kellogg, you’ll form lasting social, intellectual and professional bonds with your classmates."

Kellogg's 2008-2009 Essay Questions for the Class of 2011 are specifically designed to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate the appropriate "scholastic ability, personal character, motivation, leadership ability, interpersonal skills, career performance and management potential."

(Please note: The questions were on the Kellogg site at http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/Home/Programs/FullTimeMBA/Applying.aspx, but were not there when I checked again today. I know that other admissions blogs have referenced the same page as well.)

The following instructions apply to the set overall;" All applicants are required to answer questions 1, 2 and 3 in addition to 2 of the essays in question 4. For questions 1-3, please limit responses to 2 pages.

1: Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at Kellogg.

Even with the absence of the "Why now?" aspect of the question, Kellogg's question is essentially the same question that Wharton asks. I think any brief assessment of career progress followed by an elaboration of future career plans and motivation for studying will necessarily have to explain why now is the right to obtain an MBA.

GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALSGap, >SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for the BusinessWeek MBA ROI calculator. Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

(To best view the following table, click on it.)

How to use this table:

Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER: WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

One very strong point of Kellogg is that it can be used for a great variety of purposes and offers a very flexible curriculum. The downside to this is that many applicants just see the options, but don't focus enough on what they need from Kellogg. Going through a formal process like the one I have outlined above will help you determine what you really need from Kellogg. The more specific you are about that, the better. Japanese applicants to Kellogg, should most certainly make full use of http://www.kelloggalumni.jp/kellogg_life/.

You need to make admissions excited about your future. To do so, you should think about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), try to go beyond the typical answer to make your goals compelling.

Be informed. Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for, but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Think about conducting informational interviews with at least one peer-level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer-level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior-level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well.

Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

LEARN WHAT IS HOT. No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to Wharton as someone who is not only well informed, but who has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge related to their goals. Some great general sources for learning what is hot:

From the Business Schools: Feed your brain with cutting-edge ideas from the best business schools in the world. Start with Kellogg Insight. Other great sources of information include Stanford Social Innovation Review, Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers, The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas, Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant to the GSB), Chicago GSB Podcast, Net Impact, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts. Kellogg, as far as I can tell, has no podcasts.

LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!) Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

I think describing one's career progress is something many applicants actually have a great deal of difficulty with. The primary reason is that they don't actually think strategically enough about what they say about themselves. Interpret your career to connect it to your goals and why you want to go to Kellogg. Your resume will provide Kellogg with a description of your career, but in this essay help them understand what it means by interpreting your career for them.

When you initially write Essay 1, you might find that it does not seem to be coming together as a single essay. If that is the case, you might simply not be telling your story in the right way. The way you tell your story will depend on your situation. Applicants with extensive experience whose goals connect directly to their past experience will be telling a story based on continuity, while applicants looking to change careers will be telling a story based on discontinuity. A story based on continuity is often easiest to tell in a fairly linear way because the future is based directly on what happened in the past. By contrast, a story based on a discontinuity should be told to emphasize the need for the change In either case, it is critical to explain why you want an MBA from Kellogg.

2: Describe how your background, values, academics, activities and/or leadership skills will enhance the experience of other Kellogg students

Within the context of the Kellogg application, essay question 2 is really one of the most important places to show why you will fit into this intensely social environment where both personal initiative and the ability to work with others are highly valued. While it would be possible to write on professional topics here, I would suggest not doing so because you can easily do that in Essay Questions 1,3, and 4.

Kellogg is looking for students who will make a contribution. And this really makes sense because of the collaborative nature of MBA education. While professors play an important role in the classroom, students learn from each other on a continuous basis both inside and outside of class. It is no surprise that it is easy to find MBAs in record numbers on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook because their education is very much one based on relationship building.

One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school.

There are a number of ways of trying to determine whether someone really "fits" at a particular school, but certainly the most direct thing to do is just ask. One way they ask is by asking applicants why they want to attend as in Essay 1. It is clearly important that an applicant know what kind of ROI they are expecting from their MBA and they can show why a particular program can provide it. Another way is to ask applicants what they can contribute. One way I like to think about contribution questions is to use a matrix such as the following:


I use the above matrix for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates. Sometimes people write about contributions that don't have any really clear added value and these by definition are not contributions. Yes, you may love reading science fiction in your spare time, but it is only a contribution if your experience of reading science fiction can be shown to add value to your classmates (Financial forecasting?).

Given that Kellogg gives you up to two pages, my suggestion is to actually use this space not simply focus on one thing. Focus on at least two and probably more like three or four different contributions you will make. When you think about what to select here, closely consider what you are writing in the other essays and use this space to help Kellogg learn even more about you. Given that essay questions 3 and 4A are focused on leadership experiences,do not duplicate the same topics in 2.

Finally, keep in mind that the first person at Kellogg to read your file will likely be a student member of the admissions committee: "Files are typically reviewed first by a student member of the admissions committee, then forwarded for additional review by staff members, including the Director of Admissions." Therefore explaining how you will contribute to your fellow students is no hypothetical issue.

3: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experience.

Given the importance that Kellogg places on leadership in teams, I think you should think about your leadership capacity and/or potential not only in relation to your future professional objectives, but to your ability to be a leader at Kellogg.

You will need to focus on more than one story as the question specifically asks for you to do so. I suggest focusing on two to three key experiences.

I have developed the following grid to help you outline leadership stories. The categories this grid employs may go beyond any particular schools essay requirements. Filling it out completely will help you write about your leadership in a way that will help convince admissions of your leadership potential.

How to use the grid:

1. Decide on a specific story.

2. Identify the most significant things you did in the situation, these are you action steps.
3. For each action step identify:

  • What skills or qualities you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The strengths you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The kind of leadership you demonstrated.
  • What you still need to learn about leadership.
4. Think about the results and identify how they relate to your action steps. So, at minimum, you should be able to state the impact on others and/or yourself.

5. After completing the chart you will see that some aspects of your action steps may be repeated. If there is a total duplication and nothing new is shown, either you need to redefine the action step or you may decide not to focus on it very much.

6. Once you think you have two to four fully worked-out action steps for two to three stories, start writing your essay.

7. Next start re-writing. Eliminate duplicate points made between action steps. Make choices about what parts of each action to step to highlight. Given that there are usually word limits, you will have to make some decisions about what to include. Simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough. Consider what it signifies about you. Consider what your actions reveals about your leadership potential.

8. Make sure that each story focuses on a different aspect of leadership. By all means, make sure that at least one of your leadership experiences relates to teamwork.

Finally, thinking and writing about leadership is an important part of preparing for interviews because you can be certain that you will have to talk about leadership. So, you might find that the parts of the outline you jettison now will become valuable when you will want to have alternative stories for your Kellogg interview.

4. Complete 2 of the 3 essays. (two to three double spaced paragraphs for each question). (NOTE: Kellogg originally asked for two paragraphs on their website, but the online application says 2 to 3 paragraphs)

Kellogg gives you options of how to proceed with this. Regarding length, two or three paragraphs is ambiguous, so I suggest writing about half to slightly less than one page per question.

4A - Describe a time when you had to motivate a reluctant individual or group.

This is likely to a leadership story and could easily be like Essay 3 in terms of its structure. I suggest that you try to make sure that there is no significant overlap in content between what you write here and what you write in Essays 2 or 3.

Motivating others is a key capacity for anyone who wants to lead others. Showing your ability to do so, will give admissions a greater understanding of your ability to successfully lead others. I don't suggest writing about a failure story here. I do suggest that you be as specific as possible about what you did to motivate an individual or a group.

If you methods for leading others have been based on simply making commands or otherwise using a hierarchical basis for getting others to ask, I suggest you don't answer this question as it may endanger your chances for admission. A consensus based approach is much more likely to make for an effective story here.

4B - I wish the Admissions Committee had asked me…..

Here you can write about anything you want. I don't suggest using this as a place for simply explaining something negative like a bad GPA, instead provide admissions with greater insight into who you are. Use this question to balance out the rest of your application by discussing some aspect of who you are that has not been sufficiently focused on. Specifically ask yourself, "What else can I tell Kellogg that help them understand why they should admit me?"

4C - What do others admire about you?

This quite an interesting question as it gives you the opportunity for analyzing yourself from the perspective of other people. Like with 4B, think of this as an opportunity to write about some aspect of yourself that has not been emphasized elsewhere in the application.

I suggest you focus on a specific value, action, or personality characteristic. Explain who admires you for it and why they do so. This is a great opportunity to interpret yourself. In addition to being an indicator of your awareness about how are you are perceived by others, this question will also help admissions understand what you are proud of. Think deeply and consider carefully what you write here.

4D - For re-applicants only:
Since your previous application, what are the steps you’ve taken to strengthen your candidacy?

Reapplicants should read my previous post on reapplication. Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use an entire paragraph for it. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Kellogg, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.

Finally, sorry about the delay in getting this post up. I should be on more normal blogging pattern for the rest of the month.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

カウンセリング コンサルティング MBA留学 ビジネススクール ケロッグ

Real Time Web Analytics