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

October 05, 2013

Kellogg MBA Essays for the Class of 2016

In the post, I analyze Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business 2014 Application Essay Questions for the MBA and MMM programs. I have taken the questions from Kellogg’s website.

By the way, I had five clients admitted to Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2015.  You find can my Kellogg results and client testimonials here.

Kellogg’s 2014 Essay Questions for the Class of 2016 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.” In addition to this post, I suggest reviewing my post on Chicago Booth versus Kellogg.

Kellogg Culture Matters
If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus. 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. It should come as no surprise that Kellogg’s essay questions reflect its focus on community.

Peer Application Review at Kellogg
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. Students members of the committee bring a peer’s perspective to the process. They are also are likely to be the first to read your file: “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.”

1. What's the greatest obstacle you've overcome (personally or professionally)? 
How has overcoming this obstacle prepared you to achieve success now and in the future? (350 word limit)

An obstacle can certainly be a weakness, failure or setback, it is surely possible that an obstacle could simply be a real test of your leadership and a great way to convey an accomplishment.

Given the extreme word limitation, I would suggest a structure like the following:
1. Clearly state what your obstacle was.
2. Explain what actions you took. Think about what your actions reflect about your own skills and/or personality.
4. Explain what you learned and/or gained (a skill or a new opportunity, for example) from the experience.  It is critical that you learned or gained something, otherwise it will be difficult (probably impossible) to explain how this experience has helped you achieve success now and in the future.

5.  You need to explain how overcoming this obstacle relates to your present success.
6. You need to explain how overcoming this obstacle relates to your future success.
It is quite possible to combine steps 5 & 6 above if overcoming the obstacle relates to both your present and future success in the same way.

Here are some types of obstacles to get you brainstorming:
-Obstacles that relate to lack of ability or skill. For instance having difficulty completing a task or being successful because of your limited capability.  Overcoming such an obstacle involves a story about gaining or otherwise obtaining access to the necessary skill. 
-Obstacles that relate to relationships with other people or groups, such as conflicts within a team. Overcoming such obstacles typically involves effective utilization of interpersonal skills.
-Obstacles that relate to one's psychological condition, cultural understanding, or other deeper mental assumptions.  Overcoming such obstacles typically involves a change in mindset.
-Obstacles that relate to a challenging task. It is possible that you write about a challenging situation which you use to highlight your abilities rather than a situation where you were initially deficient in some way.

Just remember whatever the obstacle, it was one that really has been of great benefit to your present success and will be of benefit to your future success.

Finally, remember that the obstacle also has to be something that the reader will perceive as the biggest obstacle you have overcome in your life, not just any obstacle overcome.

2. What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely.  (500 word limit)
Think Bravely: The movie!

Now that you have enjoyed that lovely bit of total fluff. Let's see what Dean Sally Blount has to say:

“Thinking Bravely = Willingness to Think Outside the Box”
This is the only question that has not changed from last year’s application, except that don’t specifically mention whether it applies to the professional or the personal. That change is not significant because this question in no way indicates whether the leadership happened in a professional, academic, or other setting.  The key point is to show how you demonstrated your leadership.

I suggest focusing on two to three key experiences where you go beyond a simply defined leadership role and add specific value.  You might question a plan, build something new, intervene in a situation where you didn't have to, take charge, or otherwise do what others didn't do. Show you have courage, an innovative spirit, a capacity for leading others beyond the previous limits of the organization, or otherwise going beyond the status quo.

“most significant” : Since the leadership experience you write about should be he the one that you consider most significant, you should clearly explain that.  Applicants frequently assume the significance of a story without interpreting it sufficiently.  Make sure you have clearly explained why the particular leadership experiences you write about are significant  to you.

For my general suggestions on writing leadership focused essays, please see my analysis of  Stanford Essay 3. Depending on what you write about, you may have room to discuss 2-4 leadership experiences here. You may connect them together or you may not.  The important thing is that you provide Kellogg with a set of stories that convey your potential to be a leader both at Kellogg and in your future career.

Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why?  (250 word limit)
Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?  (250 word limit)
(Please answer Part 2 in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA).

Unlike some other “Why MBA” questions, Kellogg is not asking about the past. You will write about that in the other essays. Instead focus on your post-MBA career or role and the skills that you will obtain at Kellogg that will help you accomplish those career goals.

Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why?  (250 word limit)
Like many of  other top MBA program’s goals statements for 2014 entry, this question does not specifically require you to mention both short and long-term goals. I would certainly recommend that you explain what you want to do post-MBA in sufficient detail that the reader can imagine what your first post-MBA role might be.  You may want to discuss your longer term career goals in much greater or lesser specificity, but you should surely help your reader understand what kind of career you want to pursue.  Since Kellogg interviewers (as well as other schools like Booth) ask about short and long term goals, you should surely have a clear way of responding to such questions for an interview and your answer in this essay should be consistent with what you would communicate to the interviewer. Given that Kellogg interviews typically happen with and are evaluated at the same time as other components of the application, you want a high degree of consistency between what you say and what you write.

If you are having difficulties formulating your career goals, please refer to my post on Stanford Essay 2.

If you have written the goals/Why MBA essays for schools like Stanford, Columbia, or Wharton already, you will find that for the most part you are simply dividing the essays you already wrote up into two parts and simply making Part 2 Kellogg-specific.  For those applying to Booth, it will also be particularly easy to take your two short answer goals essays and combine them to make Part 1 (or at least the foundations for Part 1) for Kellogg.

Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?  
The admissions committee needs to see “Big Kellogg Love” here, so make them understand your particular form of it. They need to know why Kellogg is ESSENTIAL (ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY) to achieving the career goals you discussed in Part 1. Reflect enough on what they have to offer you so that your essay content related to Kellogg does not sound like a bad version of their website or brochure content. The better informed you are about the school and the more you think about how it will help you grow professionally and personally, the more likely you are to make Kellogg love you back. In addition to the MBA website, see Kellogg Insight. Japanese applicants to Kellogg, should most certainly make full use of http://www.kelloggalumni.jp/kellogg_life/.

In order to determine what aspects of Kellogg really relate to your career goals, you need not mention the names of numerous courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your learning needs align well with Kellogg’s offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names many marketing courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your marketing skills. Every admissions member at Kellogg is well aware of the program's major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it is worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.

An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  ”I took Advanced Corporate Finance to develop advanced corporate finance skills.”  This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact. 

An example of an actual explanation:  “While I had been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, at Kellogg I obtained the comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I will need to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Kellogg.Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Kellogg. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Kellogg.  

Finally, given the intensive community focused nature of this program, mentioning clubs or interactions with classmates as being essential would be a really good idea.

"Welcome to the Video Essay portion of your application to the Kellogg School of Management. We have a vibrant community here at Kellogg and value the unique voices and perspectives that our students bring.
This video essay is an opportunity for the Admissions Team to meet you - wherever you are in the world. Please approach this as a conversation with us. The spirit of the questions is for us to get to know you. There are no right or wrong answers.
You will use the video frame on this page to record spontaneous answers to a randomly selected question. Below you will find complete instructions on how to record your answers.
The video essay is one component of our assessment, and we look forward to learning more about you from your entire application. Best of luck!"
WELCOME INDEED!  So much fun for them to give you 90 seconds to prepare your answer and 90 seconds to give your answer to an existential question (I think they got them out of this book or something like it).  Actually a number of these questions are the kind of good old hypotheticals that can come up in some interviews and in  previous Berkeley Haas and Wharton essay questions.   I registered as an applicant twice to generate a list of six of these gems. I assume they have many more, but sorry I am not registering a third time.  Each applicant is given three chances to answer a question, so if you don't like your first video, you have two more shots at it, but once you abandon one question, you will get a new question and can't go back to your prior video(s).  Therefore be very careful about doing this and be really certain about abandoning an answer for a new attempt. 
Here are the six I obtained:



The thing all these questions have in common are that they are about your values.  Therefore you need to be clear about what really matters to you, what really motivates you, and who and what yo care about before doing this essay.  I know that sounds easy, but if you make a few notes (or if you have written essays for Stanford), it is not all that hard. 

Four of the questions I generated are gift questions: 


Gift questions always give you something, sometime measured in time, in other cases in terms of an opportunity. They are like a wish from a genie.  The best way to use such gifts is well, so don't give a trivial answer.  Think about how you might answer the four questions above as that will likely help you answer other gift questions as well. 

WHAT POSSESSION OR MEMENTO DO YOU TREASURE MOST AND WHY? is an interesting question because whatever your answer the key issue is what the possession or memento signifies to you because this reveals something about your values.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? is as direct a values/motivation question as possible. You should be able to answer this question easily because it is something that should come out naturally in a regular admissions interview. 

Given that you are being judged on video, I do recommend wearing business casual or business formal, smiling, and presenting yourself in a generally professional way.  I would highly recommend recording the video somewhere quiet using the best computer-based video you have access to.  Make sure your hardware is in good working order. 

And have fun with this because you are total guinea pigs.  UCLA tried something like this before and eliminated it. So curious to see what Kellogg does with it in the future. 

Re-Applicants Only: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (400 word limit)
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 very much of your word count for that. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that demonstrate 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.

Additional Information (Optional)
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 limit)
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Kellogg and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

For my post on Kellogg interviews, see here.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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