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June 20, 2022

Kellogg MBA Essays for the Class of 2025

 In the post, I analyze Kellogg's MBA essay and video essays questions for admission to the MBA program for the Class of 2025. I have taken the questions from Kellogg's website.


My clients have been admitted to the Kellogg School of Business  every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 66 clients admitted to Kellogg. My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on Kellogg, I regularly help additional candidates with Kellogg interview preparation.


Kellogg's Teamwork Culture and its Campus Community
If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Kellogg 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.


Along With Chicago Booth, Kellogg is the US business school I have visited the most (I did an Executive Masters at INSEAD, so it is the business school I have attended). The reason is very simply, my family moved from Los Angeles to Chicago when I was 18, so I have had many opportunities to visit when go back to the US to see my family. Most recently I visited Kellogg in summer 2021, when I could just walk around the Northwestern University campus.  In 2018,  AIGAC, the professional admissions consultants organization I am a part of, held our conference at the campus.  Dean Sally Blount left a great impact on the school in many ways but surely the most lasting will be getting the new campus built. Kellogg went from having an overcrowded building that reminded me of a large US high school to one of the best campuses of any MBA program. Kellogg's campus right on Lake Michigan is a real gem. Sure, it  is freezing walking on campus during the winter but the rest of the year makes up for it.


Sometimes when I talk to applicants they don't quite understand that Evanston is really part of Chicago and not some distant cut-off college town.  The thing that is nice about Evanston is that it is both a college town and part of a major American city.  You can stay in a nice safe college town while simultaneously being able to enjoy one of America's most diverse cities.  Unlike Booth students who mostly commute to Hyde Park from downtown Chicago,  Kellogg students typically reside in Evanston, which contributes to Kellogg's intense community focus.  The community aspect is something one should fully take into account when applying to Kellogg.



"Kellogg is unique in that we ask you to complete written essays as part of the application as well as video essays. This is your chance to tell us why you think Kellogg is the right place for you. Take some time to think through the experiences that led you here and how they have shaped where you want to go."

I think it is important to keep these overall instructions about the essays in mind.  In particular, Kellogg's application essays are designed, along with the rest of the application and interview, to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate that you meet the following criteria:

  • We value individuals who:
    • Approach business problems with a mix of hard and soft skills
    • Seek to adapt to the evolving business world with open curiosity and innovation
    • Believe in strong, empathetic collaboration as a way to strengthen work, perspectives and outcomes
    • Embrace the power of diversity in your teams and networks
I suggest you keep these criteria in mind when writing Essays 1 and 2 and preparing for the three Video Essays. While it could be very challenging to provide comprehensive coverage on all four of these points when writing two 450-word essays, I would suggest making sure that each essay is at least fully addressing one of these topics and that you try make sure that your  Video Essays are covering the rest of the topics that you don't have room to cover.


Peer Application Review at Kellogg
One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates and having 2nd year students on that committee is one way for a school to make sure that happens. 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 and will be looking to determine whether they want you in their community.  When writing essays for Kellogg, keep these student readers in mind.


Essay 1: "Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn? (450 words)"

Think Bravely: The movie!  Kellogg has been be on the brave  for quite a while now.  This gem is from 2011 when the whole Brave motto was introduced by former Dean Blount. It still applies.


(They even have a Brave Leader Speaker Series.)

This brave leadership question as been going through various forms for the past several years but the main point is the same: SHOW HIGH IMPACT LEADERSHIP!

I suggest focusing on a recent example 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.  Show Kellogg you fit their criteria.  By recent, I assume something that has happened in the last 1-2 years ideally. I would not recommend going for a topic that happened more than 3 years ago and even 3 years ago is not ideal. 


Regardless of the the story you tell, just keep in mind that you need to be introspective as well, so write what you thought as well as what you did. Don’t just present “the facts” but actively interpret your actions. There is really nothing overly complicated about this as long as you understand that you need to tell a detailed story. Pure abstractions disconnected from a concrete set of action steps are highly likely to result in a weak answer. Similarly, grand actions not told in any depth are also likely to be weak. Identify specific actions that contributed to the result so as to establish a clear link between cause and effect.


When selecting your topic, you should ask yourself “What does this essay reveal about me?” If you can’t answer that clearly, you need to clarify your message. When asking this question, think about both what you intend the reader to think and what you might also be revealing. Control for the possibility of sending out unintended signals. One of the best ways of handling this issue is to have a very careful and intelligent reader review these essays. If you are working with an admissions consultant, they should be able to do this. Getting multiple perspectives on what you wrote will help you better understand your likely impact on an admissions' reader.




While there are many possible types of stories that could be used to answer this question, I want to discuss two common types of leadership stories that seem especially suitable.

Team Stories:

Given Kellogg's focus on leadership, an essay that highlights teamwork is surely a good option. Leading a team bravely means going beyond the typical role of just being in-charge.  Therefore  don't a tell story with the following structure: "I led a team of X people. I told them what needed to be done and they agreed. They did it. The result was..." Not only will this be boring, but it will not r highlight why this story best demonstrates your team leadership skills and why you were a brave leader. Don't be overly dramatic, but get admissions to understand the significance of what you have done. If you have a great extracurricular team story, don’t feel obligated to provide a work related answer to this question even though you may have developed such an answer for another school. 

A few questions to think about:

  • What skills or qualities did you demonstrate in the process of building or developing the team?
  • Did you help the team overcome a conflict?  Was the conflict about individual personalities (work habits, communication styles, cultural assumptions, etc.) and or ideas/values/interests?
  • What does this story reveal about the way you interact with organizations and/or individuals?
  • Specifically how did your team exceed expectations? If this is measurable, indicate that as clearly as possible.

Finally, keep in mind that the challenges you faced should be highlighting how you were a brave team leader. 


Going Beyond the Expected
Given the emphasis on bravery and creating value, a story that focuses on  going beyond the expected is always a good option. If you are a maverick, a risk-taker, or simply unconventional in your approach to adding value, this kind of theme will work well for you. Also, if you  were not the actual leader, going above and beyond what is expected is a good way to show brave leadership.  Leadership is often tested most profoundly in situations where one has to go against "common sense," organizational tradition, and/or the interests of others. In one way or another show how you possess the courage to act in a situation that was outside the box.

While there are many possible ways to address to write about going beyond the expected, here are a few questions to get you brainstorming:

  • How did you demonstrate leadership in a situation where you were not the leader?
  • How did you implement something new?
  • How did you overcome accepted "common sense" to drive organizational change?
  • How did you convince senior people to buy into your idea?




Regardless of your topic, your actions as a brave leader must result creating value of some kind.  I would divide added value into two categories, but some stories involve adding both types of value:

  • Adding measurable (objective) value: Many stories will involve adding measurable value. This is the easiest thing to convey in must cases. Increased revenue, sales, marketing inquiries, improve performance outcomes, and event attendance are some common examples. Reducing something negative is also a way to add value, such as decreased employee hours required to do a task, decreased waste, decreased staff turnover, decreased customer complaints, and reduced measurable risk.  The advantage of measurable value is that it is usually very easy and word count efficient to communicate.
  • Adding unmeasurable (subjective) value: Many stories involve adding unmeasurable value. The fairy tale ending, "and they all lived happily ever after" is one of the world's most common story types that involves any extremely non-quantitative and highly subjective added value outcome.  One common type of adding subjective value involves making people happy or cooperative. For example, if he added value is a cooperative team that works well together, while it might be possible to measure an improved team output, part of the value added is highly subjective.  A team can complete a task successfully and hate each other or they can learn to trust/like each other and be motivated to work together subsequently.  Another way of adding value is to add a political or moral or ethical value into how an organization makes decisions, hires new employees, communicates, or allocates resources.  While there is surely a measurable aspect to allocating resources, the reason for doing maybe based on subjective values. If you add value to an organization by getting it to allocate resources to inclusive hiring, part of what being added is a change in company values, not just budgeting decision.

Given the need to show value has been added, there is one kind of story that does not work well:  A story without a clear outcome.  You might be in the midst of a great project but if it has no clear outcome, showing how you added value will be very challenging.  Hence why the example should be recent, some stories are simply too recent.



One key aspect of this question that applicants often seem to have a problem with is what they learnt.  Focus on real learning:

  1. What did you learn in the process of the situation you write about?  Did you have a setback and overcome it?  Did you gain a new skill? Did you stretch yourself in some way that gave you a new insight?
  2. What did you learn as a result of the experience? Did it alter the actions or perspective you took subsequently.

Real learning means something you did not know prior to the situation. The point is that learned something new.  Just focus on learning one thing and explain it.  Don't make a list that is no way explained, instead focus on a key point.  




Essay 2: "Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you? (450 words)"


For anyone writing essays for Stanford, HBS, or Booth, it should be easy to repurpose some of your content for writing Kellogg Essay 2 because those schools essays (such as Stanford's What Matters Most? ) necessarily relate to values. Unlike all three aforementioned schools, which give copious word count, Kellogg does not.  There is no place here for a life story in detail.  There is room here to identify 1-3 values about yourself that show how you stand out and how you align with Kellogg.

Given that there is no Why Kellogg essay in this essay set and given the previously quoted instructions above about explaining why Kellogg is right for you, this is the essay where I would recommend making that very clear. I don't mean that you should write 450 word essay on the theme of why you fit at Kellogg, but I would surely work Kellogg into this essay.

The key thing about values for this essay is that the values be ones you have acted on.  In other words, a value maybe important to you but unless it reflects actions you have taken, it is not a good topic.  Strong answers here will help the reader understand how your ideas/beliefs/perspectives have effected both your personal and private choices.  Be sure to write about something that is outside of work here as well as writing about something professional.

For a discussion of values, see my post on Stanford GSB, where I discuss this issue in terms of the what matters most question.


"Reapplicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 words)"
Reapplicants should read my posts 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 now are better/different than the ones you presented last time.


"All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information. Use this section if you think the person reviewing your application might have a few questions about one or more of your responses. This could include:

  • Unexplained gaps in work experience
  • Academic, GMAT or GRE performance
  • Extenuating circumstances that we should be aware of when reviewing your application"
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.
THE VIDEO ESSAYS: Three One Minute Wonders!
You have 1 minute to answer each of the video questions.

These video essays have a few different purposes:

  1. It is a great way to get an overall first impression of an applicant. It is a way for everyone on the admissions committee to know who the actual person is and not rely only an interviewer's report.
  2. It is an easy way to gauge someone's communication skills. This is especially important with respect to non-native English speakers because TOEFL and IELTS test scores don't always reveal actual English ability.
  3. Explain why Kellogg beyond what is covered in the Essays and application form, specially Question 2 is asking what degree you want at Kellogg and why. This question is not really asked elsewhere in the application.
  4.  Assess how the applicant handles a question that they will not have in advance (Question 3). Can they effectively do that in one minute?  This is a way to gauge how quickly someone thinks and can communicate.  It is a kind of way to gauge how someone might perform in a spontaneous class situation.


What all successful videos do:

  1. Help the viewer understand why they would like the applicant as a person.
  2. Highlight something positive about the applicant.
  3.  Show the applicant's passion for Kellogg .
  4. Show the applicant's ability to communicate effectively.

How to prepare for the videos

  1. Write scripts.  They will mostly likely be too long. Once you add in breathing, facial expressions, in acting you might do, and speaking a speed to heard effectively, your script should be 90-120 words long most likely.
  2. Have your scripts reviewed by whoever you are sharing it with.
How I help my clients with their video scripts:
1.  I ask them to write scripts for Questions 1 and 2. We refine those scripts through spoken and/or written feedback. In some cases, they make sample videos, which I give feedback on.
2.  For question 3, I ask them to prepare outlines for possible challenge topics that have been covered in the past. (Sorry but I don't discuss those topics here, only with my clients.) Since  we can't know for sure what the topic of Question 3 will be, I try to make sure that they have enough possible topics to cover what will be asked.
Question specific comments:
  • Video essay 1: Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee.– Consider this your opportunity to share what you would want your future Kellogg classmates and our admissions committee to know about you. What makes you, you?

This is useful way of  getting rid of social idiots who cannot construct even a one-minute appealing statement about themselves. It is your elevator pitch about you!  While your answer should be consistent with what you have in the rest of your application, this is a chance to showcase your personality. What are 2-3 key things someone should know about you that they can't find out from just looking at your resume and reading your application?


  • Video essay 2: What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?– This is an intentionally broad question so you can answer honestly and meaningfully. We want to know why you’re pursuing an MBA and why you’re choosing a particular Kellogg Full-Time Program.

Kellogg has multiple MBA programs, so specify which one you intend to attend and why.  Link your answer to the goals mentioned in the application form.  Try to mention 2-3 reasons why the program is right for you. Don't get overwhelmed with mentioning too many Kellogg specific details but keep the focus on explaining your needs and how Kellogg will meet them.


  • Video essay 3: This question will be based on a challenge you've faced and what you've learned from it.
Some possible topics for a challenge include:
  • A time you convinced someone or some group.
  • A time you led others.
  • A time you demonstrated courage.
  • A time you made a difficult decision.
  • A time you were innovative.
  • A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
  • A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
  • A time reformed something.
  • A time you changed something.
  • A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
  • A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.
  • A time you were wrong.
  • A time you failed or had a setback and overcame it.
  • A time you changed your opinion.
  • A time your values were challenged by others.
I provide my own clients with past questions but also encourage them to take a flexible approach to this topic as new questions may arise. Hence the above list is good for brainstorming purposes.


Best of luck with your application to Kellogg!

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