Kellogg Essays 2015 Analysis

Northwestern Kellogg Essay Analysis, 2017-2018

by mbaMission

How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough Northwestern Kellogg essay analysis, our friends atmbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.


The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has made minimal changes to its application essay prompts this year. The school’s required first essay has maintained its focus on leadership, but gone is the reference to teamwork, replaced by a request for evidence of “lasting value.” Kellogg also no longer stipulates that the incident candidates share be “recent,” thereby allowing applicants to plumb the full range of their history as needed to identify the most compelling or appropriate story. As for the video essays, we note that Kellogg is not stating this season that one of the questions will definitely be about a challenge, though we take this to mean merely that some applicants may receive such a question while others may not. The bottom line with Kellogg’s video questions is that they have no wrong answers and are intended to help the admissions committee get a more authentic impression of your personality (not to intimidate you!), so we hope applicants are not too concerned by that part of the application. In our Northwestern Kellogg essay analysis, we present our thoughts on how to address all the school’s prompts for 2017–2018.

Required Essay #1: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value.  Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value.  What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

In reality, this is a fairly straightforward essay prompt, and we recommend responding in an equally straightforward manner. Launch directly into the story of your leadership experience and detail the specific actions you took in directing others to achieve some kind of enduring result. The key here is to show you shared a valuable experience with colleagues, extracted the most from your team members, and attained a desired outcome. Although we often note that not all great leadership stories necessarily have to end in success, Kellogg’s request for evidence of “lasting value” certainly implies that the school wants to hear about a situation that had a positive, if not victorious, outcome. You will need to convey not only your role in spearheading a group to achieve what you did but also how that achievement persists to this day.

Note that Kellogg does not specify that the experience you share must be related to your workplace or career. Leadership does not need to have an official title attached to it, and it can be expressed in a community service or even family life setting just as much as in a workplace, so explore all the different areas of your life for possible stories. We recommend using a narrative approach to presenting your story, but be sure to also share the thought process and motivation(s) behind your actions. This way, the admissions committee will take away both a clear picture of what you accomplished and the aspects of your character that inspired you and helped enable your success.

That said, the school acknowledges within the prompt that even endeavors that have a positive result are rarely smooth sailing from beginning to end—hence the question about challenges faced. A mistake applicants often make in writing this kind of essay is presenting a strong narrative in which they are incredible leaders, and then near the end, making a brief (and typically disjointed) reference to a hardship or conflict encountered along the way, meant to fulfill the “challenges” element of the essay query. To be effective and believable, your ups and downs must be woven intrinsically into your narrative, rather than simply acknowledged at the end. Clearly explaining how you approached and prevailed over the challenge at hand is crucial, so go beyond simply describing the roadblock itself and ensure that you detail your response and the inner workings of your decision making at that point.

Lastly, do not forget or neglect to explain what you learned from the experience—Kellogg specifically asks you to do so! And keep in mind that for your takeaways to be “meaningful,” they have to be profoundly connected to your narrative. The admissions reader should be able to easily understand the connection between the situation you describe and your subsequent learnings.

Required Essay #2: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)

How have you grown in the past? The best way to answer this question is to really take the question at face value and think about… how you have grown in the past! Kellogg has no preconceived notions of what applicants should offer in response to this query; it simply wants to learn more about who you are now and how you came to be this person. Rather than pandering to what you think Kellogg wants to hear or trying to conceive of a storyline that seems like it would sound good, truly reflect on your growth to date and focus on analyzing one or two recent experiences that effectively reveal how you have developed and matured.

You might use the first 200–250 words of your essay to share a brief anecdote or two illustrating your growth. These stories can be thematically connected, or they can present two separate circumstances in which you grew in different ways. This portion of your essay will show that you possess the capacity to grow, so in the rest of your submission, you can outline your agenda for growth at Kellogg. You can focus on academic and/or professional needs or on broader personal needs (such as intellectual growth or global exposure)—either option is fine. What is important is that you clearly show a genuine understanding of how Kellogg is the right catalyst for your anticipated development. If your connection to the school is merely superficial—based just on rankings or reputation, for example—you will reveal only that you do not truly grasp the potential inherent in your time in the program. So do your research and really learn about Kellogg in depth, and then present clear links between the program and your developmental needs, going beyond a simple listing of courses or resources and illustrating a more thorough and personalized connection between the offerings and your specific needs and interests.  

This question involves many of the elements of a traditional personal statement essay, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide explains ways of approaching these topics effectively and offers several sample essays as examples. Feel free to download your copy today.

And for a thorough exploration of Kellogg’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to theKellogg School of Management, which is also available free of charge.

Certain applicants will respond to additional questions:

Dual-degree applicants: For applicants to the MMM or JD-MBA dual degree programs, please explain why that program is right for you. (250 words)

If you are applying to one of Kellogg’s dual-degree programs, you should be ready to demonstrate a great deal of intentionality. After all, you are committing to a specialized path that requires additional time and cost. With a limit of just 250 words, you have no choice but to cut to the chase and specify how a dual degree is necessary for you to achieve your particular desired outcomes. After presenting your goals, you will need to tie these goals specifically to the Kellogg programs you are targeting and to their associated resources. This essay is essentially another opportunity (after Essay 2) to explain your distinct need to attend Kellogg, only here, you can focus on showcasing the non-MBA portion of your intended degree.  

Re-applicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 word limit)

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.

All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification inAdditional Information. 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 count)

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 lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. Consider downloading 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.

Required Video Essays: The Video Essay is one component of the application and provides you with an additional opportunity to demonstrate what you will bring to our vibrant Kellogg community – in an interactive way. You will respond to several short video essay questions. The questions are designed to bring to life the person we have learned about on paper.

After submitting a completed application, you will be able to access the video essay through your application status page. One question will be a “get to know you” icebreaker type of question. The second question will be an opportunity to describe your plans for the future and how Kellogg will help you on that journey. The other questions will be randomly generated questions that will be similar to interview questions.

There are practice questions 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 video essay questions. There is not 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.

We estimate the video essays will take 20–25 minutes to complete—which includes time for set-up and answering all the practice questions.

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 so the school can get a better sense of the unique individual you are. Thankfully, Kellogg provides some basic information about the nature of several of the questions you will encounter in the application’s video segment, so you will not be going in totally blind.  

The “get to know you” question will be about a topic you know very well—you! Kellogg refers to this question as an “icebreaker,” so imagine meeting someone for the first time at a party or other event. Similar questions to what you might ask each other in the process of getting acquainted are what you can very likely expect from Kellogg. Examples we can imagine are “What is your favorite book and why?,” “If you unexpectedly had 24 work-free hours, how would you spend them?,” and (as Kellogg itself offers on its site) “If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be and why?” Although we are going to assume that you already know yourself pretty well, these types of queries sometimes require a moment or two of thought before a clear answer can be offered. So take some time to imagine these sorts of questions (you can even Google “icebreaker questions” to find lists of general examples) and practice delving into your personality in this way.  Who knows, you might even learn something new about yourself in the process!  

Fortunately, Kellogg very kindly provides the school-specific question in advance: What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?”With respect to your interest in Kellogg, you need to truly understand why you are choosing this specific program for your MBA. By that, we do not mean that you should create and memorize a laundry list of reasons. Instead, you must have a comprehensive understanding of the resources the school offers and be able to clearly and concisely express which ones are of particular importance and significance to you—and why. Then, when you are recording your video response, you will need to convey this information in a way that is sincere and compelling. That will not happen if you are listing facts you have simply committed to memory! Kellogg offers very clear advice on this: “We don’t want scripted answers—we want to get to know you and learn something new. … When you record your answer speak authentically—we can tell if you are reading notes! And, no need to memorize an answer to the Kellogg question… it might make you sound like a robot.” The research you do on the school for Essay 2 will of course be valuable here as well.

As we noted in our introduction, you cannot expect for sure that you will be asked to describe a challenge, but do not dismiss this possibility altogether. Kellogg says that some of the questions posed will be “similar to interview questions,” and queries about past challenges are most definitely common in MBA interviews! You may wish to download a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, which, in addition to advice on preparing for and mastering the interview process, includes several pages of common interview questions that could be helpful in approaching your Kellogg video essays.

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 (the school even provides practice questions to help you do so), 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 may 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. 📝


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You are viewing an old analysis. Click here to read our 2015-2016 Northwestern University (Kellogg) Essay Analysis! 

The Kellogg School of Management is going positively retro with its rather robust application components this admissions season, requiring two written essays and two video essays. The school seems to actually want to get to know the people who will represent its brand for the next 60 years. Kudos to Kellogg! In addition to its essay prompts, Kellogg includes a few short-answer questions in its application—and we mean short, as in just 150–250 characters. We feel we should start our discussion of these questions with a quick focus on character count, because this is a key issue. How much space is 250 characters? How much is 150? Speaking approximately, of course, 250 characters is equal to about four short sentences and 150 to about three. In fact, Kellogg’s four short-answer questions themselves total 216 characters, with the first three accounting for 154, so that should give you a general sense of the space constraints. Still, you do not need to resort to using caveman language to reduce character count: “Me want to be management consultant. Me good problem solver.” Carefully consider your answers, respect the space limitations, and be sure to express yourself clearly, thoughtfully, and thoroughly. Our analysis follows…

For 2014–2015, the following two essays are required of all applicants:

Essay 1: Resilience. Perseverance. Grit. Call it what you will…. Challenges can build character. Describe a challenging experience you’ve had. How were you tested? What did you learn? (450 words)

Although this is a rather straightforward prompt, executing a response to it could, well, challenge you. Why? Well, most people do not like to admit when they have been knocked down or (heaven forbid!) made mistakes. But Kellogg wants to know that you are a real person—that you have some hard-won victories under your belt and have had to struggle to some degree to get to where you are today. If you have simply been coasting along or have had no cause to develop any coping mechanisms, we can probably pretty safely say that you are not Kellogg material.

An excellent essay will start by showing some very positive momentum toward your goal and then really derail the reader—having the bottom drop out at some point in your narrative (likely in the second or third paragraph) is best. With this approach, your admissions reader will essentially experience for himself (or herself) your reversal of fortune or the seemingly insurmountable obstacle you unexpectedly encountered, only to find (in your next paragraph) that you were ultimately successful in surmounting that obstacle or, in failing to do so, learned some profound lessons.

Kellogg’s admissions committee asks very directly, “What did you learn?” Given the limited word count and your need to convey a full narrative to create an effective essay, you will have only a few sentences in which to respond to this question. Do not skip this portion in favor of including more detail in your story—this is an important piece of information the school is seeking. Similarly, do not just reiterate what is expressed in the question: “I learned the importance of perseverance.” Skip the platitudes, avoid repetition, and push yourself to express what you actually took away from the experience.

Essay 2: Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others. Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people. What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)

Even though the Kellogg admissions committee does not ask about a challenge in this second essay prompt, you will still need to reveal one. After all, if everyone in the story you choose to share quickly and blindly followed your lead, were you really collaborating with or motivating anyone? No, in this case, you need to demonstrate that the impact you had as a leader was earned via your choices and behavior, revealing a clear cause-and-effect connection between the actions you took to motivate and the subsequent reactions from those who were motivated.

An important note: you do not need to reveal yourself as a particularly vocal leader, prone to fiery invectives or inspirational charges. Influence can be both exerted and revealed in subtle ways. You may have used a kind word or your sense of humor to engage others; you may have created a team dynamic through mutual goal-setting and shared rewards. There is no “right” path for you to have taken. What is important is that you show how you influenced others and achieved your objectives, while learning about your own profound (there is that word again!) leadership skills.

Certain applicants will respond to additional questions:

  • Re-applicants: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250-word limit)

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.

All applicants have the opportunity to provide explanations or clarification in Additional Information:

  • 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 count)

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

The Video Essays provide applicants with an additional opportunity to demonstrate what they will bring to our vibrant Kellogg community—in an interactive way. Each applicant will complete two short video essay questions. The questions are designed to bring to life the person we have learned about on paper.

  • After submitting a completed application, each applicant will be asked to complete two Video Essay Questions. One will be about the candidate’s interest in Kellogg and the other will be a “getting to know you” type of question.
  • There are 10 practice questions which candidates can complete as many times as they 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 and help applicants feel prepared.
  • There is not an opportunity to re-do the answer to the official video essay questions. We encourage applicants to practice so they are comfortable with the format once it is time to complete the official questions.
  • Candidates will have 20 seconds to think about their question and up to 1 minute to give their response.
  • We estimate the Video Essays will take 30 minutes to complete—which includes time for set-up and answering all the practice questions.

So, for its video essays, Kellogg has two questions for you: one about Kellogg and one about you. How do you prepare? With respect to your interest in Kellogg, you need to truly understand why you are choosing this specific program for your MBA. By that, we do not mean that you should create and memorize a laundry list of reasons. Instead, you must have a comprehensive understanding of the resources the school offers and be able to clearly and concisely express which ones are of particular importance and significance to you—and why. Then, when you are recording your video response, you will need to convey this information in a way that is sincere and compelling. That will not happen if you are listing a few facts you have simply committed to memory!

Kellogg’s “get to know you” question will be about a topic you know very well—you! So, as we often advise candidates, do not try to anticipate what the school will ask or guess what it wants to hear and skew your response to match. Be sure to answer the question honestly and authentically, and use this “live” opportunity to show the admissions committee your personality and character.

One minute is not very long, so you should definitely run through several mock interviews, even if they are just in front of a mirror, to get a sense of how quickly those 60 seconds will pass when you are later in front of the camera. Marshall McLuhan famously stated, “The medium is the message.” We can skip the philosophical debate about the validity of “McLuhanism” in our essay analysis, but in our opinion, being calm, confident, and sincere is a very important part of this battle. Whether you are answering the school-specific question or the “get to know you” query, simply relax and strive to share your thoughts in a way that does not seem rehearsed—absolutely do not try to use notes that you have hidden somewhere. Be yourself, and if you need help finding that comfort zone, we can provide assistance with mock interviews.

Short-Answer Questions:

What has been your most significant career accomplishment? 250 characters

Even in just four sentences, you can show that your accomplishment was hard won. Rather than simply stating a fact, such as “I won an award for an innovative marketing program, which has attracted a new demographic to our firm,” try revealing a bit of the story’s arc: “During an advertising spending freeze, I created a commercial in house at no cost. It went viral, attracting a new demographic and earning me an award.” The challenge is what makes the accomplishment meaningful!

What is your desired position after Kellogg? 150 characters

Again, avoid going caveman! You should be able to answer this question fully yet concisely, showing that you understand both the position itself and why it interests you. You cannot be vague and just write, “I want to be a banker after I graduate.” You must provide some detail that illustrates that you are informed about your options and have critically evaluated them. A statement such as “My background in mining will give me unique context to join a natural resources group at a boutique firm like Evercore” will be much more convincing and effective.

What is your long-term career goal after Kellogg? 150 characters

The goal you present for this question must relate clearly and reasonably to the one in your previous answer. You do not need to show that you are on a fixed and narrow track, however, only that your choices are related in a sensible and achievable way. For example, using the example we offered for the previous question, the aspiring banker does not need to say that he will ultimately become a managing director at a bank. He could say that he wants to return to mining as a CEO or start his own advisory services firm or… the options are practically limitless. Again, your long-term aspiration just needs to make sense in the context of your stated short-term goal. So, while the transition from banking to advisory services is a logical one, a transition from banking to being a brand manager at Kellogg’s or General Mills would not, so claiming such a trajectory would likely reveal you to be uninformed or unreasonable in your expectations.

What drives your interest in these short- and long-term goals? 250 characters

Here, Kellogg wants to know the context for your career goals, to be sure that you have the professional skills and interest to succeed in your desired positions. You can transition in your career—many do!—but to convince the school that you are capable of doing so, you must explain your plans and demonstrate that you have the necessary foundation to achieve and flourish in your desired positions.



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