Kellogg’s Most Challenging Essay

What are the most challenging essay questions business schools ask applicants? That’s a question we hope to answer in this new six-part series. Stacy Blackman, founder of the MBA admissions consulting firm that bears her name, is picking out what she considers to be the most challenging and then providing advice for how to approach each essay.

What constitutes a highly challenging essay? They may force you to be incredibly introspective, surprisingly creative or perhaps highly succinct. Some of the essays are not as straightforward as they seem, others are very straightforward, but it is tempting to stray off topic. Whatever the reason, we are here to help, with some tips taken straight from the Stacy Blackman Consulting series of school specific essay guides.

Most Challenging MBA Essay Question #4:

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management:

Assume you are evaluating your application from the perspective of a student member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Why would you and your peers select you for admission, and what impact would you make as a member of the Kellogg community?

Every year Kellogg applicants who possess all the qualities that the program is searching for aren’t accepted. Meanwhile, candidates who may be less qualified, objectively speaking, receive a thick envelope inviting them to join next year’s class. Why? The successful candidates did a more effective job of identifying the best sales messages and communicating their “unique selling propositions” to the admissions committee.

Kellogg prides itself on being a student-run, student-driven MBA program. In fact, the first person to review your application will typically be a student member of the admissions committee. The reason? A current student is in the best position to judge whether or not you could enhance the experience of Kellogg students in next year’s class. For the last few years, the Kellogg application has asked – though in three different ways – for you to write an essay which addresses this student reader. This year’s question provides the most explicit and direct invitation to do so. When taken together, the messages and points you include in this essay should make a student member of the Kellogg admissions committee sit forward in the chair and say, “I’d really love to have this person in my class!”

Keep your reader in mind from outline to final draft. Your goal in this essay is to communicate the qualities you possess and the contributions that you could make that fellow MBA students will value. If you were tasked with selling a new car and you featured the car’s extensive set of bells and whistles when your potential buyers were more concerned about fuel economy, then your sales messages missed the mark. Similarly, the last thing you want to do in this essay is to tout your ability to lock yourself in a room and solve any problem on your own when your admissions committee “buyer” is looking for evidence that you can harness the collective energy and intelligence of your team when confronted with a problem.

Some applicants write about the unique and exotic elements of their background and think this will suffice. Certainly, you will want to differentiate yourself from other candidates, but just being different is not enough. You need to tell your reader how your background, values, academics, activities, and/or leadership skills will enhance the experience of other Kellogg students. For example, if you decide to share your unique experiences growing up as a military brat, you could make the point that you have valuable lessons to share with your classmates about how to adapt to new environments and culture. If you recently directed a play, then you could write about your ability to motivate a Kellogg team when faced with a creative challenge. Step one is to determine the elements of your background and makeup that might appeal to your future peers. Step two is to describe how these elements of your story will be actively beneficial to your classmates during your two years at Kellogg and beyond.

One final note: the question is open-ended by design, but we advise our clients to emphasize the personal over the professional in this essay. Only feature professional strengths if they contain critically important sales messages on how your professional background or talents will be of tremendous benefit to your classmates.

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