TIP #1 Communicate three to five unique selling propositions and back them up with reasons to believe.
The essay question asks, “Why would your peers select you to become a member of the Kellogg community?” Any time you are asked a “why” question, the answer is a list of reasons. To answer this essay question, you have to make some critical strategic decisions about why a student member of the admissions committee would want to champion your candidacy out of a stack of thousands of other applicants. You must identify your top three to five unique selling propositions – the reasons that students should lobby for you to be admitted.
Why only three to five sales messages? You may in fact be courageous, quirky, loyal, generous, wise, determined, entrepreneurial, resourceful, intelligent, artistic, energetic, sporty, and many other things as well, but if you attempt to tell your peer reviewer everything about you, you run the risk, paradoxically, that she will finish reading your essay and feel she doesn’t know you at all.
The goal of the application and the essays isn’t to tell the student member of the admissions committee everything about you; it’s to tell her the most important things and to convince her that your experience, values, attributes, and/or unique perspective will translate into concrete benefits for your future classmates. The most important test of your sales messages is their authenticity. You must separate fact from fiction and reality from aspiration. Without evidence and examples your reasons to buy will simply be a set of empty claims. Marketers back up their benefit claims with what companies like Procter and Gamble call “reasons to believe.” In the essay, you should provide an example or two to support your selling proposition.
TIP #2 Be explicit about how you will contribute actively/concretely to the student community given your strengths and background.
There are three elements to constructing an effective sales message. The first is to ensure that the message is targeted and relevant to the buyer you are targeting. The second, discussed in the tip above, is to support the sales message with reasons to believe. Some applicants stop there, believing they’ve clearly articulated an authentic strength and that the student member of the admissions committee will be able to infer why a particular attribute or experience will be of value to his or her Kellogg classmates. The most persuasive essays go one step further – supplying concrete examples of how this strength will enrich the experience of other Kellogg students.
Given the amazing variety of clubs and student organizations at Kellogg, there will be plenty of outlets to exercise your talents and devote your leadership energy to serving your fellow students. If your background has prepared you to offer something valuable to a particular campus organization, you should describe how. For example, if you look forward to studying with a particular professor, you could write about how you plan to assemble a team of other interested students to assist that professor on a research project. If you have an extensive professional network and connections in a certain industry, then you might write about hosting a speaker series or a career fair so that other students will benefit from your world class rolodex.
Don’t make your reader figure out why your gifts would be valuable to the class; be explicit about how you plan to contribute to the Kellogg community and enrich the experiences of your classmates.
TIP #3 Be careful to avoid bragging.
Early drafts from our clients often run the gamut from misplaced modesty to off-putting braggadocio. Achieving the right balance between the two while touting one’s accomplishments is sometimes tricky. Your reader doesn’t want to hear why you are the greatest candidate to apply to Kellogg since the school was founded in 1908. Remember that the student readers will be asking themselves if there is evidence that you are a giver or a taker. Are you someone they would like to have on a team, as a friend, and as a fellow alum? Will you make the school proud?
Review your wording and tone carefully and seek out second readers who can help you strike the right tone. You’ll certainly want student members of the admissions committee to be impressed with your accomplishments, but you must walk a fine line between sharing your achievements and boasting. You’ll want to reveal your human side and stay focused on how you can contribute and be an amazing classmate. For this essay in particular, set aside any notion of one-upmanship and instead write from the heart. Feature achievements in which your accomplishments added value to a team or an organization and benefited others versus simply furthering your career.
An MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Stacy Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2001 and has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. For more in-depth analysis and tips, check out Stacy Blackman Consulting’s Harvard Business School Essay Guide.
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