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MIT Sloan | Mr. Marine Combat Arms Officer
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Kellogg Ups Video, Drops A Written Essay

Kellogg1Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management is cutting out one written essay for MBA applicants this year but adding a second question to the video portion of its application.

The changes will reduce the word count by a third, to 900 words for two essays from 1350 last year over three essays.

Last year, Kellogg became the third major business school to add a video component to its MBA application after the University of Toronto’s Rotman School and Yale School of Management. “I was quite pleased with that experience,” said Kate Smith, who will be starting her third admissions cycle as director of admissions at Kellogg. Smith joined the school during the second round in February of 2012 after 14 years at General Mills, Quaker Oats, and PepsiCo.

“The reason we introduced the video essay was for the opportunity to meet all our applicants no matter where in the world they are applying from. We found the medium to be a great chance to meet the candidates so we will maintain that as part of our application. And we are going to migrate one question to the video. “They are not overly complex or challenging to answer. The intent is to be conversational without a rehearsed response.”


Last year, each applicant was given a 90-second window to deliver an answer. This year, they’ll have exactly one-minute, after a 20-second period in which to think about an answer. A typical ice breaker question from last year was, “If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?”

After the ice breaker, every applicant will be asked to respond on video to “Why are you interested in Kellogg?”

Video, says Smith, also makes sense because it is becoming increasingly more common in the work world. “The medium is becoming more valuable as a skill students are going to need in the future,” says Smith, who recalls that during her years at Pepsico she was constantly videoconferencing with colleagues all over the world.


“Two years ago, when I considered adding video,” adds Smith, “I wanted to get feedback from our students. The then president of our MBA Student Association said she was interviewing for marketing and had to do her first round interview with Nike via video before getting invited to the second in-person round. So she was shining a spotlight on a skill she needed to have.”

Smith says video—or any other single component of the application—is not likely to result in a candidate’s rejection. “There is never one component that materially impacts our final decision,” she says. “If anything, we are seeking to get to know the person as well as we possibly can. The application is not too burdensome for the applicant and yet it is rich enough to find out the applicant’s goals and why they want an MBA.”

Kellogg will post online some practice ice-breaker questions so that prospective applicants can “get comfortable with the medium.”


Why the switch to two from three written essay questions? “Our point of view is that it is a nice amount of space for an applicant to give a well thought out answer but not to feel constrained,” she says. Every year we go through an evaluation internally and look at the previous year’s experience. We seek to get to know the person holistically, and we try to meet with as many applicants as we can. We want to understand them and their motivations for wanting an MBA. I feel comfortable with this year’s changes because I haven’t really materially traded off from what we asked last year”

This year’s essays, each restricted to no more than a 450-word response, are newly worded, though based on similar themes as last year’s questions. They are:

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)

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)

Says Smith: “Both questions are different from last year, yet the themes are similar. At Kellogg, team skills and resilience are really important in developing leaders.”