What Kellogg Looks For In MBA Applicants

Kellogg School of Management's new global hub now under construction

Kellogg School of Management’s new global hub now under construction

What Kellogg Seeks In MBAs

As a rule, adcoms are cautious about sharing what they seek in MBA candidates. In fact, the best advice often comes from adcoms-turned-consultants, many of whom will gleefully spill their former employer’s secrets (for a fee, of course). Despite books and websites repeating the same mantras (know what you want; show how you’ll add value to the class), there are still candidates who believe admissions decisions are based on the whims of an oracle. Worse, others swear that there is a grand formula that opens the gates to all who yearn for admission.

At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, they simply tell students what their criteria is. Like a football team telegraphing their plays to opponents, Kellogg is challenging applicants to meet their high standards, knowing that the intellect, self-awareness, passion, and track record needed to be accepted into their full-time MBA program is rare indeed.

So what does Kellogg seek in applicants? This month, Beth Tidmarsh (’03), the school’s director of full-time MBA admissions, came out of the shadows to share her insights. If you’re looking for jaw-dropping, catch-all solutions, then look elsewhere. To get into Kellogg, you need to master the fundamentals – and that takes time, planning, patience, and plenty of thankless work. Here is some of Tidmarsh’s advice courtesy of a six-part series that appeared on Kellogg’s website:

Importance of Test Scores and Grades:

“Our goal is to be sure you can handle the rigor in the Kellogg classroom. Your undergraduate GPA, course selection and GMAT score help us assess your readiness. But we’re also invested in finding creative thinkers who can solve problems. Qualitative evidence of intellectual ability is going to come out in your essays, your interview and your recommendations.

We look for applicants who are well-rounded, and who have demonstrated academic success. If your scores or grades seem a little lopsided, we dig deeper into your application to look for evidence that you’ve taken steps to develop those skills. That tells us if you’ve taken charge of balancing out your skill set.”

Value of Work Experience:

“We admit applicants from diverse fields, with varying years of experience. We also analyze each applicant within the context of his or her own career path, rather than against each other. Our admissions officers are looking to understand how you’ve progressed and why what you’ve done is significant. Are you progressing faster than others at your same level? Did you get promoted more quickly? Have you taken on additional responsibilities?

A great way to make your application pop is to help us understand what the standards are within your industry and your particular company or organization. Some workplaces or careers are very structured about how someone can advance through the ranks, while others provide opportunities for leadership in other, less formal ways. One tip we will share: Think about how you would explain your job to a 10-year-old or your grandmother. Jargon and acronyms will often create confusion, so avoid them whenever you can. This is a great place to show us how you can communicate ideas across fields and disciplines.”

Know What You Want:

“The MBA program will expose you to a lot of great things to help you crystallize that path, but due to the nature of our programs, a lot starts happening very fast. (Have you heard about pre-term? We don’t waste a day getting you engaged.) Your time at Kellogg is going to fly by – and you are going to want to make the most of it by giving some serious thought for your reasons for pursuing an MBA. If you arrive without a clue what direction you’re headed, you’ll get overwhelmed pretty quickly. Knowing that our applicants have thought about the deeper reasons behind pursuing this degree — why they’re doing it, where they’re trying to go, how this education and their career fit together — helps students to hit the ground running once they arrive on campus.”

How Leadership Is Weighed:

“Many people pursue an MBA to gain experience and improve their management and leadership skills. The Kellogg admissions team is looking for both demonstrated leadership in the past and an applicant’s leadership potential. Given the scope and range of our community, this means many different things…

A few things will be similar, though. We look for those who have taken up new responsibilities and opportunities in whatever way they can, however their career path has allowed. Maybe this means you’ve led an initiative within your company, or it could mean that you’ve secured promotions quickly, or that you’re deeply involved with a volunteer commitment. Your roles don’t have to be formal, just indicative of your drive. The better you can help us see how these activities fit in with your overall career narrative, the more clearly we can think about how you might fit in with the Kellogg community.

We also consider timeliness. The further along you are into your career, the more we’re going to expect some demonstrated benchmarks. If you’re seven or eight years out of college, consider presenting more recent examples. Likewise, if you’re early in your career, don’t worry that you’re competing with more experienced applicants. Our admissions team is just as concerned with where our students are going as where they’ve already been.”

The Importance of Extracurriculars:

“Our team understands how demanding work can be, but pursuing interests outside the office helps maintain a balanced and engaged life. Our admissions committee wants to understand what fulfills our applicants outside of work, and how they’ve made an impact within an organization or a community that matters to them…

What matters here is quality of experience over quantity; two years of involvement with one activity means a lot more than eight brief commitments in eight different places. We like to see our applicants involved with something they’re passionate about. If it fits in with your personal career narrative — say you volunteer with a literacy organization, and you want to pursue education policy after Kellogg — that’s great. But for plenty of applicants, a personal passion or commitment is not directly connected to the career goals at all.

We also recognize that some jobs may not leave a lot of room for involvement outside of work. There are opportunities for impact within the workplace, too. Did you lead recruiting efforts? Maybe you headed up a green building initiative. Having an impact on organizational culture or community is just as valid, important and interesting to us. Passion and engagement are universal features within the Kellogg community. There are a lot of ways to showcase that you’re the type of person who makes a difference.”

Fitting Into Kellogg’s Collaborative Culture:

“The ability to work in teams doesn’t mean agreeing all the time, nor is it an easy approach. Team-based learning means you can push ideas, disagree respectfully and challenge each other, but also that you’re doing so in a way that’s both productive and conducive to a better outcome. Our ideal applicant likes to hear different viewpoints, respects others, can voice and challenge opinions and isn’t afraid to speak up, but can do so in a way that’s collaborative and would help further a group or a classroom conversation…Bringing together all those different perspectives enhances everybody’s experience. Learning to synthesize and negotiate those differences is a vital component of the Kellogg experience, too.”

To read Tidmarsh’s full text, click on the links below.


Sources: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.