Kellogg Switches Up MBA Essays

Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management

The 2015-2016 batch of applicants to the MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management will have to pass a couple of new admission hurdles. The school announced today (July 8) that it is switching out one essay question, tweaking another, and changing up its video essays for candidates to the Class of 2018.

Even so, there are no really big changes afoot in how Kellogg intends to evaluate its applicants. “We didn’t do anything materially different as we did two years ago,” says Kate Smith, Kellogg admissions director. “We are making a few small changes that come out of our review to refine our process and make sure it is providing the best opportunity to get to know our prospective students.”

Kellogg set a round one deadline of Sept. 22, with decisions released on Dec. 16. The school’s second round deadline is Jan. 6th, with a notification date of March 23rd, while its third and final deadline for applications is April 6th, with decisions due on May 11th.


What hasn’t changed, says Smith, is the school’s desire to interview as many applicants as possible. Kellogg is one of a few schools with an open-interview approach to admissions, preferring to see all candidates who apply to the school without an initial review and invitation. And the school will continue to have both written and video essays as it has in the past two years.

Kate Smith, Kellogg's new director of admissions. Photo by Andreas Larson

Kate Smith, Kellogg’s new director of admissions. Photo by Andreas Larson

In the 2013-2014 admissions season, 4,652 candidates applied to Kellogg, down from 5,453 a year earlier. The school admitted 1,081 out of the 4,652 for an acceptance rate of 23.2%. Some 691 students enrolled with an average GMAT score of 713, unchanged from the year before. The most recent application volume and acceptance rate for Kellogg’s incoming class has yet to be released. “We’re happy with everything this year,” says Smith. “It was another great year for us. We are thrilled with the quality and talent applying to Kellogg. Things continue to go very well.”

This year’s new essay questions, each with 450-word limits:

Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience.  Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader.  What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? 

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?

“The first question focuses in and around leadership,” explains Smith. “At Kellogg, we are really transparent on the criteria we use to evaluate applicants: work experience, professional goals, leadership, impact, interpersonal skills. So we have earmarked one of the questions around leadership to give applicants an opportunity to share their perspectives on that. We are a team-based learning environment so we really want to assess candidates’ leadership and teamwork experiences. We really want to insure that students are going to be active and engaged here, bringing their leadership qualities to the program.”

The initial essay is closer to last year’s prompt, though nuanced to give applicants the chance to describe a recent experience as a leader. The second query, says Smith, is “quite different.”

“The second question is more around why you are interested in pursuing your MBA and why Kellogg. We’re asking applicants to be reflective and forward-looking. This is an opportunity for them to pause, assess, and share their reflections on where they are coming from and where they want to go.”


This will be the third year in which Kellogg asks applicants to complete two video essays, a still relatively rare admissions practice that has also been adopted by Yale University’s School of Management and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School. “We’ve learned from year one and year two,” says Smith. “We really want to meet all our applicants wherever they are in the world. This is an enabler to help admissions meet every single candidate. We have really enjoyed it. The first question is similar to last year and is more of an ice breaker It is chosen randomly from a range of questions. We are communicating the second question in advance which is a break from the past when both questions were random. We feel like it parks the video closer to the essay side.”

Applicants have a bank of practice questions so they can get used to the technology. A question pops up on the screen and an applicant has 20 seconds to reflect and then a 60-second window in which to respond. “The second question is a little bit more akin to a traditional essay question,” adds Smith. “It’s almost like an elevator pitch and more people need to be effective in doing that. Being able to articulate your point of view in that format is a skill that is becoming more and more a part of our daily life.”

The video questions:

Ice breaker/get to know you question- specific question not released in advance.

What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?


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