Kellogg Adding A Third Video Essay Question

The new global hub of the Kellogg School of Management is expected to open by year's end

The new global hub of the Kellogg School of Management is expected to open by year’s end.

After a year in which applications to its two-year MBA program rose 6%, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management is adding a third video question for applicants this year. The new question, to be randomly selected from a pool of essays, will ask candidates how they have handled a challenging situation in either their career or personal life.

Otherwise, Kellogg has chosen to retain the same two written essays as well as the themes of the two video questions the school had asked applicants last year.  “We really are pleased with what we are gettting from our applications,” says Kate Smith, director of admissions at Kellogg.

Smith adds that the school is also pleased with both the quality and quantity of the applicant pool. Kellogg reports that applications to its two-year MBA program rose 6% to 4,553 this past year from 4,300 a year earlier. The increase may allow Kellogg to bring last year’s acceptance rate of 20.6% slightly lower. Those numbers exclude applications to its one-year MBA program, the so-called Triple M program, and the dual-degree JD-MBA program. “The quality of the applicants was tremendous and we are thrilled with the class,” Smith says.

Kellogg joins a growing list of top schools reporting increased application volume, including MIT Sloan, Cornell, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, and Michigan.


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

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

For this next year, Kellogg plans to continue to focus on six criteria in admissions, Smith says. “That includes leadership, intellectual ability and horsepower, comprehensive work experience, what applications would bring to the Kellogg community, their goals, the impact they have had in their careers and outside of work, and then their interpersonal skills to connect, engage, and communicate with others,” she says.

“The most difficult trait to evaluate turns out to be leadership. We want to assess whether a candidate is prepared to lead in a team environment. Collaboration is in our DNA. Kellogg is a partnership between ourselves and the students. We want to know that applicants will be able to jump in and contribute.”

That is the essence of the first written essay question: “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?”

The second written essay: “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?”

Both written portions of the application have 450-word limits, unchanged from last year. Kellogg pushed its new application live in early July.


The only real change is the addition of that third video question. Kellogg introduced video questions two years ago. After submitting a completed application, each applicant will be asked to complete several video essay questions that are comparable to questions asked in an in-person interview setting. Applicants are given 20 seconds to think about a question and then must answer it within 60 seconds.

The school provides 10 practice questions which candidates can complete as many times as they like to get comfortable with the format and technology. The practice questions and experience will simulate the actual video essay experience, so this is meant to be a useful tool and help applicants feel prepared.

In the past, questions have ranged from “What possession or memento do you treasure most and why?” to “If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?”

Even though Kellogg invites all applicants to interview in-person or via Skype, the video questions give the admissions team even greater coverage of the entire applicant pool, Smith says. “It allows our entire admissions committee to meet all of our applicants wherever they are in the world,” she says. “There are times when we have a candidate applying from a remote part of the globe and he or she can’t fly to campus or meet with an alum. That is why we love the video essay, which breaks down that barrier for the applicant. We are able to also assess their communication skills in a short format.”


Smith says another reason why Kellogg is so keen on video questions is that it’s a good tryout for the increased use of video interviewing by companies to screen potential employees.

“Several years ago, the president of the student body told us she had an interview process that included a video component,” Smith recalls. “That was a signal to know that this might become more of a required skill. It was for Nike’s second-round interviews. My colleagues in career management now say they are seeing other companies like Amazon, LinkedIn, Apple, and Google leveraging video interviews. So it has become more relevant to employers.”

The first two video questions this year will be similar to last year’s. The first is an ice-breaker question chosen at random. The second asks what career path an applicant is interested in pursuing. “It is a broad and open-ended question, so candidates can answer in a way that is meaningful to them. It also helps us because we have multiple program choices, so we can hear from a student applying to Triple M or the one-year program.”


Smith says Kellogg added the new video question because it likes the format. “We have really enjoyed the video essay platform and felt there was an opportunity to add to the questions we were using. We could have given a written essay question instead. We were definitely looking at how students had navigated challenges, and we were curious about exploring that in a different vein.

“The beauty of the video test is, it helps you focus in a one-minute response. It’s going to be a much more charismatic reflection of you. We find value in both the written and video questions, but I like the juxtaposition of requiring applicants to think on their toes. With the new question, we are telling the students what it is going to be about so they have some time to think ahead. So it’s not completely in the black box.”

Smith says the entire admissions committee watches and reviews the videos last, after the entire application is reviewed. “It’s not typical to have a video essay dramatically shift the assessment already provided, and I like the idea of seeing the video at the end of the journey. We review video in committee in different ways throughout the application season. Everyone who reviews the application will review the video essay, but we might not sit in a room and watch it all together. At times that could happen but it depends on where we are in the admissions process.”


Applying to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management? Then, you need to read this FREE 89-page Insider’s Guide on the school and its MBA program

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