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An Interview With Melissa Rapp, Kellogg’s MBA Gatekeeper

Melissa Rapp has been director of admissions for Kellogg’s MBA and MSMS since January of 2016

Melissa Rapp doesn’t hesitate. What’s the stereotype she would most like to dispel about Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where she is director of admissions for the full-time MBA program? Easy: That Kellogg is primarily a “marketing school.”

“MBA candidates can have some misconceptions about Kellogg,” Rapp tells Poets&Quants. “Kellogg is really concerned about the kind of experience that we offer and what students can expect from their MBA experience here. We do continue to hear students refer to Kellogg as ‘the marketing school’ — but we are much more than just a marketing school, and I think it’s important for candidates to understand that we offer an incredibly rich experience no matter what industry you’re looking to go into.”

The data supports Rapp, who became admissions chief at the Kellogg School in January 2016 after directing the school’s Evening and Weekend Program for a few years. In Kellogg’s most recent employment profile, 19% of MBAs in the Class of 2017 went into marketing — a typical outcome: marketing grads have hovered between 19% and 21% since 2013. Far more, however, go into consulting: 34% in 2017, and never less than 33% since 2013. (Not to mention all the other industries Kellogg grads go into.) Kellogg’s top recruiters last year were a trio of consulting giants and a tech behemoth: McKinsey, which employed 40 grads; Boston Consulting Group, which hired 36; Bain & Co., 28; and Amazon, which scooped up 32 MBAs from the shores of Lake Michigan.

Kellogg had 488 full-time MBA grads last spring. As a percentage of the total, its 34% is a bigger consultant class than Harvard’s (25%), Stanford’s (28%), and even Wharton’s (32%). Marketing school? Only in the sense that — as it does in every other subject — Kellogg has among the world’s best faculty.

DESTINED FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

Melissa Rapp

Melissa Rapp was probably always going to work in higher education. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas in 1996, she went to work doing outreach and recruitment for prospective students at Baker University, a liberal arts school just outside Kansas City, Kansas; during the six years she was associate director of admissions, she earned her master’s in business/corporate communication from Baker and started a family. Rapp returned to work in 2010, and two years later was hired by the Kellogg School to be its assistant director of admissions in the Part Time MBA Program. After three years she moved up to director of admissions; then, six months later, she became admissions director of the Full Time MBA an MSMS programs.

“I love the education space and I’m passionate about education being a driver for personal development and change in people,” Rapp tells Poets&Quants in a wide-ranging phone interview. “When I first thought about going back to work, Kellogg was very appealing because of the prestige of the brand: I was excited to work at a school that has good things going for it. And I think as I started to interview, more and more of the values of Kellogg started to come through.

“Also, I really respected how true leadership wasn’t just higher education professionals — that Kellogg was actively seeking people who understood very deeply the journey that our students were preparing to go on and what that journey could ultimately be. And I think that that’s a strong reflection of Kellogg’s commitment to its students in providing the best experience that they can.”

As admissions chief, Rapp has presided over what can only be described as continuing excellence in the caliber of MBA candidates. Even as Kellogg’s rank has slipped in a couple major lists (from No. 4 to No. 6 at U.S. News & World Report, and from No. 4 to No. 5 in Poets&Quants’ ranking, the school’s class profile shines, including a 19-point increase in average scores on the Graduate Management Admission Test since 2013, from 713 to 732. In 2017, Kellogg’s remarkably consistent 3.60 average undergraduate GPA was behind only Stanford (3.74), Harvard (3.71), and Chicago Booth (3.61).

KELLOGG: A LEADER IN GENDER

One area in particular where the Kellogg School has continued to outshine its peers: the percentage of women in its student ranks. In the Class of 2019, Kellogg admitted 42% women, continuing its streak of greater than 40% female MBA population going back to 2013. Among elite schools, only Wharton and Harvard can claim to have kept pace in that five-year span.

“The diversity that we bring to Kellogg each and every year, in terms of gender but also across industries and backgrounds, I think it’s an important part of the culture, having that representation and diversity,” Rapp says. “We’ve been thrilled last year to have 42% women in the class, and it’s a combination of things: we have seen increased demand in our applicant pool, so that more women seem to be seeking graduate education and MBAs, but we have also taken a really proactive approach to engage particularly prospective female applicants. In particular, we work very closely with the Women’s Business Association to develop programming and outreach that will resonate with women.

“I feel like we have developed a really good, holistic approach to bringing women to Kellogg and supporting them throughout their MBA journey, and then sending them out to the world to do great things. That’s definitely something that we are very proud of and continue to see as important.”

Can gender parity be far behind? “We certainly continue to want to have that high level of women in our classroom,” Rapp says. “It’s real early to tell what the Class of 2020 will look like, but I do anticipate us having a very strong presence of women in this class.

“As far as getting to 50%, I feel like parity between genders is certainly a hot topic not just in higher education or MBA programs but across the board, and I think it’s just going to take a lot of dedicated hard work from people who care for probably a couple more years to make it happen.”