An Interview With Melissa Rapp, Kellogg’s MBA Gatekeeper

With so many highly qualified co-applicants, what are some things a Kellogg applicant can do to really set themselves apart? And what are some terrible mistakes they should avoid?

To be well-prepared, we like to see a candidate understand why they want to get an MBA, what they are hoping to get out of it, how it fits with their story. To understand why they are applying to the schools that they are applying to. And try to learn about the programs and the school and understand some of the differences between them. All this is an important part of being a successful applicant.

And then it’s important to give yourself enough time. Sometimes we see that candidates have rushed through the application process, and maybe have not spent the time being reflective that they needed to to really put together a compelling application.

I think that kind of goes hand in hand with one of the mistakes that we do see: folks who don’t feel like they’re coming from a very genuine place when they’re doing their application. So their application comes across as disingenuous or that they’re trying to tell us what they think we want to hear versus their true story. And the honest truth is, we’re looking for strong candidates no matter what their background is — there is no one right answer for any of our questions. We want to hear every candidate’s story, we want to hear their reasons for wanting an MBA, and their reasons for wanting to come to Kellogg — and I think honesty and genuine interest in the program are the two things that really make you stand out.

Just as there are candidates with good-but-not-great test scores who are extraordinary in other ways get in, some candidates with great test scores but weaker applications in other areas don’t get in — do you see that often?

Every year. There is no golden ticket to get into Kellogg. So a perfect GMAT score doesn’t really mean anything other than you did really well on a particular test on a given day. It’s interesting, for sure — it’s going to catch our attention. But it’s certainly not a golden ticket.

I think of a great example. We had a candidate a couple years ago whose GMAT score probably wasn’t what you would expect or what we typically see for a Kellogg admit. But he was a military veteran, a top gun pilot, a decorated war hero, and taking all things into consideration — his personality in the interview, his expression of his personal values and how they aligned with Kellogg, his deep leadership experience — he ended up being one of our Austin Scholars that year (selected because they have demonstrated exceptional leadership in academic and professional endeavors, and show promise of future leadership at Kellogg and in business or public service) because he brought us interesting and unique characteristics beyond academics. Now, we were confident that he could be successful in the classroom as well, but there is a perfect example of someone who didn’t meet the typical criteria that folks think of when thinking of MBA applicants.

And he has turned out to be a phenomenal leader and great asset to Kellogg, and we’re very proud to have him here.

Is Kellogg contemplating any changes to the application process in the next couple of admission cycles?

Our application process is under review right now, but I don’t have sneak peeks for you! I do know that our application will be going live a bit earlier this year, maybe June versus July, and that’s exciting — we’re excited to give people the opportunity to start on their application a little earlier, have a little more time to craft their essays and things. It’s not a big change but it’s one that we feel will help improve the experience for our Round 1 candidates.

What if you could make a change to the process with a wave of your magic wand, what would it be?

What we really hunger for at Kellogg is the opportunity to meet every individual candidate, and that’s just physically impossible (the Class of 2019 has 478 members). But we did wave our magic wand and introduce a video essay a few years ago, and that has really added an important and interesting dimension to the application process, and given us the opportunity to see every candidate — and to allow every candidate to, in their own words, express why they want to come to Kellogg.

It’s sometimes really surprising, the variation you can get between the written word and the spoken word, and that little extra piece of the application process here at Kellogg was a magic wand for us. It unlocked having a personal interaction with every candidate.


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