Meet Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2020

Picture your dream school. What do you see? Gifted and gracious classmates? World class facilities and faculty? Clubs, treks, and speakers of every stripe? A track record of high pay and placement with the elite employers?

That’s the dream of every MBA: fervent alumni…international reach…cultural fit…exposure to everything – a school that’s not too big and impersonal, but not so small that they’ll miss out. Of course, that school has be smack dab in a throbbing metropolis, with opportunities galore and something always happening. Call it the total package, a resource- rich school filled with the right people with right mission in the right spot.

You can count the business schools that offer this experience on one hand. And one school that checks every box is Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

TEAM PLAYERS WANTED

Defined by its “high impact, low ego attitude,” Kellogg is a large urban program with a carefully-crafted hometown culture. How serious does the school take culture? Every accepted applicant has been screened in person for fit. What exactly is this “fit” at Kellogg? Think team players, who crave learning from their peers, leveraging their strengths, and supporting their vision and ventures. That’s because teamwork is the foundation of every course – an outcome that rivals any mastery of models and measures.

Yes, Kellogg students are exemplars of experiential learning whose ability to harness diverse perspectives and manage conflict perfectly positions them for every role from McKinsey consultant to Google product manager. Just as important, Kellogg demands students be actively engaged in the student community. That’s because students run the school, acting as the catalysts who handle everything from managing event details to partnering with faculty on curriculum enhancements.

Victoria Medvec gives a speech titled Negotiating for Yourself on Your Way In, Up and Out during the Global Women’s Summit at the Kellogg School of Management.Photo by Alyssa Schukar

This culture, combined with a wealth of resources, is why Charlotte Hamelin took the leap of faith and moved from the City of Light to the City of Broad Shoulders. “After six years at Roche, I wanted a business school experience that would embrace diversity and push me to think boldly and more diversely about problems and areas of business that are outside of my comfort zone,” writes the first year from Paris. “Kellogg is giving me the ability to learn from brilliant faculty and from a globally diverse classroom. With a strong alumni network and a vast pool of extracurricular and career opportunities, Kellogg is really my dream school.”

THESE ARE THE KINDS OF PEOPLE I WANT TO BE AROUND”

Beyond the tight-knit community – or the 25 minute ride to downtown Chicago – Kellogg is a demanding program whose rigor is balanced by choice and flexibility. “Kellogg is not about one particular major or program,” writes Kate Smith, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at Kellogg. “The Kellogg experience is about taking a rigorous core curriculum, and then building on that with the classes that will help you achieve your goals — whether that’s a deep dive in one specific area, or continuing on that broad range of academic knowledge. Majors are optional…The beauty of being a student at Kellogg is that you have the flexibility to pursue whichever combination of classes, majors or pathways fits your interests and goals.”

Culture and curriculum aside, the program is also founded on a purpose – one that appealed to incoming first-years like Justin Hendrix, an Amherst grad and Bain consultant. “During Kellogg’s Preview Day,” he recalls, “then-Dean Sally Blount began her presentation by quoting The Kellogg Purpose: “To educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who build strong organizations and wisely leverage the power of markets to create lasting value.” She talked about mission-driven leaders, about having successful and pioneering careers in business while also making a positive difference in the world, and about using business as a force for social good. I still think about how deeply those words resonated with me at the time, and align with my desire to explore the intersection between business and social and environmental impact.”

The Class of 2020 began streaming into Evanston in late August. Thus far, the Kellogg reality has lived up to its hype. In the U.S. Navy, Braden Schrock was special operations advisor to the commanding admiral of a Carrier Strike Group. Taking a two year sojourn from active service, Schrock was struck by what he calls Kellogg’s “pay it forward ethos.”

“From the students who helped me with my application, to those that reached out to me after my acceptance, to the Kellogg alumni who called to tell me what a life-changing experience Kellogg is, I’ve never felt so excited to be around a group of people,” he explains. I currently have the members of two separate campus clubs at my disposal to answer any questions I have – and every time I’ve asked for help, someone has been there. These are the kinds of people I want to be around, and who I want to emulate.”

At the Global Hub, incoming students are welcomed by two hanging banners in the university’s trademark purple color that proudly announce the school is “Leading Bravely Into A New Era.”

“INTENTIONALITY” IN WORD AND DEED

Indeed, you’ll find Kellogg MBAs to be among the friendliest cohorts anywhere. For Miles Olson, an analytics aficionado, the community offers something a little extra. Admittedly, he expected his classmates to be “smart, collaborative, [and] highly engaged.” The surprise, he says, came when he experienced how “inspiringly thoughtful” his peers were.

“I’ve been consistently impressed by the emotional intelligence of the people here. They have such a strong understanding of who they are and what they value. They’re decidedly self-reflective and goal-oriented and they’re committed to helping others develop in similar ways. With all the various events, workshops, and social gatherings available here, I guess it makes sense that everyone learns to be so deliberate. Kellogg calls it “intentionality,” and so far, I’ve already experienced profound benefits from attending school with classmates like this. They encourage you to be vulnerable and thoughtful about your development opportunities; they challenge you to clearly frame your definition of success; and they inspire you to pursue a life consistent with your core values.”

High EQ, sure…and fun too. Catalina Asmar, for one, stepped and spun alongside 500 professional dancers at the main event of the Barranquilla Carnival – the world’s second largest carnival. She might get a run for her money from Yasmina Maria Andrea Chalhoub, who taught Zumba. Yasmina’s favorite choreography? Shakira, of course! Looking for a cool cocktail hour story? Ask Katie Schwartz about the time she climbed the Stein Glacier with professional climbers…by accident. How is this for a butterfly effect? Eric Dodds missed his call-back audition for Home Alone 3 because, well, he had a soccer game!

BUILDING A PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM…IN CRUMBLING VENEZUELA

Going from child actor to child soccer star wasn’t the only transition that Dodds made. He switched from being a reporter for TIME magazine to an investment banker – a move precipitated, no doubt, from writing a 13,000 word story on the history of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks franchise. Justin Hendrix also made a similar career transition, going from consulting to building a social enterprise in solar energy and textiles in Africa. Such transitions require both communication skills and grit – something that Braden Schrock had in abundance when he was forging a partnership between South Korean SEALs with their American counterparts.

“It was tough because our professional cultures were so different,” he admits. “By fully immersing my team in the Korean training schedule, organizing informal events such as downhill skiing, American-Korean soccer games, and nights drinking soju with our counterparts, we were able to develop the relationships that enabled trust and buy-in to the new partnership.”

Think that’s a tough assignment? Try being Ricardo Suárez. His claim to fame? He was a founding team member of Evolvere Capital, Venezuela’s first-ever private equity firm. Despite rampant poverty and corruption, he views himself as a problem-solver who doesn’t buy into the country’s grim economic outlook.

Bernie Banks (Left) teaches a course at the Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management

“We have achieved a great understanding of three things: the necessities and realities of our economy; how to operate companies in a highly complex economic and financial environment; and most importantly, we have protected the income of many families during Venezuela’s harshest economic crisis by improving the financial and operational results of our portfolio companies. I have no doubt we have built up a mechanism, and an industry, that will be fundamental for the recovery process that (hopefully) Venezuela will witness in the near future.”

PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN JUMPS TO 46%

The outlook at Kellogg is decidedly more upbeat. In a year where rivals like Wharton and Chicago Booth saw a 6%-8% drop in applications, Kellogg bucked the trend. It received just 124 fewer applications, just a 2.7% drop for its 478-member class. Despite fewer applications, Kellogg maintained its high academic standards. On average, the class pulls a 732 GMAT. That’s equal to the 2019 Class. Even more, it represents a 17 point improvement over the past five years. That average also ties Kellogg with incoming classes at Wharton, Columbia, and Stanford (and a point better than cross-town rival Chicago Booth). Like the average GMAT, undergraduate GPAs also stayed the same, coming in at an impressive 3.6.

One of the biggest differences, however, involves the percentage of women in the 2020 Class. Standing at 46%, this percentage represents an all-time for women at the school – and the fourth consecutive year where that number topped 40%. In response to this surge, the school is developing additional personal and professional development programming for women according to Kate Smith. This will be added to the program’s already deep commitment to attracting women to campus.

“We have 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,” says Melissa Rapp, Kellogg’s director of admissions, in a 2018 interview with Poets&Quants. “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.”

Go to next page for in-depth profiles of 10 Kellogg first-year MBA students.