Decoding The New Kellogg MBA Essays

Kellogg’ Global Hub in Evanston, Ill.

The most obvious part of the Kellogg culture from the moment you set foot on campus is the collegiality amongst the students. The school’s lakeside location in the urban suburb of Evanston, about 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, reinforces the close-knit, community-centric feel, where students walk to and from campus and a multitude of micro-interactions build strong ties with classmates. It’s part of what makes Kellogg’s MBA experience so unique – you get to live, work and play in a distraction-free enclave that’s also in close range of a global business hub.

The MBA program’s collaborative learning style places a heavy emphasis on teamwork – ‘we’ rather than ‘I.’ So what exactly does this culture of collaboration entail? It’s often characterized as “high impact, low ego,” and that’s about as good a definition as exists.

As such, nearly every aspect of the application has some component geared toward discerning if a candidate is the right fit. Kellogg takes great pride in identifying candidates who have really self- reflected on what they want, how Kellogg will get them there and how their aspirations support a broader vision for having a positive impact. This year, Kellogg has re-calibrated its second essay question, replacing ‘how have you grown in the past and intend to grow at Kellogg’ with a one squarely aimed at understanding the values that shape you.

As a Fortuna Admissions coach and former Kellogg Alumni Admissions Interviewer, I’m practiced at discerning how the best candidates translate their experiences into a narrative that’s both genuine and distinctive. So let’s talk strategy.

First, you’ll want to understand why Kellogg is asking each question and what adcom is hoping to uncover. The clues, of course, are embedded within the questions themselves:

Essay 1: Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value. What challenges did you face and what did you learn? (450 words)

Essay 2: Values are what guide you in your life and work. What values are important to you and how have they influenced you? (450 words)

Let’s start decoding, piece-by-piece.


“Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip and inspire brave leaders who create lasting value.”

To unpack the opening statement: What the question is asserting here is that walking through Kellogg’s door means that you’re not only going to receive a world-class MBA, but you’re also expected to add value by engaging in the classroom, the greater community and, ultimately, the world as a Kellogg alum. How will you drive the type of MBA experience that leaves your classmates wishing they had more time with you? The MBA experience is only as unique as the collective contribution of the class, and this means that Kellogg is trying to uncover your capacity to lead and participate in this collective experience during school and beyond.

“Provide a recent example where you have demonstrated leadership and created value.”

This part is directed at your specific leadership experience. Kellogg is trying to get a sense of who you are as a leader, and how you’ve shaped the organizations and communities in which you’re involved. The words to pay attention to are “created lasting value.” (This notion is so important it’s mentioned twice in the same prompt.) This is your opportunity to tell a story. Think through — why must you tell this story? How is the world better off from you having told this story? What leadership experiences can you share that reveal you’ve succeeded in elevating people, places and/or circumstances because of your conscious participation? What story will illuminate the significance of this shift, showcasing the situation before you came in, while you were there and after you’ve left?

“What challenges did you face and what did you learn?”

This is both the substance and resolution of your story. Who are the characters of your story? What setting are you in? What are the stakes of you not succeeding in your leadership challenge? How did you grow through the challenge? Don’t just share what you learned and stop there; essays that nail this question will also demonstrate how what you learned will translate to your unique contribution towards the Kellogg class of 2021, during your MBA and beyond.


“Values are what guide you in your life and work.”

Your values aren’t a laundry list of adjectives, they’re emblematic of the beliefs that guide your decisions, actions and engagement in the things that matter most to you. Similar to Stanford GSB’s iconic ‘what matters most to you and why’ essay, Kellogg is looking to know what it is it that inspires, drives and motivates you. Candidates who do the thoughtful introspection required to write with authenticity and substance will deliver a valuable view into who they are as a person, not just the inner workings of a dazzling intellect. Your values inherently extend beyond yourself, into your relationships with people and the places where you imagine making a positive impact.

“What values are important to you and how have they influenced you?”

This is an opportunity to tell a story that’s personal, vulnerable and honest. You might lead with one specific value and the emblematic story that helps connect the dots between what has shaped you and who you’ve become. As you look back, what are the seminal moments, influences and interactions that have forged you into an ever-wiser human being? Has anything rocked you to the core, prompting you to rethink the path you’d charted for yourself? This can be anything from the loss of a family member to a horrible mistake or a failure that illuminated what’s most essential for you.

Another tact is to lead with an origin story, the background of your childhood or the environment that shaped you. Then, how have those forces and experiences informed the person you are today and your aspirations for the future? The way to really nail this essay question is to coherently connect past, present and future. How will your values and perspectives influence the type of experience you create for your future Kellogg classmates? For the win: how will this accumulated wisdom inform the type of leader you will become in the longer term?


Lastly, Kellogg asks each applicant to complete a video essay component after submitting the application. This year, the school gives you two of the three questions upfront. The first asks you to ‘introduce yourself to the admissions committee’ in the spirit of what you’ll bring to future classmates and ‘what makes you, you?’. The second drives at your career goals and ‘why Kellogg.’ The third is randomly generated with the objective of understanding how ‘you handled a challenging situation in your career or personal life.’

Consider this video component is a huge opportunity to showcase your personality. As you prepare, imagine how to convey what’s not obvious in your resume, credentials or LinkedIn profile. What will help make your application sticky and memorable? Again, reflect on the story you want to tell and offer a dimension that might be missing.

Play with ways to take advantage of the medium itself in your storytelling. Among my favorite efforts at a ‘introduce yourself’ video response was from a candidate who gave a brief viola performance, then used an element of the instrument itself as a metaphor to convey his personality and interpersonal style.

5 Top Tips to Performing Well on the Video Essays:

1. Plan your answers. Jot down a few bullets or talking points or outline a quick structure, e.g., main answer and supporting examples. But avoid overly scripting – you want to appear fluid and natural on camera.

2. Stand for more energy.

3. Record yourself when you practice. What type of impression are you giving off? Are you friendly and approachable? Would others feel comfortable working with you?

4. Don’t forget to smile. When you enjoy yourself, it shines through and makes a connection with the viewer (you’re on camera, after all).

5. Visualize success. Ask yourself, if the person reviewing my video essay takes nothing else, what is the number one thing I want them to remember about me?

The key to delivering a series of standout essays to Kellogg is to embrace your genuine story. Do this successfully, and you’ll be embraced in return: Among Kellogg’s signature traditions during MBA orientation is the moment when the Dean of Admissions offers a rousing speech called “One of You,” which runs down a list of remarkable highlights about new students. What this means for MBA candidates is that there’s a place for you based on your true, authentic self. Weaving an authentically crafted narrative that conveys your passions and clarity of purpose — in a way that elicits emotional impact — this is the secret sauce in creating a connection to an admission reader’s heart.

Jason Yeh is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, as well as a former Kellogg Admissions Interviewer and Kellogg MBA Alum. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.



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