It was a move that made big news at the time — and drew a fair share of criticism. But Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management‘s decision in the spring to not only waive test scores for admission to their two-year MBA program but also revisit rejected applications appears to have paid big dividends in a year of unprecedented disruption.
In circumstances as well as strategy, Northwestern Kellogg wasn’t alone when it announced in April that it would waive the requirement for applicants to submit Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Exam scores. Kellogg had endured two straight down cycles, losing nearly 18% of its app volume since 2017. As the unknowns piled up in a chaotic spring of coronavirus and campus closures, complaints came pouring in from prospective applicants that testing centers were canceling scheduled sittings, and some schools temporarily lifted their testing requirements to ease the process. Kellogg was the first M7 school to do so, going so far as to lift requirements for such language tests as TOEFL or IELTS, too.
Then Kellogg went further, allowing candidates rejected in earlier rounds to come back and apply for reconsideration in the same admissions cycle.
‘WE SAW A SURGE IN DEMAND FROM IMPRESSIVE APPLICANTS’
That last move raised eyebrows across the graduate business education universe — though it made little direct difference in the final analysis. Kellogg today (October 12) released its MBA Class of 2022 profile showing its biggest-ever class and strong numbers in key metrics — and Kate Smith, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, revealed that the school received the most-ever applications for one cycle, 5,813, a 54% jump from the prior year. However, while some rejected round 1 and 2 candidates did resubmit their applications for reconsideration — and while the openness to consider those previously rejected candidates could only have had a salutary effect on app volume overall — none was successful the second time around, according to Taryn Tawoda, senior communications director. Nor were re-submissions counted a second time toward the school’s total, she adds.
Even without admitting the second-tryers, Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2022 is its biggest class ever.
“We saw a surge in demand from impressive applicants and more people chose to come to Kellogg than we expected during this uncertain time,” Kate Smith writes in a blog post at the school website. “As a result, we are thrilled to be welcoming a larger class of 559 students this year. This is a tremendous endorsement of our unique strengths: Kellogg thrives on developing empathetic leaders who can navigate periods of disruption precisely like this one.”
Kellogg’s massive increase outpaced all the other M7 business schools for the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. In comparison, MIT Sloan saw a 22% rise, Wharton a 21% jump, Columbia an 18% increase, and Chicago Booth an 11% boost. MBA applications at Harvard and Stanford, which did not extend their admissions rounds, were essentially flat. Kellogg did not disclose the impact of those additional applications on its acceptance rate for the two-year MBA program which was 27% last year. In all probability, the extra volume drove down the school’s admit rate to slightly below 20%.
‘A BOLD MOVE’ THAT SOME CALLED ‘DESPERATE’
Of the controversial plan to revisit rejected applicants, Smith said in an interview with Poets&Quants in April that the school’s admissions leadership understood the gravity of what they were undertaking. “We know this was a bold move,” she said. “We had a lot of conversations about this internally at Kellogg. We recognized that the world has completely changed in a matter of weeks. This is a moment to have empathy for what the world is facing. Many people around the world don’t have access to tests and not every applicant will be able to take advantage of the virtual solutions rolling out. That gave us a lot of pause. We have always cared deeply about giving access to people who want an MBA. If you look at the spirit of being open and inclusive, this lack of access was very concerning to us
“We are responding to the frustration and panic of students who wanted to apply in this cycle and are facing barriers to do so. With the test waiver, we are being agile and responsive in enabling us to build the most diverse class of Kellogg students we possibly can and to mitigate the factors that are out of control of the applicant. We want to be on the cutting edge to build the best possible class.”
Kellogg’s approach had its detractors. “It looks a bit like desperation — that everything is negotiable,” one prominent admissions consultant told P&Q. “There’s no end, then, to the lobbying or to the finality of a decision. I’ve never heard of a decision being reversed, even though every year I see people who should have gotten in and didn’t to any number of schools. And so they accept it and move on. It just puts admissions officers in a more difficult position.”
Smith conceded at the time that Kellogg’s strategy took many by surprise. “Some people call us and say, ‘Really?’ I think that surprise has been the first phase of reaction. And we are like, ‘Yes, it’s true, and here’s why and people have really appreciated that. I keep coming back to the spirit of the whole thing. There is an access and equity issue facing these candidates at the same time and that is what we are trying to address. We have always been interested in helping great students come to our programs. And that is the spirit of what we are trying to do.”
But as Tawoda, the communications director, says in an email to P&Q, “Kellogg has always taken a holistic approach to admissions decisions. I can confirm that we did not reverse any admissions decisions from R1 or R2 candidates after we completed our holistic review.”
KELLOGG STAYS IN GROUP OF SCHOOLS WITH 40% WOMEN IN THE MBA
Kellogg, ranked fifth by Poets&Quants last year and third by U.S. News in 2020, did more than ease its test requirements; it also extended its app deadlines, expanding its round 3 by 52 days from April 8 to June 1. The combination of strategies under first-year dean Francesca Cornelli resulted in a class that was 85 people, or 18%, larger than the Class of 2021. And it erased losses that included a 15.5% drop in apps between the prior two cycles.
“With a larger class, this talented group of students benefits from more diverse perspectives in their networks, and also in the classroom and in their careers,” Smith says. “A larger class allows us to offer additional specialized electives, and to continue to attract one of the broadest arrays of companies that recruit at any business school.”
For the most part, Kellogg didn’t seat its larger class at the expense of key benchmarks, such as average GMAT score, which dipped just three points to 727 (Kellogg declined to provide any information on how many enrollees actually submitted test scores). The school also stayed at the 40% threshold with women in the class, at exactly 40%, with 224 of the class identifying as female. Kellogg’s previous class was 43% women, down from a school record of 46% in 2018. Internationals, however, dropped significantly, from 32% last year to 26%, or 146 out of the class of 559.
“The quality of our class continues to be incredibly strong,” Smith says. “Our students bring a 730 median and 727 mean GMAT, a 163 median GRE (for both verbal and quant), and a 3.6 mean GPA.
“Building a diverse class remains a top priority at Kellogg,” Smith adds. “In fact, we’re thrilled to welcome a record number of 224 women, as well as 62 under-represented minorities and 146 international students with passports from 48 countries. And we’ll continue to partner with current students to make sustained progress in fostering a diverse and inclusive community.”
Additionally, “The class comes from a wide range of industries — from financial services to tech to healthcare — and is grounded in a mix of academic backgrounds including STEM, humanities, and economics,” Smith says. More than half the class (52%) majored in economics or business at the undergraduate schools, and most — 26% — come from consulting backgrounds, with finance a close second at 22%.