The Leading Independent Resource for Top-tier MBA Candidates

Northwestern / Kellogg Essay Topic Analysis 2011-2012

Following up on the announcement of Kellogg’s 2011-2012 essay topics last week, we’d like to take some time to consider each of the school’s essays and offer some guidance to this season’s applicants.  Four of Kellogg’s six essay topics remain identical to those of last year’s application, reflecting a continued interest in applicants’ potential contributions to the community, the factors that make them unique and the ways they would become  valued and active members of the program.

Let’s consider each of the school’s prompts in more detail:

Essay 1: MBA Program applicants – Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA. (600 word limit)
This is a fairly standard career goals/why MBA essay. As usual, it’s important to remember that specificity of goals is key, and keep in mind that the school prides itself on its collegial culture when addressing the ‘why Kellogg’ issue. One more thing to note is that the request that applicants “assess” their progress to date is unique to Kellogg’s version of this question. This would suggest that it might be appropriate to incorporate a few reflective or even evaluative comments into your discussion of your professional path in order to tailor your perspective to Kellogg’s question.

As is the case with most schools, demonstrating an understanding of the unique merits of Kellogg’s program is crucial to an effective response to this question (as well as the second essay about one’s potential contribution). Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities – whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Kellogg – will pay dividends here.

Essay 2: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experiences (600 word limit).
This essay is a great opportunity to showcase the various leadership roles you have taken on in college and afterward. Given the number of subjects that need to be covered in this response, it would be wise to focus your discussion on two or three leadership examples rather than providing a laundry list that includes every position you’ve held. Of course, it’s also important to note the MBA-specific slant of this inquiry. In addition to touching on situations in which you’ve taken the lead and discussing the skills gained and lessons learned from these experiences, you’ll want to think through the ways that you could apply these to the benefit of the Kellogg community, as well as how you could enhance your leadership approach during your time in business school.

Essay 3: Assume you are evaluating your application from the perspective of a student member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Why would you and your peers select you for admission, and what impact would you make as a member of the Kellogg community? (600 word limit).
This is one of the trickier questions out there in the MBA admissions world, as the request that applicants take a third-party perspective on their own applications virtually prohibits them from introducing any new information in this essay, as they must evaluate their own candidacy based only upon the materials that they are submitting in the application. The key is to use this response to draw the inferences that you would hope the reader to make based on your application, perhaps explicitly commenting on themes that run through your experience or drawing connections between your goals and some aspect of your background.

To answer the second part of the prompt, it would make sense to focus on your potential contributions in the classroom and around campus. Keep in mind that past academic performance may not be as important to one’s peers as one’s background, interests and hobbies, and overall perspective. Examples of possible material might include discussing your unique achievements, commenting that you are in a great position to share something interesting in the classroom, or shedding light on a particular passion that might translate into involvement in one of Kellogg’s clubs.

There are number of nuanced strategies that work for this challenging essay; we encourage Kellogg applicants to contact us directly for further information about our counseling services to learn about how we can help.

Essay 4: Complete one of the following three questions or statements. (400 word limit)
Re-applicants have the option to answer a question from this grouping, but this is not required.

a) Describe a time you had to inspire a reluctant individual or group…
This prompt is a slightly gentler version of an option that appeared here last year; whereas applicants were previously asked about “resistance,” this season’s inquiry centers on “reluctance.” This change opens this essay up to a slightly broader range of topics; in addition to an oppositional manager or colleague, one could now also talk about working with a demoralized team, for example. Still, the general theme – interest in the candidate’s ability to persuade or motivate others and gain support for an idea or plan – remains the same. After describing the situation in detail, including the reasons behind the group or individual’s reluctance, applicants should comment on both their thoughts and actions as they set out to inspire and accomplish. This essay gives applicants the opportunity to highlight their leadership and problem-solving skills, so applicants should focus on the steps they took to address the interpersonal aspect of the situation and ultimately achieve their goal, as doing so will show the adcom how applicants would succeed through challenges at Kellogg and in their future careers.

b) People may be surprised to learn that I…
This essay prompt enables candidates to discuss some element of their backgrounds that will show a new and interesting side of themselves that doesn’t come across in the rest of their application materials, and which might make them more three-dimensional to the person reviewing their files. The prompt might be of most value to applicants from traditionally oversubscribed groups (e.g. engineers and financial analysts), as they may highlight what differentiates them from the rest of the applicant pool. Beyond the surprising fact itself, it would make sense to offer some reflection on what led one to develop a skill or what implications a unique experience has had for one’s life or career. For example, an analyst at an investment bank who grew up on a farm might surprise the adcom with the fact that he knows how to shear a sheep, and then move into a discussion of his early years and the way lessons he learned through this experience have served him since.

c) The riskiest personal or professional decision I ever made was…
Similar to last year’s prompt about the “best mistake” the candidate had ever made, this essay asks applicants to discuss a time they took a major gamble. Unlike the mistake prompt, this year’s formulation also allows one to discuss a situation that had a positive outcome. Either way, the admissions committee is likely interested in hearing about the process by which you appraised the risk in question and evaluated the factors that ultimately tipped the scales in favor of taking it. In fact, candidates who choose to write about a risk that ultimately paid off may want to spend the majority of the essay discussing this deliberative process, summarizing the happy results and their implications toward the end of the response. Meanwhile, those whose chosen examples fall closer to the “mistake” end of the spectrum might opt for a longer treatment of the lessons they learned, including factors they may have overlooked in the decision-making phase. Willingness to take a risk and step outside of one’s comfort zone is often a key component of business success, so regardless of how things ended up, it could be prudent to discuss how your learnings from this experience would translate to your time at Kellogg and career after business school.

To watch a video explanation of these essay topics see below:

Need help with your essay?

Call Veritas Prep at +1-310-295-2098 or click to

Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis

Schools: Northwestern / Kellogg


  1. I have a query regarding questions 1 and 2. These questions do not say “Kellogg MBA”. They just say why MBA and which leadership areas you hope to improve through MBA.

    Will it be relevant then to link your goals and leadership areas to resources specific to Kellogg? Should’t we answer exactly the question asked?

  2. Thanks for your question Hitesh!

    While the essay questions do not explicitly state “Kellogg MBA” and while one could take a literal interpretation, our experience with Kellogg admissions over the last 10 years is that it makes a lot of sense to work in some Kellogg-specific detail. This is especially true in Essay 2, where it would be hard for a response to be truly effective and detailed with any Kellogg specifics.

    Please be sure to tune into Clear Admit and Beat The GMAT’s free ‘Write Like an Expert’ session on Kellogg’s essays on September 13th. You might also consult the Clear Admit School Guide to Kellogg if you are seeking out great school-specific content.

    Best of luck with your Kellogg application!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Sign Up For Our Newsletter

    Expert admissions advice and the latest news on top business schools delivered straight to your inbox.