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Following up on the announcement of the Kellogg essay questions for 2014-15, we wanted to offer some thoughts on how aspiring Northwestern MBA students might approach this element of the application.
Kellogg’s essay set this season consists of just two required responses totaling 900 words, in contrast to its three essays last year. Notably, the school has done away with its question about the applicant’s post-MBA plans and reasons for interest in Kellogg, though it’s possible that applicants will be asked to comment briefly on these subjects in their data forms. As for the two questions that remain, while the wording of each of these prompts has changed, their essence remains similar to the school’s questions from last year, with the first essay centering on the applicant’s resilience in the face of challenge or obstacle, and the second focusing on leadership ability.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these prompts:
Essay 1: Resilience. Perseverance. Grit. Call it what you will…. Challenges can build character. Describe a challenging experience you’ve had. How were you tested? What did you learn? (450 words)
The framing of this question makes it clear that the admissions committee isn’t just interested in the process of overcoming adversity, but also with the resulting growth and character-building that occurred. Given that applicants may draw from the personal or professional realms in responding to this question, there are numerous topics that could be appropriate here. For example, an applicant could discuss how growing up in difficult socioeconomic circumstances influenced his or her strong work ethic, or how a relationship with an adversarial supervisor made him or her a more flexible, adaptable person. Regardless of the subject, after providing a detailed description of the situation or experience and the reasons it posed a challenge—i.e. what skills, values, areas of knowledge, or assumptions were tested— applicants should be sure to clearly explain how they rose to the challenge and how that process shaped them in a positive way that has prepared them for success. To really prove to the adcom that they learned from the experience, applicants could provide a brief example of a later time when they navigated a difficult situation by implementing the strengths they’ve gained. In demonstrating their overall growth, applicants will show the adcom that they possess the ability to exercise resilience and overcome challenging circumstances to achieve a favorable outcome.
Essay 2: Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others. Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people. What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)
No matter the nature of the professional experience chosen for this essay—for example, one could discuss a large-scale project success or a smaller initiative that improved a workplace process—the key word for applicants to attend to in this prompt is “influence.” The adcom is zeroing in on the interpersonal element of effective leadership here; while applicants will obviously want to comment on a successful outcome, this will be of secondary importance to illustrating the process by which he or she motivated or persuaded others in this situation. In addition to explaining the situation and their objectives, applicants may wish to go into detail about specific interactions, meetings, or presentations in order to highlight their interpersonal leadership skills in action. Of course, effective essays will also provide a complete treatment of lessons learned through this experience and ways that the applicant’s leadership skills or approach have been enhanced as a result.
Finally, given the scarcity of opportunities to convey their enthusiasm for Kellogg’s program in this essay set, applicants may want to take this opportunity to comment on a leadership position they may want to hold as an MBA student, and to remark on how this experience would equip them to make an impact on the Kellogg community. The program’s website, current and former students, and the Clear Admit School Guide to Kellogg are a few of the many resources available for this sort of information.
Re-applicant Essay: Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (250 words)
The framing of this question suggests that the adcom is more interested in proactive steps toward material improvement of one’s candidacy, as opposed to a reflective discussion of personal growth. Applicants should therefore focus on the specific ways they’ve worked to strengthen their candiacy and the reasons that they believe themselves to be a better applicant to Kellogg this time around.
Optional Essay/Additional Information: If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (no word limit)
Comments in this section should be limited to explaining potential liabilities or inconsistencies in one’s application. While applicants are free to write as much as they like here, we recommend a straightforward approach that uses as few words—and as little of the reader’s scarce time—as possible.
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