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High-Touch Outreach by Current Students Helps Boost Kellogg’s Female Enrollment

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The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is very excited about its incoming class—and with good reason. A record 43 percent of the Class of 2017 is female—a five-point surge over last year—making Kellogg a frontrunner in a national race to increase female enrollment at business schools. Indeed, Kellogg’s class profile was released just a day before the Council of Economic Advisers and the Council on Women and Girls convened representatives from dozens of leading business schools at the White House to commit to a set of best practices developed to expand opportunities for women in business school and beyond.

But Kellogg’s female enrollment wasn’t the only statistic to surge with its newest class. Kellogg’s average GMAT score also jumped, from 716 last year to an all-time high of 724 this year, effectively countering any misplaced concerns that admissions standards with regard to academic caliber might falter as part of a business school gender drive.

Kellogg's female enrollment
Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for Kellogg’s full-time MBA program

“We have a great incoming class!” says Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for Kellogg’s full-time MBA program. “We were very fortunate to have a very strong applicant pool this year, which you can see in the increase in women and the increase in average GMAT score,” she adds.

Tidmarsh credits the impressive gain in female enrollment at Kellogg this year in part to the exceptionally strong caliber of the overall applicant pool. But other factors, too, helped entice more women than ever to pursue their MBA in Evanston this year, she says.

For starters, the school made some subtle but calculated shifts in its marketing strategy in the past year. “We changed some of our messaging and focus to really talk about growth—and especially personal growth,” she says. “I have found that resonates in particular with female applicants.” So everywhere from its classrooms to its marketing materials, Kellogg has placed greater emphasis on discussions of growth—in people, in organizations, in industries. Even the essays prospective applicants were asked to write as part of the admissions process had growth at their core, inviting applicants to reflect on how they have grown in the past and how they will grow at Kellogg.

“I also think that women are inspired by having a female dean,” Tidmarsh adds. Sally Blount, who joined Kellogg as dean in 2010, is one of a growing number of female deans at leading business schools. Strong female alumnae also help convey the message that business school is very much a place where women can not only succeed but thrive. Here Tidmarsh points to DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman (MBA ‘83) and GGV Capital Managing Partner Jenny Lee (MBA ’01).

But perhaps the greatest key influencer in helping boost Kellogg’s female enrollment to 43 percent was the school’s partnership with the Women’s Business Association (WBA), which with more than 500 members is the largest student-led group on campus. “The WBA has put a lot of thought into meeting with the women who come to visit and tour Kellogg, and I am wondering if it hasn’t actually been the efforts our students have put in that have been most influential,” Tidmarsh says.

WBA Spearheads High-Touch Relationship-Building Activities with Admitted Women

Kellogg's female enrollment
WBA Co-President Rebecca Sholiton

Rebecca Sholiton, Kellogg WBA co-president for 2015-16, played an active role in reaching out to prospective applicants and admitted students this past year as part of the WBA’s drive to increase female enrollment at Kellogg. “We personally hand wrote congratulatory notes to every single woman admit,” she says. Leading up to that, the WBA hosted admitted student brunches in San Francisco, Washington, DC, and nearby Chicago, where admits who were still deciding where they would ultimately enroll got to know current female MBA students at Kellogg better.

“Our team met a lot of women through those events, and when it came time to write notes we found we could actually write very personal things to these admitted women,” Sholiton says. “That was something our team really had a lot of fun doing.”