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Kellogg Admissions Director Dishes on Essay Questions, Application Volume, More

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Mugs and glasses clinked all around and the smell of bacon and freshly brewed coffee was enough to awaken even the sleepiest of senses as Melissa Rapp, director of admissions for the full-time MBA and MSMS programs at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and I sat down to breakfast last month at Dottie’s True Blue Café in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. We were both in town for the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) annual conference but decided to venture a little farther afield in hopes of finding something a bit more memorable than the standard hotel fare offered up by the Marriott. And we were rewarded.

But as we enjoyed our brunch plates of omelets laden with blue cheese and caramelized onions and ginger-and-cinnamon-spiked buttermilk pancakes, conversation quickly turned toward Kellogg and the subtle changes in its 2017-2018 MBA application essays. The questions had recently been posted online by the school, and the application officially went live this week.

“There are just a few very subtle changes to the application this year,” Rapp said. As in recent years, applicants will be required to answer two essay questions. The first question, while similar to last year’s, features slight but purposeful modifications. “It’s a really subtle change, but we have included some language that reflects Kellogg’s purpose statement and really hits on creating lasting value,” she said.

The question is as follows:

Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn?

Kellogg admissions director
Melissa Rapp, Kellogg director of admissions for the full-time MBA and MSMS programs

“We wanted this question to reflect that you can be a leader in lots of different ways, but that there is a difference between just leading and creating lasting value or leaving a legacy,” Rapp explained. “At Kellogg, we really want to encourage and have people in our community who are committed to that lasting value piece. We are hopeful that the new language will help us get to some deeper, more personal achievements and get people to really reflect on how they have created lasting value and how they intend to do that at Kellogg as well.” So though the change is small, Rapp and her team hope it will prove really impactful in terms of the essays they get.

The second essay question remains the same as it was last year, inviting applicants to share how they have grown both personally and professionally in the past and how they expect to grow at Kellogg.

In another slight shift, Rapp’s team also added the word “approximately” to the word count for the response to the written essay questions. “So now it’s ‘approximately 450,’ which is an intentional de-stressor so people don’t have to worry about nailing it at exactly 450 words,” Rapp said.

Video Question Enters Its Fourth Year
Kellogg—one of the first schools to debut a video essay—will keep it again this year. “It has worked really well for us and continues to be a really important part of us getting to meet every candidate from around the world, and to have a moment for them to really demonstrate their personality and speak in their own true voice and for us to hear their stories,” Rapp said. “It will definitely continue.”

The interview process, too, will remain the same, with Kellogg leveraging its alumni network to conduct interviews with candidates around the globe.

Application Volume Steady, MMM Program Expands
“Steady” is how Rapp described overall application volume for the past application year. “We didn’t see a big swing for any of our markets and overall had about a 1 percent increase in applications,” she said. “We were slightly down in some of our international markets, but that was balanced out by domestic and other international markets—so some shifts but overall steady.”

There has been continued strong interest in Kellogg’s MMM program—a dual-degree program that awards graduates with an MBA from Kellogg as well as an M.S. in design innovation from the Segal Design Institute at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Our largest increase in application volume was in the MMM program—we continue to see a very strong interest in that intersection between design thinking and the MBA,” Rapp said. Kellogg grew the MMM program by 10 percent last year and intends to continue increasing the size of that class, she added.

Kellogg Welcomes Women—From the Dean Down
“School wide, women continue to be a high priority—which is not surprising since we are the first top business school with a female dean,” Rapp said. Dean Sally Blount has led the school since 2010, and last year Kellogg brought on Ellen Taaffe as director of women’s leadership initiatives. “From the application process all the way through to graduation, we are continuing to build strong programming for women at Kellogg, and we continue to see a very healthy percentage—over 40 percent women—which means we continue to have more and more women in the classrooms and in the community,” she said.

Initiatives designed to keep female enrollment high and growing include high-touch, personal interaction between current students and female applicants. “This helps women see how they can be connected at Kellogg and how the Kellogg network specifically will help them grow and be supportive,” Rapp said. Kellogg will also host its inaugural Women’s Summit, a large event in May bringing business leaders from across the country to campus. “It will be a great opportunity for networking and building skills for Kellogg women,” Rapp noted.

As a professional woman at Kellogg herself, Rapp has seen firsthand how supportive the community is to women. “That there was a female dean was certainly something that attracted me,” she shared. After interviewing five years ago, she returned home to share the experience with her then-11-year-old daughter. “I said, ‘I got to interview with the woman who would be my boss, her name is Renee, and then I interviewed with her boss, her name is Kate, and then I got to meet Betsy, who works for the dean, whose name is Sally,’” recalled Rapp. To which her daughter replied, “But they’re all women. Aren’t there any men working there?” Rapp assured her that there were, but her daughter was focused on something else: “That’s really cool that all your bosses would be girls,” she said. Rapp had noticed but hadn’t really thought about it until her daughter’s reaction.

“As a professional it’s really been inspirational to have those kind of role models, and I think the students benefit from that as well in getting to hear all the different paths that are possible,” she said. For example, Dean Blount has been an academic and Elizabeth “Betsy” Ziegler—Kellogg’s associate dean and chief innovation officer—was before that a principal at McKinsey.

Interest in Tech Remains Strong—New San Francisco Campus Expands Opportunities for Students
“We continue to see a very strong interest in joining the tech industry in many different functions,” Rapp said. Even within marketing, for which Kellogg is especially well known, there’s been a shift among students toward wanting to work in tech companies versus traditional consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms, she said. Continued growing interest in the MMM program provides another indicator of the allure of tech.

As one response to this increased interest in tech careers, Kellogg launched a San Francisco pilot program in winter quarter. It allowed students with a particular interest in entrepreneurship and venture capital to take part in an immersion course and have experiential learning opportunities with companies in the area. “It’s exciting that Kellogg is so responsive to its students’ interests and has the resources to create these opportunities so quickly,” said Rapp. “The face-to-face networking and hands-on experience in San Francisco really sets the students up for success after Kellogg.”

New Global Hub Is “Just Fantastic”
As we reported here on Clear Admit, Kellogg welcomed students to its new Global Hub beginning in March, and it has more than lived up to the hype, according to Rapp. “It has really infused the community with such a positive energy. The daily level of interaction across the different audiences within the school has really increased, and everyone has settled in nicely,” she said. The transition to the new building was seamless because so much thought was put into the different aspects of the space and how they would be used, she added. “When you walk around in the building, you really feel the collaborative spirit and the genuine interest people have in each other and in connecting.”

“It’s such a lovely building to be in every day—you have the opportunity to see the lake and then you step outside onto the patio, where we often have yoga classes going on,” she said.

But will it drive increased application volume? Is a glittery new building cause to apply to a given school? “I think there are many, many different aspects that should go into an applicant’s choice of where to apply, but I do think that the space you’re in and how it enhances your experience plays a part in the overall experience,” Rapp said. “Kellogg is certainly offering an incredible space that is designed for students to have an extraordinary academic experience,” she added, from the technology built into the classrooms to the flexible spaces good for both small- and large-group collaboration. “The building alone is not a reason to pick a program, but it helps to build a strong case for attending.”

Rapp and I had the opportunity to cover even more ground over the course of our delicious breakfast—so look forward to additional stories soon on more interesting things brewing at Kellogg. And as we left Dottie’s, the line of people waiting to get in had grown to stretch around the corner. So if you’re in San Francisco and hungry, we give it two thumbs up.

Don’t miss in-depth essay topic analysis for Kellogg’s application essays from Clear Admit’s admissions experts.