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Admissions Director Q&A: Renee Cherubin of Northwestern Kellogg School of Management

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A little north of downtown Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, MBA students enjoy a team-oriented culture and education at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Renee Cherubin, who earned her MBA from Kellogg in 2006, is the Senior Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions for the school. She is an active member of the Admissions leadership team focused on attracting the best and brightest candidates to Kellogg’s Full-Time degree programs, including Two Year, One Year, MMM, JDMBA, MD-MBA programs, as well as the M.S. in Management Studies (MSMS) program. Prior to Kellogg, Renee spent nine years in strategy consulting and talent at Deloitte Consulting. In this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A, Renee shares what she and her team look for in admissions essays, hallmarks of the Kellogg program, what to expect in the interview and more.

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Renee Cherubin, Sr. Director, Full-time MBA Admissions

Renee Cherubin: We are consistently iterating our curricular offerings to meet our continuously evolving students’ interests. We introduced three new pathways in 2019: Tech Management, Energy and Sustainability, and Asset Management. A pathway is a cross-functional sequence of courses that allows students to build expertise in emerging areas in evolving industries.

We created our Tech Management Pathway because 1 in 4 students of last year’s class were recruited into technology positions, such as product management and product marketing. The Energy and Sustainability Pathway was created because our students are increasingly interested in the sustainability sector. Students can learn about the economics of energy markets, decision making for sustainable business and impact investing if they so choose.

We created our Asset Management Pathway because Financial Services is our third most popular industry choice for our graduating students. The pathway focuses on investing in publicly traded assets and developing a core set of valuation skills. A key part of the pathway is its experiential learning course offerings–including the Asset Management Practicum, where students manage long/short equity portfolios that have up to $10 million in assets.

CA: How might the applicant experience look different this year due to COVID-19? How would you advise candidates to get to know your MBA program and student community if they aren’t able to visit your campus?

RC: For students to get to know our campus better, safely and from any location, we’ve launched a virtual campus tour and campus visit program.

We’ve also been hosting virtual events around the clock, so no matter where you are based around the world, you can check in with Kellogg at an hour that is convenient to you. A few of our virtual events include:

  • Diversity conversations with Lance Bennett, our director of diversity admissions and leaders of student groups such as Pride@Kellogg and the Black Management Association
  • Various topical discussions, as well as thoughtful webinars from our current faculty on various expertise and relevant news topics
  • Student Coffee Chats, where you can have a conversation with a current student and a small group of fellow applicants on Zoom (Sign up here!)
  • “Office Hours” events with admissions team members, senior leaders and faculty on Instagram Live

To learn about specific programs, and stay up to date on our events  applicants should visit our Virtual Events page for info sessions and on-demand videos.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.)?

RC: By the time an applicant clicks submit, we understand that they’ve put extensive time and effort into the application. Therefore, our goal is to give each application a very thorough review to get to know to know each candidate as much as possible.

We have student readers, who look at the application from the standpoint of how an applicant might contribute to a team or to a class. We have staff readers, who have greater knowledge around various industries, career paths and educational systems. And we have director readers, who are responsible for shaping the class as a whole.

All of these viewpoints come together ensuring that we are giving the application a full review, understanding all aspects an applicant would bring to Kellogg and what they hope to get out of the experience.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

RC: We are looking to get to know candidates beyond their test scores and resumes. The essays are a great opportunity to go beyond what you do for a living to show us “the how” and “the why”–how do you solve problems? How do you interact on teams? What are the values that guide and drive you? This allows us to get to know the candidate, understand what they can bring to the class, and envision how a Kellogg MBA will enable their path.

The most common mistake we see however, is when a candidate tells us what they think we want to hear. This can lead to us not understanding how career goals fit with past experiences, or a misunderstanding on why they want an MBA in the first place.

One thing I always like to reiterate is to make sure the essay represents you and only you–could anyone have written a similar essay, or are you giving us insight into how you think and work? If it’s the latter, your essay is probably on the right track.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process? Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview?

RC: Because collaboration is such an important part of the Kellogg culture, we seek to interview as many applicants as possible. Currently, we’re offering virtual interviews to all applicants given the global travel restrictions and social distancing requirements.

The interview notes are then reviewed by our application readers alongside the rest of the application, to provide a well-rounded view of the candidate.

While we highly value the interview, it is just one piece of getting to know an applicant. Kellogg continues to be one of the only schools with a video essay component. So, while the 1:1 interview is important, the video essays provide an additional way for our team to meet all applicants, no matter where they are located in the world.

CA: Tell us briefly about two notable professors at your institution (ideally one student favorite, and one up-and-coming).

RC: Dashun Wang, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, is the founding director of the brand new Center for Science of Science and Innovation at Kellogg, which is the first world-wide center dedicated to the emerging field of the “science of science.”  His very popular course, Social Dynamics and Network Analytics, shows students how to build their professional network, control viral marketing processes, and apply AI to discover new strategic insights and start disruptive firms. His consistent research brings a unique perspective to the Kellogg classroom.

Dashun’s students say:

“Professor Dashun Wang has been leading both teaching and research on social dynamics and network analytics at Northwestern University and Kellogg. His lectures, mingled with the latest research in the area brought in stunning and unique perspectives about social network related business which didn’t exist traditionally at B-school and help connecting the classical B-school teaching with the latest trend and vast development in digital social space.”

Maryam Kouchaki, also an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, is a student favorite. Her course, Leading and Managing Teams, engages students in experiential learning, providing practical and fundamental skills (conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, diversity) that propel them to lead ethical teams and develop into morally-sound leaders. We often hear of students revisiting the lessons from her class for many years after graduation.

Maryam’s students say:

“Professor Kouchaki is one of the most remarkable professors at Kellogg. Her class, Leading and Managing Teams, is one of the Kellogg student body’s favorite courses. It teaches critical behaviors and frameworks for how leaders can best manage and leverage the power of groups. I truly believe that it is one of the most useful and powerful classes for Kellogg students while at Kellogg and beyond. In addition, as a female professor from Iran, Professor Kouchaki brings incredible diversity to our campus and is a role model of empowerment and intellect for me and my fellow students.”

CA: Anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?

RC: We recently launched Kellogg Future Leaders, our deferred enrollment program open to all undergraduate students and not just those from Northwestern. Getting admitted as a Kellogg Future Leader secures your place in our MBA program before you graduate. Then, we’ll hold your spot for 2-5 years while you gain experience in the professional world. Once you’re ready to step back on campus, you’ll be fully integrated into one of our top-tier MBA programs.

We’ve evolved our curricular offerings as well. Kellogg has always been a place where we marry innovative and research-driven topics with business fundamentals – the new Management Science Major follows suit. The new major is attractive to all types of students because of its focus on data-savvy leadership. It leverages the most technical and analytical courses from each our departments at Kellogg, creating a cross-functional and technical skillset. Students who choose to major in Management Science will be well-prepared for careers in a wide range of fields, including consulting, technology, finance and entrepreneurship. And, since it’s STEM-designated, by earning this major, international students may qualify for optional practical training extensions to their F-1 visas. When approved, this can allow them to stay in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation if they work in Management Science–related fields.

The Career Management Center (CMC) is another gem of the Kellogg experience, and offers a tremendous amount of resources and support it offers to students, including specialized industry coaches that offer unlimited one-on-on career coaching. It also hosts customized workshops, on topics such as interviewing etiquette, salary negotiation and crafting elevator pitches, for students at every phase of the recruitment cycle.

Our CMC has shifted successfully in its efforts to serve our students virtually, especially in terms of recruiting. They’ve been working with students to implement individualized recruitment plans considering the current economic landscape moving forward. Through their efforts and collaboration with employers and alumni, the CMC has recently added more than 700 full-time roles and over 350 internships to Kellogg’s job board to aid our students whose roles may have been affected by the current economy.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.