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Admissions Director Q&A: Emily Haydon of Northwestern Kellogg

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Emily Haydon, Interim Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Northwestern Kellogg

We roll right along with our Admissions Director Q&A series by welcoming Emily Haydon, Interim Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, to chat about the leading b-school. She leads the Admissions and Financial Aid teams for the Full-Time, Executive and Evening & Weekend MBA programs. Prior to Kellogg, Emily spent three years as Director of Admissions at Northwestern College, three years in supply chain management at Target and eight years as Regional Vice President in the financial services industry.

In this interview, Emily talks about:

  • What’s new at Northwestern Kellogg
  • Tips on the MBA admissions essays
  • How to prepare for the Kellogg MBA admissions interview

…and more! Check out the abbreviated transcript below (coming soon), or listen to the podcast episode (hosted by Graham Richmond and produced by Dennis Crowley) here – or in your favorite podcast app.

Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast
Episode 190: Admissions Director Q&A—Emily Haydon of Northwestern Kellogg

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Clear Admit (CA): What do you like about this work? And is there anything you dislike about it?

Emily Haydon for Northwestern Kellogg (EH): I am humbled and energized by our students every day, and having the honor of delivering the good news is by far the best part of my job. I’m just humbled by the extraordinarily talented individuals that applied to Kellogg, and I truly love getting to know them through their application process and through engaging with them at events. To contrast that, the dislike is easy — and that is having to render an unfavorable decision. I believe attending Kellogg is a transformational experience, both personally and professionally for our students. And after getting to know applicants through these interactions and their application, it’s never easy to deny someone the opportunity to be part of this incredible community. 

CA: What’s a Kellogg’s stereotype that you would like to debunk? 

EH: So I think the biggest one is about our marketing reputation. Though our general management and marketing reputation is strong, it’s not the only thing we do well, or why students choose Kellogg. For example, we’ve seen increased interest in our healthcare and entrepreneurship programming year over year and increased employment outcomes in the finance and technology sectors in recent years.

There’s also the myth that Kellogg students stay in the Midwest post MBA. And actually, in 2020, a third of our students accepted jobs on the West Coast more than any other region in the United States. And I think there’s also myths around what it means to be a Kellogg leader.

Kellogg develops empathetic leaders, which should not be confused with being soft. We develop these leaders to energize and inspire those around them and to leave Kellogg with a special combination of analytical creative and social intelligence. 

CA: What’s something new that’s happening or forthcoming on campus that you wish more people knew about? 

EH: So this fall, we welcome our inaugural cohort of MBAi students. They’ll begin their Kellogg journey in partnership with McCormick and start their coursework that is wholly integrated into AI and data science with business and management skills to prepare them for leadership roles. 

We are also thrilled this fall to welcome the class of 2023, which is making Kellogg history with the highest ever GPA average of 3.7, the highest representation of women at 49%, and a record high of 23% underrepresented minorities. 

We are also thrilled that many of our incoming students have just returned from Quest, which is a type of worldwide exploration student trip that they go on before they start class. And this year, due to COVID, all the Quest trips were in the U.S., but incoming students were still able to experience this unique introduction to our culture. They go on week-long non-academic trips and start with a short period where students refrain from sharing some aspects of their background, so that they can intentionally bond on a more personal level. And then, shortly thereafter, they celebrate learning about each other’s full identities. And we’ve seen instances of business partners forming over Quest trips, and graduating students mentioned Quest as one of their favorite Kellogg experiences. 

CA: Can you walk us through the life of an application from when a candidate hits “submit” until they receive a decision?

EH: Yes. I really appreciate this question because I see that it’s also something I dislike about my job, which is that the business school application process in general really lacks transparency. And I tend to be a very transparent person, so not being able to share detail with everyone is challenging. We are acutely aware that by the time an applicant clicks “submit” that they’ve put extensive time and effort into their application — maybe they’ve taken the GMAT or the GRE a couple of times. 

So our goal is to give every application a very thorough review. Every application does get read. We take our time to read through the entire application so that we can take a holistic view of the applicant and get to know them as much as possible. And we have a video essay, which is fairly unique. 

We also seek to interview all applicants. So through the holistic review process, we read the application and everyone is invited to participate in the video essay. And then all of these viewpoints come together, ensuring that we are giving the application a full review without bias and that we are understanding all aspects of an applicant, what they will bring to Kellogg, and what they hope to get out of the MBA experience. 

CA: Do you have any tips about the essay portion of the application?

EH: We definitely want to get to know the candidates beyond their test scores and their resume. And the essays are a great opportunity to go beyond what one does for a living and show us the how and the why. How do they solve problems? How do they interact with teams, what are the values they hold important to them, and what circumstances in their life have molded them into the person they are today? that all goes into somebody’s story that makes them unique, and of course adds incredible diversity into the business school classroom. And this allows us to get to know them and understand what they can bring to classroom discussions, and then envision how the Kellogg MBA could be a catalyst for them in their life. I think the most common mistake I see is when candidates tell us what they think we want to hear. And I think this could lead to us not understanding how their career goals fit with their past experiences, or potentially misunderstanding why they want to get an MBA in the first place. So I always recommend that candidates make sure their essays represent them. Anyone could write a similar essay.

We really want them to give us insights into how they think and they work. As long as they’re on that track, they’re probably moving in the right direction. 

Another very tangible piece of advice I give people is to write the essays and give it to someone you trust. Don’t tell them what kind of question you’re trying to answer. Then when they’re done, ask them for feedback and ask them what they think is the question you’re trying to answer with your essay. And if they get anywhere in the ballpark, you’re probably on the right path. 

CA: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the fact that you don’t devote an essay to candidates’ career plans or specific interests in your program. What would you say to someone who really wants to convey their passion for Kellogg in the application process? Where are they going to do that? What’s the design in terms of the way that you’ve set this up?

EH: There are a couple of opportunities within the online application where the candidate can tell us about their biggest career accomplishment and what they are most proud of. We ask what their short-term and long-term career goals are. Also, that is likely to be a question in an interview. 

In terms of conveying their passion, I think the video essay has been a great addition to our application process and a great way for candidates to show who they are, give us an authentic glimpse into their personality and their goals, and tell us why they’re interested in Kellogg. And this is great because it’s available to anyone, no matter where they’re located in the world. We’re proud to be one of the only schools with this component in our application. Actually, this year, we’ve added a new video essay question that invites students to share a story about challenges they’ve encountered and how they’ve presented resiliency throughout the process. As the world grows in complexity, we believe it’s increasingly important for leaders to be able to navigate challenges and lead through uncertainty. And the video essay is the last thing we view as part of the evaluation process after we’ve learned all about their background, their accomplishments, and their goals and dreams. So this is a really great way for applicants to convey their passion to us.

CA: Tell me about the interview process at Kellogg. How might one best prepare for it?

EH: We do seek to interview as many applicants as possible because teamwork and collaboration are cornerstones of the Kellogg experience. Our interviews are behavioral based. We recommend candidates become familiar with the Star interview response method. Many have probably prepared for a job interview in this way. The Star method typically requires a description of a particular situation and how they navigated through it. We suggest candidates practice giving their answers in this format so that the interviewer can understand how they think, how they work with others, and how they will arrive at a solution. 

I also suggest taking the time to reflect on their own story and experiences. They will want to have a variety of stories to share from various points throughout their career, not just those they wrote about in the essays. Because, remember, we’re taking a very holistic approach. So if I’m reading the same stories from their essays as in their interview report, it becomes a little bit redundant. We want to hear some variety. 

Also, my last tip is just to be your authentic self. It’s helpful to prepare, but you also don’t want to be so over-rehearsed in either the interview or the video essay that we don’t get a sense of who you really are. And while we highly value the interview, it is important for applicants to remember that it is just one component of us getting to know them as applicants.

CA: What does the interviewer know in advance about the candidate? How much information do they have? 

EH: Just the resume. They are conducted post-application, and the applicant is invited to share their resume in advance. That is all the information the interviewer has about the candidate, so it eliminates any preconceived notions or any biases. For example, they don’t know someone’s test score or their GPA unless they decide to share it or have it on their resume.

CA: Who should be focusing on the deferred path to an MBA? How do you go about assessing those candidates who are coming from university and don’t have full-time work experience?

EH: Undergraduates who are in their last year of school and are majoring in any discipline, as well as graduate students who graduated between October 2021 and September 2020 can apply in the coming year. We also accept applications from master’s degree students who went directly into graduate programs from undergrad. In Kellogg Future Leaders, our deferred enrollment program, students will have the fortune of knowing they will have a place secured for them in the Kellogg MBA program before they even leave undergrad. They get to skip the conundrum that so many people face when considering the right time to enter the MBA program down the road. They’ll already be set to propel their career forward when they feel the time is right.

CA: What are some of the practices that are in place due to COVID-19? 

EH: We welcomed back our students this fall to in-person instruction. This morning I walked across what we call Collaboration Plaza and it was just thriving and buzzing. It was full of students, which is so exciting to see again. We are also reinstating on campus visits in the coming months. Anybody who is interested in learning more about Kellogg in the meantime, we certainly have a full slate of virtual events, virtual campus tours, and preview days scheduled for later this fall.

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.