Kellogg Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2013-2014

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the 2013-2104 admissions season. To no one’s surprise, Kellogg is the latest top-ranked MBA program to drop a required essay from its application this year — the school now requires just three essays of first-time applicants. Kellogg has also reduced how many word limits in some cases. What is most interesting is that the essay that Kellogg dropped was a mere 25-word question that appeared on last year’s application. We liked that one, but apparently the Kellogg admissions team didn’t.

Here are Kellogg’s application deadlines and essays for the Class of 2016:

Kellogg Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 16, 2013
Round 2: January 7, 2014
Round 3: April 2, 2014

Kellogg has moved up its Round 3 deadline by about a week, but that’s really the only notable change to its admissions deadlines since last year. More significant is that Kellogg has done away with its confusing (in our opinion) two-part deadlines and gone back to a more traditional three-round system. Note that applying to Kellogg in Round 1 means that you will receive a decision by December 18, giving you at least a couple of weeks before most other business schools’ Round 2 deadlines.

Kellogg Application Essays

  1. What’s the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome (personally or professionally)? How has overcoming this obstacle prepared you to achieve success now and in the future? (350 words)

    This question is new this year, and it replaces a more open-ended question that asked about “moments or influences in your personal life” that defined who you are today. This type of question can come in different forms — sometimes you will see it posed as a “failure” or “setback” question — but all of these flavors all get at the same basic thing: The admissions committee wants to see how you have grown in your relatively short professional career. The word “obstacles” gives you the opportunity to talk about challenges you faced that weren’t necessarily of your own doing. For example, getting laid off when your company goes out of business represents an obstacle, but not a mistake on your part.

    Your mission will be to show introspection (What did you learn?) and a motivation for self-improvement (How did you use what you learned to better yourself and avoid that mistake again?). Also, note that Kellogg specifically calls out that your story can be a personal or a professional one. Ideally you will have a terrific work-related story to at least consider using there, but remember to look for experiences in all aspects of your life. Your most powerful “obstacle” story may come from outside your job.

  2. What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely. (500 words)

    This question carries over almost completely unchanged from last year. The only change is that last year’s version said, “This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely (personally and/or professionally),” while this year Kellogg has dropped that “personally and/or professionally” part. While we make a point of really paying attention to the changes that admissions officers make to essay prompts from one year to the next, in this case we expect that Kellogg dropped that part since it simply wasn’t necessary.

    Since you only have 500 words to work with here, we advise that you focus on no more than a couple of short stories. The fewer, the better, since including too many examples means that no one story will have very much impact. Be as specific as possible here, rather than discussing leadership in broad terms or with vague generalities. This is a great essay prompt for using the “SAR” (Situation – Action – Result) response outline, and notice that Kellogg explicitly asks for at least two of those (“What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have?”). Also, pay attention to that “Think Bravely” part at the end… The school looks for applicants who are willing to go outside their comfort zone, go beyond their job descriptions, and challenge established thinking. The most effective responses to this question will describe times when you have done these things.

  3. Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why? (250 word limit)
    Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals? (250 word limit)
    (Please answer Part 2 in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA).

    This question is new this year, and it replaces a question that asked about post-MBA career goals, but in a more unique way. Perhaps that question didn’t give the Kellogg admissions team what it wanted, since it has now gone back to a more traditional “What do you want to do? Why do you need an MBA from this school?” format. Note that Kellogg makes an effort to explicitly call out Part 1 and Part 2 separately, which suggests that past applicants haven’t sufficiently answered both parts — especially the “Why Kellogg?” part. Ask yourself these questions: Where do you see yourself in a few years (and beyond that), and why do you need an MBA to get there? Specifically, why do you need an MBA from Kellogg to get there? Why not another top-ranked MBA program? Really force yourself to answer that question, even if not all of your answer makes its way into your final essay response!
  4. (Re-applicants only) Since your previous application, what steps have you taken to strengthen your candidacy? (400 words)

    This last question pretty much sums up what every top MBA program looks for in any re-applicant. Ideally you will have at least one or two significant achievements or experiences that will bolster a weakness that may have kept you out of Kellogg last year. The most obvious examples are a big promotion at work, a higher GMAT score, or strong grades in some post-college coursework, but anything that demonstrates leadership, teamwork, maturity, or innovation — if one of these was a weakness in admissions officers’ eyes last year — can help your candidacy.
  5. If needed, briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) (No word limit)

    This is what we always tell applicants when it comes to optional essays: Only answer this essay prompt if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay. Don’t let yourself get too tempted by that lack of a word limit… Less is more!

Note that Kellogg has introduced a new video response to its application this year. The recorded video answer was crafted to mimic an interview in that you will be given a question and will have to record your response right away (after a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts). If you didn’t like your response, you can try again, BUT you will have to do it with a new question. And, you won’t know the questions ahead of time. As if that weren’t enough to make it challenging, you get three attempts at most. This is just one more example of how top MBA programs are trying to break away from the essay and get to know applicants better using other formats.

For more advice on getting into The Kellogg School of Management, download our Essential Guide to Kellogg, one of our 14 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Kellogg and other top-ranked MBA programs, fill out a free profile evaluation and speak with an MBA admissions expert. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Scott Shrum