Northwestern Kellogg School of Management Essay Questions and Strategic Guidance, 2023-2024

MBA students at Northwestern Kellogg often mention the strength of the community, with classmates dedicating themselves fully to both their own professional development and that of their peers. Kellogg is committed to producing capable leaders who are as thoughtful and driven as they are empathetic and inclusive.

According to Kellogg’s website, the school seeks candidates who

  • approach business problems with a mix of hard and soft skills.
  • seek to adapt to the evolving business world with open curiosity and innovation.
  • believe in strong, empathetic collaboration as a way to strengthen work, perspectives, and outcomes.
  • embrace the power of diversity in teams and networks.

As you brainstorm what to share throughout your Kellogg application, keep these qualities in mind. Understanding what Kellogg looks for in its candidates before you start brainstorming can give you a frame of reference through which to view and consider your stories and perhaps help you identify which ones might be the most compelling to include in your application. But let us be clear that we are not saying the stories you share must reveal all or even any of these traits. As always, keep the focus on you—your unique experiences and what you want the admissions committee to know about you.

Kellogg gives candidates ample opportunities to share who they really are throughout the submitted application. For example, the program’s online application includes some very brief questions about your short- and long-term goals. Although you might naturally discuss your goals at some point in your written essays, be aware that you are not required to do so because the aforementioned application questions allow you to share them elsewhere. Moreover, Kellogg asks every applicant to submit video responses to multiple prompts. Although you might be intimidated by this video component, we at Gatehouse see it as a boon for candidates. After all, the more opportunities you have for the admissions committee to get to know you, the better.

Kellogg requires two written essays. Our guidance for approaching the two essay prompts follows.

Question 1 (450 words)

Kellogg Leaders are primed to tackle today’s pressing concerns everywhere, from the boardroom to their neighborhoods. Tell us about a time in your life where you’ve needed a combination of skills to solve a problem or overcome a challenge. Which skills did you use? What did you accomplish?

First and foremost, Kellogg’s prompt is asking for a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end; they take place at a certain time and in a specific location; and they have a protagonist—which in this case is you. What is equally important is that Kellogg wants a particular kind of story, one in which you are a leader who faced and overcame a challenge to create value. Whatever story you tell, it must check each of these boxes. Practically speaking, this means that your essay should describe the specific obstacles you encountered, how you worked through them (which skills you used), and the results.

When choosing which story to tell, remember that “leadership” comes in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps you were the assigned or elected leader of an initiative, team, or project. Great! Depending on the experience, that might be an excellent story to share. But do not discount stories of when you acted as a thought leader, an informal leader, a leader from behind or the middle, a solo entrepreneur, or some other kind of unconventional principal figure. Each of these can also demonstrate compelling leadership.

When crafting your response, the STARR (Situation, Task, Actions, Results, Reflection) format can be a very effective tool for helping you construct your story. To learn more about how to effectively present a narrative in an essay, watch our video “How to Tell a Great Story in Your MBA Essays.” It covers all the critical elements of storytelling, including “show, don’t tell.” With this essay prompt, you have no need to discuss your goals or why you are interested in attending Kellogg. Only do so if these things are somehow integral to the rest of the story you are sharing.

Question 2 (450 words)

At Kellogg, our values are based on research that concludes organizations comprised of leaders with varied backgrounds and perspectives outperform homogeneous ones. How do you believe your personal and professional experiences to date will help to enrich the Kellogg community?

This essay requires you to reflect not only on your personal experiences but also on how and why those experiences might matter once you are a part of the Kellogg community. When considering which experiences to share, start by looking inward. Think about the moments that have most influenced you and about the evidence that demonstrates that influence today. You can also reflect on critical inflection points in your life, key successes, and, conversely, noteworthy failures. What you choose to discuss is up to you, but remember that you are a multifaceted individual. If your leadership story in Essay 1 is about how you used your interpersonal skills to build morale on a team, for example, push yourself to highlight experiences in Essay 2 that illustrate different or new sides of you.

Once you have identified two or three experiences that you want to write about, the next step is to determine how these experiences can help you contribute to the Kellogg community. To address this part of the essay effectively, you want to go beyond saying something like “This unique perspective will enable to me to contribute to class.” Such a statement does not really tell the reader anything about you or what your contribution will be. (As an aside, our advice at Gatehouse is to avoid using the word “unique” in your essays. Show why you are unique instead of relying on the word!) Instead, be specific. Perhaps you have built your career thus far in artificial intelligence (AI) at a Big Tech firm and have spent the past seven months developing your company’s AI policy. How could your experience be valuable at Kellogg? Maybe you could lead a symposium on AI as part of the Kellogg Tech Club and bring in speakers from your company, or you could join the Kellogg Consulting Club to be part of a student team working to address AI-related issues for a client. Perhaps you could conduct a 101 training session for your peers who are new to the world of AI. Any of these could be a compelling example of how your specific personal experience would be meaningful on campus.

As you craft your response, dedicate time to researching Kellogg’s resources, courses, and clubs. Doing so will help you discuss your proposed contribution in more detail and illustrate how it fits the Kellogg MBA experience.