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Northwestern / Kellogg Essay Topic Analysis 2013-2014

The 2014-2015 Northwestern / Kellogg Essay Topic Analysis is now available.

Following up on Kellogg’s release of its 2013-2014 essay topics, we wanted to take a closer look at how this year’s prompts have changed from last year and provide applicants with some insight into how to approach each question.

Like several other top business schools, Kellogg has reduced the length and number of its required essays this year; while applicants last year had to answer four questions totaling 1,525 words, this year’s applicants face only three questions totaling 1,350 words.  The prompts for Essay 1 and Essay 3 have also changed, though the themes highlighted by the essay questions—personal growth, leadership, career goals, and an interest in Kellogg—remain much the same from prior years.

Essay 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 maximum)

Previously calling for applicants to discuss defining moments from their lives, Essay 1 is now a bit more specific, asking applicants to describe the most difficult obstacle they have ever overcome and to reflect on what they learned and how they changed from the experience.  Given that applicants may draw from the personal or professional realms, there are numerous topics that could be appropriate here.  For example, an applicant could discuss how growing up in difficult socioeconomic circumstances influenced his or her strong work ethic, or how adapting to a foreign culture made him or her an open-minded and adaptable person.  Regardless of the subject, after providing a detailed description of the obstacle and how it initially hindered their lives, applicants should be sure to clearly explain how they overcame it and how that process shaped them in a positive way that has prepared them for success.  To really prove to the adcom that they learned from the experience, applicants could provide a brief example of a later time when they navigated a difficult situation by implementing the strengths they’d gained.  In demonstrating their overall growth, applicants will show the adcom that they possess the ability to overcome challenging circumstances to achieve a successful outcome.

Essay 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 maximum)

Making an appearance on Kellogg’s application for the second year in a row, this prompt asks applicants to focus on how, in the course of leading others, they have overcome obstacles and had a positive influence on a group or organization.  This essay is a great opportunity for an applicant to showcase the various leadership roles he or she has taken on in college and afterward.  Given the number of topics that need to be addressed in this response, however, it would be wise to focus one’s discussion on two or three leadership examples rather than providing a laundry list that includes every key leadership experience one has had.  Applicants should also be sure to note the adcom’s emphasis on Kellogg’s “Think Bravely” slogan.  According to Dean Sally Blount, thinking bravely refers to thinking outside of the box and being unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom.  With that in mind, applicants will want to choose leadership examples that showcase not only their ability to rally others and guide teams toward an objective, but also their ability to do so in an innovative way.

Essay 3, Part 1: What career/role are you looking to pursue and why?  (250 words maximum)  Part 2: Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?  (250 words maximum)

A more straightforward version of last year’s Essay 3, this prompt is a variation of the typical career goals essay.  In Part 1, applicants are asked to describe their professional aspirations and the motivation behind them.  At a minimum, applicants will want to clearly explain their immediate post-MBA goal and long-term goal, as well as their reasons for pursuing these objectives.  It would also be prudent of applicants to briefly comment on the timing of their application with respect to their career path to date so as to thoroughly address the “why” aspect of their goals and provide the reader with a better understanding of how their work experience thus far has shaped their aspirations.

Part 2 of Essay 3 requires applicants to explain why earning an MBA and attending Kellogg are essential steps to achieving their goals.  In addition to discussing their reasons for pursuing an MBA at this juncture in their careers and what they hope to learn during business school, applicants should keep in mind that the school prides itself on its collegial culture and demonstrate a strong understanding of the unique merits of Kellogg’s program.  Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs, and extracurricular activities—whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Kellogg—will pay dividends here.

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