Kellogg Think Bravely Essay Contest

Kellogg MBA Essay 1

Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

This is a tricky one. Created lasting value? First of all, that’s some serious sh*t. Second, how would you know if you actually created lasting value? It’s one thing to think that that’s the case. It’s another thing for it to be true, persistently. First thing’s first, we need to identify our story before we do anything else…

Creating lasting value implies bringing something new to the table. You changed a company’s algorithm for hiring: previously they’d focused on X, you inspired them instead to focus on Y. Or, you pursued a growth opportunity no one had ever considered before. It worked, and now it’s a stable and NEW source of revenue. There are a million versions. Whatever it is that you did … it can’t have been in the job description. It can’t have been something that was expected of you. It has to be something YOU brought to the table in a somehow surprising way. Think of your best few examples of that. That’s a good starting point.

Now, let’s talk about how you LED the thing. This particular leadership example requires proactively doing something that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. What were the stakes? What obstacles stood in your way? Why was it difficult? What were your personal risks? What propelled your forward in SPITE of those challenges? What were you hoping to achieve? Take us through your actions, bringing us into your thought process along the way. Let’s see how your gears work.

Finally, what did you learn during all of this? Did everything work out as expected? Congrats… you didn’t learn anything. There must have been twists. An instance when you were WRONG. An instance when you made a bad call. An instance when a certain challenge was HARDER than you expected it would be. An aspect of yourself that you had rated too highly, or not highly enough. Something that bumped along the way. Take us through the “before” and “after” here. Somewhere inside that delta of where you landed AFTER this experience should have POSITIVE implications for your NEXT leadership adventure. If you have an example, even better. If not, throw it into the future regardless, forecasting how you’ll APPLY some of the lessons learned here.


Part I – Setup the Situation. Explain the status quo you were hoping to disrupt. Or the boss’s directive. Whatever it was that led to your stepping into a leadership role and ultimately delivering something cool and NEW to the table. Set it up by explaining what the goal was, what the challenges were, why it was important, and what you stood to gain or lose. End this section laying out what would be required for “someone” to step in and lead this thing to success. (100 words)

Part II – Explain the leadership stuff. Take us through the “what you did” piece, step by step, decision by decision. Conflict to conflict. Inner debate, weighing options, eventual decisions. All of it. Lay it all out. (125 words)

Part III – How did this create lasting value? Now comes the tricky part. Where’s the evidence that this “was bigger than you,” and actually fundamentally changed things? First we need to learn of this in some verifiable way other than “you think it created value.” How did you come to learn of it? Walk us through that, and then explain in plain terms what that value actually means. It’s important to do this in the simplest of terms we can understand. (100-125 words)

Part IV – Wha’d Ya Learn? This is reflection time. Time to expose some of those bumps, bad calls, or incorrect assumptions. It doesn’t have to be “bad” but something that convincingly outs you as a REFLECTIVE individual. Put yourself on trial here, throw yourself under the microscope. Make a case for why the version of you at the END of this experience is better than the person at its BEGINNING. Try to wrap your mind around that… Something shifted along the way to IMPROVE you. What was it? Take your time to identify what those things might have been, and try to articulate it all as simply and clearly as you possibly can here. (100-125 words)

Now that we’ve handled that, on to Essay 2.

Read more and explore each step of the Kellogg full-time MBA application process here.

Greetings! My name is Ariel and I am a MMM, the name given to those of us that pursue an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) and MEM (Master of Engineering Management) from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. I graduated back in 2013, in the good old days when we were still encouraged by Kellogg to Think Bravely.

Did you know that Kellogg has since rebranded its mission to Inspire Growth? If you didn't, then this brings my to my first point of emphasis and advice. 

I. What Can Kellogg Do for You? Know the Program.

Know what the program stands for and what the culture is (in the classroom and outside the classroom). You can find this information all over and within the Kellogg website. Take time to really navigate through the site and all of the sub-pages. But don't just get a sense of the academics. Try to get a feel for the essence of the student body, the overall culture, and the type of environment you will be in as a Kellogg student. 

The learning pedagogy of Kellogg centers around teamwork and participation. Your professors will ask you questions in class and your answers are what shape and mold the classroom experience. Do you enjoy being cold-called? Are you interested in having 80% of your assignments be determined by your performance within a group? These are the details about the Kellogg experience that you should be familiar with, both to succeed in showing your strengths and talents at the disposal of the Kellogg community and to make sure you want to be a member of the Kellogg student body. 

II. What Can You Do for Kellogg? 

Identify what unique perspective or experience you have that will be a contribution to the school and to the classroom. What's something distinct you bring that would be unique from that of a traditional business school student? 

The Kellogg school is collaboration-based. You can make yourself a more interesting applicant if you can define how you are unique from other candidates and how that uniqueness will enhance the classroom and collaborative experience. Get really introspective about this one. You are going up against thousands of other intelligent, hardworking, and academically successful individuals. 

III. What does Admissions Really Want to See? Get More Introspective.

Consider this very probable, hypothetical situation: 

You are applicant #731 for an admissions officer. What can you share with that person that would be intriguing and interesting, considering they'd been reading through hundreds of applications? 

Let's try to visualize the scenario differently. Imagine You were assigned to read through hundreds of applications. 

I bet you would encounter some of the same statements: I am a great candidate. I got great grades and I was the top of my class. I love a challenge and that is why I think Kellogg is the best fit for me. These might be all absolutely, one-hundred percent true, but they are also rather BORING… 

These are what I consider, the predictable phrases. They are the answers that people think admissions wants to hear. And, that is not at all the case… In fact, Kellogg admissions wants to hear something about you that they may not have heard from everyone else! “I was the President of my chess team…” is not exciting, but ”I became the President of my chess team because I was passionate about teaching the game of chess to my peers just as my older sister did for me as a little girl” (now THAT) starts to get interesting. 

Basically, always ask yourself, “have I answered the WHY component?”Why did you join the chess team? Why was that so important to you? Why does that matter in terms of your interest in Kellogg? THESE are the answers that start to set you a part from applicant #1,730 (remember, you were candidate #730 as it was)!

IV. TIME:  Schedule, Plan, and Use Your Calendar!

Treat your application deadline like an upcoming New Year's Eve Party on a yacht with 500 attendees. Imagine you are the host. You are responsible for coordinating everything. I’m talking venue, catering, the entertainment, bar, insurance, everything! And you have no staff— Oi! That’s a lot! Manageable, but definitely a full plate. You would probably make a CALENDAR showing deadlines and then reverse engineer a timeline/plan of attack, wouldn't you? You would probably start contacting associates (read here: LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION, EVALUATIVE INTERVIEW REPORT) months in advance of the deadline to ensure they have a comfortable threshold of time to complete and submit, right? 

Contracts with vendors can go through many many rounds of negotiations, and you are your best negotiator when you have options. This is the same dynamic with your WRITTEN ESSAYS. This process is a slow burn. Assume each essay will have 3 revisions and a final glance

If you are giving your essay to someone to critique (which I recommend you do), allow for 7-10 days for them to get it back to you. People can work under tight deadlines for you, but it works in your favor if your recommender is not stressed with a deadline while trying to explain how great you are to admissions. 

Time is your friend. Make use of it.

And that's all I have for now, except for one final reminder on application deadlines for those of you thinking of applying right now, right away:




Jan. 7, 2015


April 1, 2015

I wish you the very best during this endeavor. 

The process is almost like a part time job. I know it feels like a lot. And I want to confirm for you that it's normal to feel this way, to feel overwhelmed sometimes because the process of applying to school IS a lot. But you can do it! Hundreds of thousands of people have done this before you and hundreds of thousands will complete this process after you. You got this. Now go forth and conquer.

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