How to get into Northwestern Kellogg’s full-time MBA program

BY Sydney LakeJuly 19, 2021, 2:00 AM
Students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management gather Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at the school’s campus in Evanston. Administrators across the nation increasingly fear their schools may not reopen for the fall semester. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, seen here in October 2018. Chris Walker—Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Few top business schools spend as much time as the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University does getting to know its applicants. Yet every year, only about one in five applicants earns a spot in the upcoming class at the M7 business school, based in Evanston, Ill.

“Kellogg values people who are fully engaged and ‘all in’ with their student experience—specifically people who will be high-impact, low- ego leaders who always look to elevate everyone in the room,” says Christine Mayer, director of admissions for the two-year MBA program.

But how does Kellogg evaluate the exceptional business leaders who apply to the school each year? Unlike most MBA programs, Kellogg interviews all applicants, and these prospective students must also submit video essay responses in addition to typical MBA application materials.

“It gave me a little more space and room to lay out and be reflective as to who I am, my background, and what I want to do,” class of 2022 Kellogg MBA student Mike Wise says of the school’s application process in comparison to other programs.

Proving your academic excellence

Kellogg no longer publicly discloses either its acceptance rate nor the number of applications received for its full-time MBA program. But historical data shows that in the past few admissions cycles, the acceptance rate averaged about 20%.

The class of 2022 (with 559 students) had an average 3.6 undergraduate GPA, a 727 GMAT score, and five years of work experience. One-quarter of the class came from a consulting background, with another 22% coming from financial services positions, and 15% from a tech background. 

These stats nearly match those of Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. While numbers aren’t everything to Kellogg, they do provide proof that an applicant will be academically successful. If an applicant’s scores fall significantly below Kellogg’s published range, the burden of proof is on applicants to show how they can still be a fit for the community, says Donna Bauman, a senior MBA admissions counselor with Stratus Admissions Counseling.

“You have to have strong academic excellence,” says Bauman, who earned her MBA from Kellogg. “And if you don’t have it from your test scores or your GPA, then you really have to think about, ‘How can I demonstrate to Kellogg that when I get into the program that I’m not going to be an academic risk?’”

The video essay

Luckily, applicants have plenty of other opportunities to demonstrate strengths to Kellogg.

“Our video essays have long been a tactic for us to get to know applicants beyond their paper application,” Mayer says. Uncommon among other top business school programs, Kellogg applicants must complete a series of video essays as part of the admissions process.

“To me, it was a really nice indication that they’re trying to get your full zest and your full voice, rather than just an essay that could be edited multiple times,” says Emily Kuo, a current Kellogg MBA student in the class of 2022. 

The video essays are the final piece of the application that the admissions committee reviews, Mayer says. Applicants spend one minute each answering these three prompts: 

  • Please introduce yourself to the admissions committee.
  • What path are you interested in pursuing, how will you get there, and why is this program right for you?
  • This question will be based on a challenge you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from it.

While it’s valuable to think through how you’ll respond to each question, it’s equally important to not over-rehearse. 

“What I don’t like is for people to practice so many times in such a mechanical way that they’ve memorized the whole thing,” says David White, founder of Menlo Coaching, adding that this method can make applicants sound “robotic.” His clients work with professional actors ahead of their video essays to loosen up, practice, and add personality to their responses. 

“If the video isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to admit you,” he adds.

… and the written essay

Applicants are also asked to respond to two written essay prompts about their leadership experiences and values. Bauman reminds applicants that “sometimes people have more leadership than they realize.”

“You don’t have to have a title to lead,” she says. “You really just have to have an idea and be able to get some coalition of people rallying around that idea.” Leadership examples can come from academic, extracurricular, or personal life. 

It’s important to have a clear direction for your written essay responses, Wise adds. 

“There are limited words and a lot to say,” he says. “That’s reflective of people at Kellogg too. People have a multitude of interests, and at business school you have such limited time to explore those interests.”

The live interview

Other top MBA programs offer interviews by invite only, but Kellogg strives to interview every applicant. 

Kellogg’s live interview includes mostly behavioral questions, MBA admissions experts say. Mayer suggests that candidates familiarize themselves with the STAR (situation, task, action, result) interview method, “which typically requires you to describe a particular situation, and how you navigated through it,” she says. 

“Make sure you have a range and variety of stories to share—not just those you wrote about in the essays—from various points in your career,” she adds. 

High impact, low ego

Kellogg seeks applicants who value diversity and inclusion, have a give-back mentality, and show empathy and creativity, Kuo says. 

To understand examples of this Kellogg lifestyle, admissions experts and current students agree that visiting campus and connecting with professors, current students, and alumni is beneficial.

“The feedback they receive from these sources can help them speak about their future goals—in the MBA application and interview—with the practical understanding and maturity that the Kellogg admissions committee looks for,” says Kellogg MBA student Christianne Johnson, who is in the 2022 class. 

Mayer emphasizes the importance of doing your own research before applying.

“Business schools are not ‘one size fits all,’ and without the right level of due diligence, it’s difficult to pick up on the nuances between programs that can make one school in particular the perfect fit,” she says. 

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