How to answer Kellogg’s essay questions — Part 1

A portrait of Beth TidmarshThe 2015-16 Kellogg Full-Time MBA application features two distinct essay questions. In the first of a two-part series, Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for Kellogg’s Full-Time program, reveals how to write a stellar response.

Question 1: Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn?

So, leadership again, eh? Yep. Once again in considering our overall application, we decided that leadership is the most difficult trait to draw out, and we want to encourage you to discuss it.

Sure, we can see your resume and your list of activities – possibly you were president of every single one, and we can safely assume you’re a leader. But more often, people choose one area to take on a significant leadership role and do it well – whether professionally or maybe in an activity outside of work – and you need some space to tell us about that. Maybe your title does not accurately convey the leadership responsibilities you managed on a particular project.

Why do we specify “recent and meaningful”? Well, you might be surprised how far back people dig to find examples. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • If the example is from your professional time horizon, great, solid choice.
  • If you think back to college, OK, that may work.
  • If you really want to use a pre-college example … that may not stand out for the reasons you hope.

What challenges did you face? Oh yes, we want to understand the challenges for your team. (You had a team, right? Because you were a leader, there must have been some other people involved.) The challenge is what tests you as a leader. Was it a lack of resources? A last-minute change of scope? Unclear goal? A mistake for which your team had to take accountability?

If you’ve led people, then I bet you’ve faced an obstacle that would make great essay material.

But most importantly – what did you learn?

How did this challenge and this experience change your perspective? A warning to people who write about marathons, triathlons, mountain climbing and mud races – what did you learn that you can bring to Kellogg? I already know mud racing is hard, that’s why I avoid it! Spend most of your response talking about what you learned from your leadership experience, and perhaps how you have applied it.

These lessons learned and your changing perspectives are going to be the foundation for your growth as a leader and team member at Kellogg.

View Beth’s tips for Question 2.

As you are thinking about your application, take a look at Tidmarsh’s two series’ on “Tips for Applying” and “How Kellogg applicants are assessed.”

Beth Tidmarsh ’03 is the director of admissions for full-time MBA programs at Kellogg. As a vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, she led and executed tenant representation and corporate solutions work for companies such as Xerox, KPMG and Huron Consulting Group. Prior to attending Kellogg, Beth spent six years in consulting for Accenture based out of Chicago and Sydney.

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