How Kellogg Makes Its Cut

Assistant Dean Beth Flye and second-year student Brent Young discuss common applicant quandaries in this B-school chat

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., earned the top spot on BusinessWeek's 2004 list of best B-schools, and remained selective even during recent lean years. Only 23% of 4,299 applicants received offers of admission in 2004, and the school reports that applications are on the rise after the recent first round application deadline (see BW Online, 12/7/05, "First Round Frenzy").

Beth Flye, assistant dean and director of admissions & financial aid at Kellogg, and second-year student Brent Young recently fielded questions about the admissions process from B-schools channel editor Francesca Di Meglio and audience members at a live chat event. Here are edited excerpts from the chat:

How does round-one application volume this year compare to last year? How does this impact applicant selectivity for round one?

Flye:

I'm pleased to report a slight increase in round-one volume vs. last year. The quality remains outstanding. We're optimistic not just with the current volume but also the quality of that pool.

There's always competition, and not just among schools. The job market is always a competitor, whether it's doing well or not. Reflecting on the late '90s, when schools were enjoying a steady volume of quality applications, one sees that at the same time, people had great job opportunities. Some people chose to stay in those good jobs.

Conversely, in recent years, with a not-so-good economy, students have been questioning the opportunity cost. It's always competitive when you have a school as strong as Kellogg.

I noticed in the online forum that you will begin releasing round-one decisions the week of Dec. 12. Can you provide a bit more information on what the flow is likely to be, and also describe the application-review process?

Flye:

We do anticipate to begin releasing decisions the week of Dec. 12. Then, before Christmas, we will take a pause for the holiday and resume with a steady flow of decisions right up through Jan. 16. Although we will be celebrating the holidays, we will be busy reviewing applications.

About the review process: The large majority of applications are read by at least three people. We have a team of roughly 40 students that make up our student admissions committee. They will do the first read. The second read is done by one of the admissions officers on my team. Then I do the third read. In some cases, we may seek a fourth evaluation. And that may be done by another member of the student admissions committee. We invest a lot of time and great thought in making our decisions.

Does Kellogg have a pre-term intensive math program for students who are entering the program with less quantitative experience than others?

Flye:

We do not. What we do have is an online math course that we provide to all admitted candidates to get them up to speed for the quantitative rigor. And this is something that's optional, so it's not for credit.

This question comes via e-mail from a user, who couldn't join us today: I'm applying to Kellogg for the two-year full-time MBA program. Even though I have an excellent career profile -- I'm the youngest vice-president and head of department at my bank in Karachi, Pakistan -- my grades and my GMAT score (590) might not appear competitive. Kellogg is my absolute first choice for a variety of reasons and I'm really keen to know if I would be eligible to even apply?

Flye:

Is he eligible to apply? Of course, he's eligible to submit an application. I would advise him to try to identify areas where he can be proactive in strengthening his candidacy. If he has taken the GMAT only once or twice, he should consider a prep course and take it again.

Regarding undergrad grades, if he hasn't taken stats or quantitative analysis, then he should take a course like that to demonstrate that he has the intellectual ability to perform well academically.

Again, I have a question that comes to us from someone who could not join us today and sent the inquiry via e-mail: I have completed an MBA from a non-U.S. business school. It was a one-year program with no specialization. Will my application be considered for the full-time MBA program at Kellogg?

Flye:

This person wouldn't be at a disadvantage to apply. However, it will be important for this person to clarify to us why he's interested in pursuing a Kellogg MBA when he already has a degree. He will need to have a compelling story.

What makes Kellogg stand out in general management?

Flye:

I would say that it's the result of a number of factors. When people come here, they're going to have a rigorous experience in terms of classes and outstanding faculty. As a result, they're going to be challenged and get an education that's relevant, regardless of career function or industry.

What percentage of students are married while pursuing the MBA?

Flye:

The number of married students is around 42%. Brent is one of them.

Young: I got married the summer between my first and second year. Kellogg does a great job of engaging both single and married students through class teams and social events. For the spouse of a student, the Joint Ventures (JV) club is active and brings spouses together. So we have found a great cross section of single and married friends. KelloggKids is also a great group of students with children.

Do you provide on-campus housing for married students with kids?

Flye:

Yes, we do. There are two residential facilities here at Northwestern that are available to Kellogg students who have a spouse and children.

Young: There are also many apartments in Evanston that range in price and amenities. We found the selection to be really nice. In fact, our apartment was handed down to us from another outgoing second-year student.

How are applicants considered for scholarships? Would it be appropriate to indicate your interest in essay three?

Flye:

As we admit candidates, we automatically screen them as a potential candidate for one of our merit-based scholarships, so there's no separate application process. Indicating it in essay three is a judgement call on the part of the applicant. Anyone can do that. It's just a matter of how well he or she weaves that information into the essay.

My undergraduate institution doesn't translate transcripts. They do give me a stamped and signed original and require that I find a third party (a licensed and certified translator) to do so. Is that O.K.? If so, can I send them or should I have the translator send them?

Flye:

That is acceptable.

How does Kellogg evaluate an academic transcript from an international academic institution? Can anything besides the transcript be used to provide supporting evidence of the quality of education?

Flye:

That's a great question. We have students from over 225 schools on average each year represented from around the world. Of course, all grading systems weren't created equal. Most transcripts will have some supplemental information. that will help us understand the meaning of a grade with respect to performance level.

Also, we have some educational guidebooks here in the office that we use when necessary to understand a particular academic and grading system in another country. In the majority of cases, the school will provide the relevant information. It's also helpful for the student to include any additional information about his or her university when sending the transcript.

I left out some information on my extracurriculars in part one, and I have already had my interview. Can I access part one and resubmit the application?

Flye:

I would recommend to just put the additional information in an e-mail and send it to mbaadmissions@kellogg.northwestern.edu. In the e-mail, ask us to add the additional information to your application.

I received an A in an undergraduate statistics class, but I didn't take calculus. I'm enrolled in a calculus course scheduled to begin in January. Will the lack of calculus be detrimental to my application?

Flye:

No. I think it's certainly helpful to know that you're taking a calculus class. My take on that is that you're being proactive. What you may want to do is let us know when that course will be complete and when the grade will be sent to you. We always tell candidates to at least earn a B but certainly go after that A.

Evidence of academic readiness is one of a number of areas of criteria for admission. Other areas include leadership potential, quality of work experience, career focus, and extracurricular activities.

Can I do a double major in strategy and technology?

Flye:

Of course. A double major in strategy and technology would certainly be a good option. Most of our students graduate with at least two majors.

Young: I can add that I'm pursuing a triple major in marketing, strategy, and finance. Kellogg offers a great range of concentrations and allows you to pursue whatever path you desire.

Can you talk about Kellogg's ties to the tech industry and how a person with a tech background fits in with Kellogg's student body?

Young:

I can speak about this. I have a Bachelor's and a Master's in computer science and spent five years as a programmer and sales engineer with two startups in [Silicon] Valley. Professor [Mohan] Sawhney's tech-marketing class is incredible, and the Kellogg brand is well known at the major tech firms.

I've heard that individuals who are having their company pay 100% of their tuition have an easier time getting into the program. Is that the case?

Flye:

Absolutely not. When there's information in the application noting that a candidate is being sponsored for an MBA by their employer, it's a positive data point. Obviously, the company has a lot of confidence in that employee and wants him or her to come back. But those candidates don't have an automatic advantage in terms of admission.

Can you talk about the type of jobs students have secured after focusing on social enterprise at Kellogg?

Flye:

This is the first year that this major has been offered, so we'll know more once we see what 2006 graduates pursue. This major is designed to be applicable to a wide range of functional roles and industries -- from the non-profit sector to real estate. Social enterprise would be a great major for any particular industry or role that has an emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

In the essays, should applicants assume that your admissions team knows of all the different job functions across various industries, or should they elaborate with a description?

Flye:

Though through our experiences we do have a great deal of knowledge about different industries, we always appreciate some descriptive content.

What are Kellogg's strongest concentrations and why?

Flye:

There isn't one single area that's the strongest -- management & strategy, finance, and marketing. In fact, those three alone, in the three years I've been here, have been the most popular majors. There are three other ones that are close behind -- management & organizations, analytical consulting, and entrepreneurship.

Should both of my recommendation letters come from supervisors? Can I use a recommendation from a former subordinate whom I supervised to give you a more well-rounded look at who I am?

Flye:

Both of our recommendations should be work related. In many cases, applicants do select current or former supervisors, but not always.

What's most important is that they select the person who really knows them well, so that recommender can give thorough testimony about the candidate's strengths, accomplishments, and areas for development. It's going to have to be an intuitive decision. If the subordinate has a close relationship to the applicant and knows him or her well and can give thorough and objective feedback, then selecting that subordinate could be appropriate.

Would someone applying at the age of 35 be at a significant disadvantage vs. someone at or below the average age for Kellogg, everything else being equal?

Flye:

My immediate answer is no. We're not focusing on an applicant's age. What we're examining is the quality of work experience, in conjunction with a candidate's goals, which of course would include career direction or focus. Whether one is 25 or 35, we're still going to be looking at that information. Our average age for the class that entered in 2005 was 28.

Can you advise on how to attack Essay #3: "You have been selected as a member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Please provide a brief evaluative assessment of your file"?

Flye:

That person needs to step outside of him or herself and look at the application. Make an assessment of how you view your candidacy. Think about what you know about Kellogg. Highlight your strengths. If there's a particular weakness, an applicant can reference that, too. But applicants should also address what they are planning to do to strengthen that weakness. That essay is always enjoyable to read.

Could you please talk a little bit about the MMM program? From the stats, fewer people are admitted every year. Is it because it's more difficult to be accepted than a normal two-year MBA program?

Flye:

The MMM program stands for our Master of Management & Manufacturing, which includes courses through the McCormick School of Engineering. The program is designed for a person who has a functional and/or industry interest in product development.

Candidates who come into the MMM program, which is two years in duration, take some required core courses at McCormick, plus required core and elective courses at Kellogg. On average each year, we enroll a class of anywhere between 50 and 60 students. As is the case with students in the other programs, the quality of the applicants and enrolled students is exceptional. In terms of selectivity, it's about the same. The interest has been very steady.

Can you give us some advice on preparing for an off-campus interview? What questions should I anticipate?

Flye:

You should approach not just the Kellogg interview but any B-school interview in the same way you would approach a job interview. For example, it's important that you know yourself and be able to speak about why Kellogg is the right place for you and what your post-MBA goals are. The interview is a valuable opportunity for us to get to know the candidate and for the candidate to learn more about Kellogg. It's a two-way street.

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