Meet Kellogg's Admissions Director

A conversation with Michele Rogers, director of MBA admissions at Northwestern University

Our guest on Nov. 27, 2001, was Michele Rogers, director of admissions at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, No. 2 on BusinessWeek's Top 30 List. She has served as head of admissions for six years at Kellogg, after previously holding the same position at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Ms. Rogers, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, was interviewed by Business Week Online reporter Mica Schneider. Here's an edited transcript of their discussion:

Q: Kellogg offers three full-time programs leading to a master's degree: the traditional Six-Quarter MBA program; the one-year four-quarter MBA program, which begins each June; and the Master of Management and Manufacturing (MMM) program, a joint program with Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. Your office handles admissions for all three. Which program is the easiest to get into?


The test scores and GPAs for our three programs are equivalent; however, there are fewer applicants per place for the four quarter MBA, and the MMM because of program requirements and self-selection. Students interested in both product-focused and service companies pursue the six and four-quarter MBA programs. However, the MMM Program is specifically designed for students interested in product-focused companies.

Q: Kellogg has already passed its first MBA application deadline, and its increase in applications is substantial -- 68% above a year ago. Why?


Because the economy softened. The trend began in March. I anticipate a smaller increase in subsequent application rounds (for next year).

Q: What's your advice to people who are waiting to apply in February and March? Should they hold off for another year?


The best time to apply is when your application is the strongest. A good application can be submitted at any time, whereas a weak application is never accepted.

Q: Define a good application.


It has complete data, is well put together, and gives us a sense of the person. We get to understand that person's interests, goals, and motivations -- and whether there's a good fit with our program. When I read an application I hope to say: "Wow, I'd really like to have this person at Kellogg. This person would add to the class and develop a lot here."

Q: With such volume, are B-schools more likely to do initial sorts of applications by GMAT score or GPA? Is Kellogg?


Perhaps if the school has no other way to handle the volume. But most places are doing what we are: We've rehired some former (application) readers to help.

Q: Where do most people make mistakes on applications?


The most common mistake is to attempt to submit what the candidate thinks we want to see. I believe that the wealth of information about how to get into school has led to formulaic applications. Not only are they becoming more similar, many times we learn little about the candidate, and that defeats the purpose of the application. As we say to applicants who attend our information sessions: Use this powerful tool to make your case.

Q: International students are encouraged to apply by Jan. 14, so that they have enough time to relocate, and to secure a student visa. After the events of September 11, what delays do you anticipate at U.S. Embassies and consulates?


We are trying to figure out the impact. In the meantime, we have a very efficient visa application process. At this point, it's business as usual until we hear otherwise.

Q: Domestic applications are up this fall for the first time in a while. International apps are steady. What's the ideal class makeup at Kellogg, and who has the edge in getting in?


Typically we find the same percentage of strong applicants in any given pool. So our class makeup follows the makeup of the applicant pool. The class is about 30% international.

Q: The GMAT. Which section receives the most weight -- the quantitative, verbal, or analytical writing assessment (AWA)?


We have to be assured that candidates will be able to handle analytical coursework. One proxy for that is the quantitative section of the GMAT. But we also look at courses the applicant has taken, type of work performed, and the recommender's statements about the person's ability. All of those come into play.

The bigger issue may be competing for a place vs. another person. Probably 70% of the people who apply to graduate school can do the work. But the process has become so competitive that it is sometimes difficult to earn a place above someone who has done better in several areas, including the quantitative one.

[Editor's note: The code to submit GMAT scores to any Kellogg master's programs is 1565.]

Q: Say an applicant took the GMAT three times, and never broke 600. What are this person's chances?


If the test score is problematic, we look to proxies such as undergraduate coursework. The initial intellectual hurdle is to demonstrate that you can handle the work. The next hurdle is the comparison with the applicant pool.

Many candidates ask if they should keep taking the test. If you prepared well and gave your best, I would advise focusing on an area of the application over which the candidate has more control -- for example, the essays.

Q: Which courses do you want to see on a transcript to prove one's quant know-how: finance, accounting, or something else?


The analytical rigor demonstrated in statistics and calculus is indicative of the person's ability to perform in the classroom, though the typical graduate student will use calculus far less than statistics.

Q: How important is someone's undergraduate major?


Not important at all. At Kellogg, we seek candidates from all backgrounds and majors. What's important is that they've done well in whatever they've chosen to do.

The ability to learn is far more important at most MBA programs than is depth of knowledge about a particular area. However, it is important that undergraduates complete at least one or two quantitative courses to provide them with basic skills and confidence needed for analysis. Most undergraduates perform best in a major based on personal interest.

Q: What fields did Kellogg MBAs major in as undergraduates?


We have 28% from the social sciences and humanities. About 32% come from engineering and science.

Q: All students Kellogg admits complete an interview. What makes a good interview for the admissions committee?


People think that the Kellogg interview will get them into the program. That isn't the case. What we're looking for are personal attributes, a sense of the person's goals and motivations. Does this person have the team skills to take advantage of this learning process? Will this person fit at Kellogg? So you can't get a yes from the interview, you can only get, 'full speed ahead.'

Q: What questions can applicants expect to be asked?


We don't dictate the questions to our interviewers. We ask that interviewers use the time to get to know the applicant and to allow the applicant to get to know Kellogg.

Q: Career Progress Surveys -- that's Kellogg-speak for letters of recommendation. What's good advice for applicants when they're asking someone to write a reference letter?


The most effective career progress surveys not only provide some feedback on the candidate's performance and personal attributes, but discuss some particular aspect or experience that demonstrates those.

Q: Many of your applicants apply to more than one B-school. Is it a bad sign when you read a career progress survey, and you get the feeling that 10 other schools are reading the same note?


No. If it's well done and it covers all of our criteria, I'm happy to have information about the person that helps us make a good decision.

Q: Kellogg asks its applicants about their work history and professional goals. What questions are you looking to answer when you read the essays?


We are hoping to understand what it is the person has done and how that fits into their future career goals. That gives us a base. From that we can help determine whether our program is a good fit for the next step.

Q: There is also a chance for applicants to answer the question, "what do you wish that admissions committee had asked you but didn't?"


My advice is to say anything that you want us to know. If you leave questions unanswered and you are a very strong candidate, we will probably try to contact you, or your recommender. But if you aren't among the strongest in the pool then we don't follow up. We will just move on to the next candidate.


Editor's note: Kellogg's essay questions in 2001-2002 academic year are:

1. All applicants must complete A, B or C as appropriate. Please number your essay responses.

A. Master of Business Administration applicants only. Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at Kellogg.

B. Master of Management and Manufacturing applicants only.

Briefly assess your career progress to date. How does the MMM program meet your educational needs and career goals?

C. Joint-degree applicants only. Briefly assess your career progress to date. How does the joint program meet your educational needs and career goals?

2. Each of our applicants is unique. Describe how your background, values and non-work-related activities will enhance the experiences of other Kellogg students.

3. You have been selected as a member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Please provide a brief evaluative assessment of your file. Complete three of the following six questions or statements:

A. Through the course of your life, what would you identify as your most valued accomplishment?

B. Outside of work I enjoy...

C. The best mistake I ever made was...

D. People may be surprised when they learn that I...

E. What personal qualities would you like to develop to become a more effective leader?

F. I wish the Admissions Committee had asked me...


Q: How many people did Kellogg place on its wait list in 2001? What can an applicant on hold do to improve his or her chances at making it off that list?


We admit candidates from the wait list from February through July. I would guestimate that 150 to 200 (of more than 6,000 applicants and a class of 620) were placed on the waitlist. Our goal is to keep a minimum number of applicants in this situation and to provide them with as much information as possible. Candidates on Kellogg's wait list are not ranked. Where possible, candidates will be informed about any concerns or issues. Selection is based on our goal of matriculating the most talented, interesting, and diverse group from the applicant pool. Candidates may submit new information at any time -- notes about areas of improvement or achievement are particularly welcome.

Q: How does Kellogg view reapplicants?


The number of reapplicants increased dramatically this year. These candidates must submit all application materials except the transcript, test scores, and interview. I believe reapplicants can have the advantage of emotional pull as readers review both of their applications with an eye to areas of improvement.

Q: Here's your marketing moment: How are the graduates of Northwestern going to be better managers, more global and more open to new ideas, than those of other B-schools?


Quality in quality out. Our former dean used to say we bring great people in, and if we don't mess them up along the way they leave great people. Ethics needs to be a part of the everyday process. If it's only a class, that's a problem. Throughout the year, there are numerous cases, assignments, and projects where ethics is an issue. In most of these situations the class has done a good job of bringing those issues to the floor and addressing them. That's as it should be. It's not a set-aside.

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