Forster-Thomas Essay Coach Ben Feuer provides his advice on how to answer Kellogg’s MBA essays

It’s one of those movie clichés everyone remembers: The ragtag bunch of misfits who, when assembled and given the proper direction, manage to beat the big scary team from Center Central—you know, the guys whose uniforms match.

That’s one way to think of Kellogg. After all, it didn’t make the top five in the Financial Times’ global MBA rankings this year, or even the top twenty.  Isn’t Kellogg just a safety for the 700+ GMAT crowd?  Another also-ran?

Think that way and you’ll end up the same way those boys from Center Central did—eating turf and wishing you’d taken your app more seriously.  The truth is, Kellogg is a top-notch school with a unique mandate: it’s all about achieving in group settings (read: Being part of a championship team).  That’s why their mission statement lists “grounded wisdom” and “collaborative spirit” ahead of vision.

So, think you can make a champion misfit?  Well, you better be ready to put it all out there, because Kellogg’s essays will challenge you to do just that.


Essay 1: MBA Program applicants - Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA. (600 word limit)

Yeah, it’s another goals essay.  But pay close attention to the wording.  They’re emphasizing your career progress to date, and they’re not mentioning short- and long-term goals as distinct entities.  What does this mean?  It means we’re back to “grounded wisdom”.  Kellogg is looking for a track record of high achievement in a particular field and a short-term goal that reflects that.  Prove to us that you’re going to be ready to work on day one after graduation… that’s what they’re saying.

Also, even though they don’t specifically ask for your motivation for pursuing a Kellogg MBA, you had better read between the lines and do your school-specific research.  Kellogg wants you to want them, but you have to be able to tell them why they’re the right program for you.

Essay 2: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experiences (600 word limit).

This is a standard leadership essay, with a few important tweaks to consider.  The first is that they’re asking for experiences.  Plural.  So you need to work at least two stories into this essay.  They’re also asking you to evaluate potential growth areas (This is going to be a theme at Kellogg … how can we help you grow?  White boys beware, if you try to come out of this looking like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way—you will crash and burn).  Do a little head math and you come up with approximately 200 words for each story, and 200 words of what you hope to develop.  What does this remind us of?  It rhymes with Schmarvard Shmuniversity.  And if you’ve read our blog on Schmarvard, you know that there’s no room for anything artsy, fartsy, or god forbid, both artsy and fartsy.  Stick to the story, and try to devote at least a third of each example to takeaways, lessons learned, analysis and personal growth.

One important way Kellogg differs from that other Burgundy-flagged school is that it treats the whole essay as a single unit.  So you need to consider transitions.  Think about a way to tie your examples together at the beginning, and don’t forget to place your stories on the timeline of your personal development (in 2008, after graduating, I was a young greenhorn when I…).

Essay 3: Assume you are evaluating your application from the perspective of a student member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee. Why would you and your peers select you for admission, and what impact would you make as a member of the Kellogg community? (600 word limit).

My candidates always dread this essay, and I always love it.  Nothing encapsulates Kellogg better than this essay, and I personally suspect that this is essay they use to really separate the wheat from the chaff. 

The purpose of the essay is to make you put yourself in admission’s shoes, and do their work for them, explaining to them why they should accept you. The wording of the essay has recently been revised, so you are now allowed to introduce information that doesn’t exist elsewhere in your application, and if you choose, you no longer have to write from the perspective of a student committee member.  That said, I still recommend that you do.  It shows creativity and allows you to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your understanding of Kellogg—which is extensive, right?  Because you really want to go to Kellogg, right?  If not, see paragraph one.

As for the content, devote equal time to your undergraduate and post-graduate achievements.  Try to think about things the way admissions would—are you worthy of admission, based on your numbers?  Will you contribute to the incoming class?  How?  What makes you stand out?  And perhaps most importantly, what will Kellogg do for you?  How is it a natural and necessary step on the way to your goals, both short- and long-term? 

Essay 4: Complete one of the following three questions or statements. (400 word limit)

Re-applicants have the option to answer a question from this grouping, but this is not required.
a) Describe a time you had to inspire a reluctant individual or group.
b) People may be surprised to learn that I…..
c) The riskiest personal or professional decision I ever made was…

a) If you are a leadership juggernaut, this can be an opportunity to squeeze in that amazing third story you didn’t get a chance to fit into your essay #2.  But most of the time, that isn’t going to be your best use of precious words.  Beware of repurposing to fit this prompt just because it’s easier than writing a new essay—unless, as I said, you really have a GREAT leadership instance.

b) This is the choice for people who want to spread their creative wings.  If you’re afraid to do that, then you should DEFINITELY choose this prompt.  You have to push yourself to write great essays, and surprising someone with your first sentence is a good challenge to set for yourself.  Once you have surprised them with your opening sentence, continue surprising them by showing your response to the situation or your evolution over time.  You should be different at the end of this essay than you were at the beginning.

c) This is a chance to show the gears turning.  Really delve into the introspective side of your personality.  Remember that these kinds of essays should always be a choice between one good and another good.  It’s a decision, not a bummer. 

See our Kellogg Class of 2014 MBA Essay Guide for more information.

Forster-Thomas Essay Coach Ben Feuer on how to answer MIT Sloan’s MBA essays

If MIT Sloan were a dog, it would be an Irish Setter … you know, that dog that sticks out its head and holds up one leg to show the man in the coonskin cap which direction to point his Winchester? That’s right, MIT Sloan is a pointer. It’s a forward-looking, forward thinking school full of high achievers focused on the promise tomorrow brings … and no, not everyone there looks like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. MIT Sloan has a hip, diverse incoming class, and if you’re looking to join the party, you’d better glom on to these essay notes like they were the brand new Blu-Ray box set of Star Wars (Sorry, that’ll be my last MIT nerd joke).

Prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions.

Here it is … the stealth essay. Many people don’t even realize that this IS an essay, but believe me, if you don’t take the cover letter seriously, you will live to regret it. You need to bring the same energy, specificity and creativity to this as you do to all your other essays.

That said, there are some quirks particular to the format. Use proper formatting and include your mailing address at the top, as well as Rod Garcia’s. And don’t forget to use a proper greeting, like ‘Dear Mr. Garcia:’, and sign-off, like ‘sincerely’.

MIT doesn’t have a traditional goals essay or a traditional why MIT essay, so if there’s anything you’re burning to say about how right MIT is for you, or how well it fits in with you life’s ambition, the first and last paragraphs of this cover letter are the place to say it. Don’t go overboard, but do make it clear why you think MIT is the right fit—and if you can’t figure out why, you probably shouldn’t be applying.

When you talk about your accomplishments, don’t go in depth; you’ll have three other essays to do that. Instead, do two broad survey paragraphs centered around periods of time—for example, covering your life during college and your career since college. But do note that MIT specifically requests a story where you had an impact on a group or organization, so devote at least one full independent paragraph to telling them that story.

And remember: for this and all other MIT essays, that thanks to a flirtation with B.F. Skinner, MIT has gone behaviorist, judging you based solely on your actions. That means no takeaways, no talking about what your accomplishment taught you, at least not in a focused, dedicated paragraph.

Essay 1: Please describe a time when you went beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

MIT’s essays can’t be approached individually. They have to be approached as a unit, holistically. By presenting them with what amounts to a theme and variations on your leadership background, and by solely focusing on your actions and behaviors, MIT is forcing you to focus on what matters to them. So, as Primal Scream would say: don’t fight it, feel it. Bearing in mind that you are limited to the last three years, brainstorm times in your life when you struggled, times when you had something very important to accomplish but something or someone was standing in your way.

Squabbling with a difficult boss? Advising a colleague who just couldn’t get with the program? Raising funds for your school play (or casting it)? Landing a fantastic deal by pulling off a personal coup? Getting your grandmother to finally forgive your sister for marring a Kuwaiti man?

Any of these could be examples of you going beyond what was expected. The key is … how far did you have to push yourself to get to that point? How different were you after doing it than you were before you began?

Essay 2: Please describe a time when you convinced an individual or group to accept one of your ideas. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

When thinking about balance, it’s important to consider not just the setting, but the role you played in the setting. How many sides of yourself can you show through these three essays? Can you show yourself leading by example, cajoling and persuading, giving orders and holding people to their promises? Be diverse. Show that you can lead in different ways.

Convincing an individual or group to accept an idea is the essence of leadership. It always begins with a problem. After all, if everything was perfect, why change it around? The idea doesn’t have to be yours alone, but you must be able to talk about how you became its champion—how you were able to show everyone potential in the idea that they didn’t see before.

Essay 3: Please describe a time when you had to make a decision without having all the information you needed. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

At this point, the leadership fountain is probably running dry. So get some help. Talk with people who know you well—go through your resume and your shared history with them. Ask them what they remember about the time when you did this or that together. They may be able to remember things you cannot. Or, sometimes, they’ll have a perspective you never imagined possible.

Having to make a decision without all available information implies that you didn’t know the whole story when you went in—and then the OTHER shoe dropped. Often these stories involve people getting to a certain point, THINKING they’ve succeeded, and then realizing that they’d only just gotten started. Setbacks can fit well into this format, assuming you learned something from it and it ended in success, of course.

See our MIT Sloan MBA Essay Guide for more information.