MBA Insider: Admissions Q&A

Admissions Q&A: Northwestern

If you're applying to Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile), be prepared to reveal far more than just your GMAT scores. "We're interested in their life stories, all the experiences that make them who they are at the time of application," says Beth Flye, Kellogg's assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid.

Such a probing admissions process is actually a good thing for applicants, giving them an opportunity to highlight strengths that might not otherwise be apparent, says Flye. She ought to know: She has headed full-time MBA admissions at Kellogg since 2003.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek's Zachary Tracer, Flye discussed how Kellogg evaluates applicants and helps students find jobs. Excerpts of their conversation follow.

What makes someone a good fit for a Kellogg MBA

The first word that comes to mind is multidimensional—someone who has interesting life stories as well as a strong track record professionally and academically. What that equates with is somebody who brings diversity to the table. Diversity is a hallmark characteristic of Kellogg, so we want to keep that fabric of diversity very strong with a well-rounded, multidimensional class that comes in each year.

Are there any minimums that students need to be aware of? Minimum years of work experience, GMAT quantitative scores, or anything like that?

We are a school that does require some full-time work experience, but we don't assign a minimum in terms of duration for that. What's important to us is the quality of one's professional background, and quality comes in many packages in terms of length. [Take] a look at our averages, if people are interested in average years of work experience, average grade point averages, and so forth. But keep in mind that's an average, and it reflects a range. [Editor's Note: The average GMAT score for the MBA Class of 2010 was 714, with 72 percent of enrolled students' scores between 650 and 740, according to the Kellogg class profile.]

So how are you evaluating applicants?

Very holistically. We're no different than a company that's hiring talent. We're recruiting talent and want to bring in great talent. And then there are some more intangible qualities that we're looking for. We don't have an absolute hard and fast list, but someone who, for instance, has potential and a demonstrated background in leadership, someone who's collaborative, is a team player. Someone who [is] multidimensional and well-rounded. Someone [whom] there's more to than just their academic transcript. There's more to them than just their professional background. We're interested in their life stories, all the experiences that make them who they are at the time of application.

The third essay question on your application asks students to tell the admissions committee why they should get in, and the fourth essay question seems challenging as well. Do you have any advice for applicants who are completing those?

What I always tell people is [to] speak from your own mind and speak from your own heart when it comes to these questions. It's an opportunity for someone to tell us more about who they are via their own response to the question. There's no answer template, there's no right or wrong answer. And so really, I think as long as a person is very self-reflective and very thoughtful, they're going to have a good response to these questions.

Your interview process looks a bit different. Could you tell me about how it works?

On part one [of the application], an applicant needs to request an interview, and that can be an on-campus interview here or that person can request to be interviewed by an alum in the general region where they're located. The very large majority of our interviews are in person, either with one of the officers here or with one of our alumni interviewers. In some cases, we may have to arrange telephone interviews if someone is in a remote location.

Any tips for candidates going into the interview?

Know thyself well. Those words may sounds very simple, but I could not give any better advice than that. A person should use [the interview] not just as a time to promote their candidacy or to educate us about who they are, but also [to] ask us questions. We are there not just to evaluate, but we also want to be resources for our candidates.

Kellogg has an extraordinarily competitive admissions process. Less than 20 percent of applicants got in last year. What should individuals do who don't get in?

Certainly we do have candidates who reapply, and people are welcome to reapply. I think that any time we receive an application from someone to Kellogg, I don't take that lightly. A common request that we receive is, "Gosh, I didn't get in, could you offer some feedback?" We don't provide feedback. We used to do that a few years ago, and frankly the main reason we don't do that now is it's extremely time-intensive. But I would certainly not let that be a deterrent to someone who does want to reapply.

One part of the application that I'm sure everyone has to plan ahead for is recommendations. What makes a good letter of recommendation for an applicant?

A quality recommendation in my opinion is when the recommender not only answers the questions that we have but goes deeper and gives examples. For example, that person would give an example about how you rose to the occasion given a crisis situation. That type of detail is so incredibly helpful, I cannot stress that enough.

How should someone choose a recommender or work with a recommender to make sure that he or she gets a good recommendation?

The most important thing, first and foremost, is that the recommender knows the applicant really well. I think it makes sense [to] sit down with your recommender. You educate them about why you're applying to business school and what your goals are. It's very important that a recommender has context about you as an applicant. I really think it helps that person to formulate their thoughts when they are giving feedback about you. Don't get caught up in titles. It's the relationship that's important.

One thing that comes up when you think of Kellogg, is that it's a school you go to for marketing. Is that true?

Well, we certainly have a strong marketing program. But while we're strong in marketing, we're not limited to just marketing. For instance, we have an outstanding finance program. We're extremely strong in strategy. We have a great entrepreneurship program. So the point I would make is, we certainly are proud of the program we have in marketing, but we are proud of a number of other strong programs we have here as well. We don't try to be all things to all people, but we're not a school anchored in one program.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Kellogg has helped students find jobs during the downturn? About 86 percent of the class of 2009 had a job within three months, down from 95 percent in 2007, before the MBA hiring slump began.

What we do very well here from day one is we really want to enhance the skills and strategies of our students, to help them manage their career. If they're a career changer, we have a number of different workshops in terms of maneuvering for career changers. We employ our alumni as far as networking. And our career management office here [has] a partnership philosophy with the students. So we go the extra mile beginning at day one, to make sure students have access to all the resources on the career management side [and] to make sure they're getting as much information as they possibly can about maneuvering their job search.

How does the school's location outside Chicago play into the job search for students. Do you find that a lot of students are interviewing with Chicago-based companies?

I think from year to year, there's always a good number who are interviewing with companies here. Naturally, I mean, Chicago is one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and from a location standpoint, I think that's a big plus for us. If someone is interested in working in the Big Apple or someone wants to go to the Bay Area, can they have opportunities to do that? Absolutely. We are a global school, and though we are located in the Midwest, if someone wants to work in another area of the U.S. or beyond, Kellogg is going to be an excellent choice for that.

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