Kate Smith Kellogg Admissions Essay

Forster-Thomas video expert Tom Locke tells you how to respond to Kellogg's 2014 video essay prompt.

This year, the Kellogg MBA program has introduced a new component to its application process: The video essay. This has caused plenty of business school candidates to race to the MBA forum-sphere, desperate for any advice. On one forum, a candidate proudly posted about how he “got out” of his interview by telling Kellogg he didn’t have access to a webcam.

Big mistake. You shouldn’t be grumbling about this new element or trying to figure out how to get around it. You should be grateful: this is a tremendous opportunity to introduce, differentiate, and endear yourselves to the admission committee.

While most MBA interviews are “invite only”—and thus only open to the most top-tier candidates—Kellogg (and a few peers like Yale SOM) has introduced video essays in an effort to meet the human beings behind the essays and recommendations. Even for a candidate who gets that coveted interview invitation, he or she may never meet an admissions officer, as many are conducted by alumni or even second year MBA students. This, then, ensures that every single applicant will get some valuable face time with the admissions committee. My advice to you, therefore, is to MAKE THE MOST OF IT! IT IS NOT AN OBLIGATION, IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY!

Before we dive into the kind of questions you can expect, let’s walk through the Kellogg video essay process: 

  1. Towards the end of the Kellogg application, you will find the “Video Essay” page. There, a video featuring Kate Smith, Kellogg’s Assistant Dean of Admissions, explains the logic behind the video essay. After watching the video, you can click on a link to test your computer’s Internet connection and software compatibility. 
  2. Next, you will need to click a couple of boxes that give the school permission to record you. 
  3. Now you have the opportunity to do a condensed “test run,” which runs you through a shortened version of the actual video interview process with blank prompts. After completing the test run, you will be asked if you are ready to move on to the actual video essay. 
  4.  When you click “ready,” the video essay begins. A prompt will appear, selected randomly from a bank of questions. You have 90 seconds before recording begins to read the prompt and decide how to answer it (you can also click a button to bypass the 90-second timer and start recording). Once the recording begins, you have 90 seconds to answer the question. After your 90-second answer (remember, you have the option to answer more briefly), your recorded response will be entered as part of your application. 
  5. Finally, keep in mind that you have three “chances”: if you don’t like the first prompt, you can “reject” it and you will receive a second prompt. You can reject that prompt as well. However, the third prompt is the last one you will receive, and must be answered.

Now, as to the questions and how to answer them:

Although it is a new platform for candidate assessment, the video essay is quite consistent with the rest of your application process. There will likely be no curveballs. Expect all the prompts to tap into one of the following common MBA categories: 

  • Passions / Interests 
  • Challenges / Accomplishments 
  • Professional goals 
  • Leadership experiences

Since these are the same kinds of topics you brainstormed to write your essays, you’re actually more prepared for the video essay than you might think. No matter what the actual question is, you can tap into your many stories to answer it. Before doing the video essay, simply create a list of 3-4 stories in each category. When you do the video essay, use the 90-second prep time to identify which area they are asking you about, and then choose the best answer.

So, why not just give you another essay, or refer to your other essays touching upon those broad topics? Two reasons:

  • They want to know if you can think on your feet. It’s one thing to take month to write several drafts of an essay; it is another thing to organize and articulate your thoughts in mere seconds. This is your version of your “elevator pitch”. 
  • They want to see how you’d fare in a recruiting event or boardroom. How you present yourself if as important as what you say. The school’s first impression of you is likely similar to a prospective employer’s, and—let’s face it—as much as a school might want you to study with them, the really want you to go into the world as an alumnus/ae and get a terrific job, which reflects upon the school.

Finally, a few key suggestions: 

Dress for success! Like in any interview, be the best-dressed person they meet.  

Look them in the eye (or, rather, the webcam). Treat this like a conversation. Don’t look down too much at your notes, and don’t allow your eyes to wander around the room. You are having a conversation with someone you want to like you…don’t talk AT the computer. Talk TO the person. 

Make your argument. Don’t ramble on or digress into a dissertation to show how smart you are. This is your chance to show that you are clear-thinking, persuasive, and can formulate a cohesive argument for your candidacy through your answer. 

The school WANTS you to succeed. Admissions officers are not looking to “trip you up.” They are simply recognizing that the only thing you can bring to the table as a candidate is YOU, and they are giving you that opportunity to do so. Remember, they WANT you to be terrific. That makes their lives easier. So take a deep breath, and give them YOU!

--Tom Locke



Kate Smith, Kellogg’s new director of admissions. Photo by Andreas Larson

It was over a lingering dinner at Convito Café in Wilmette, Ill., that Kate Smith first thought about the possibility of leaving her corporate job and working for her alma mater Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. A 1998 Kellogg MBA, Smith was dining with Roxanne Hori, who had successfully led Kellogg’s MBA placement effort for nearly 17 years.

Leaning over a table at the Italian-French trattoria, Smith confided to Hori that she might be ready for a career change. Kellogg had recently hired Sally Blount, a new dean from New York University, and Smith was keen to know how what Blount had in store for her alma mater.

“’I need to go through a more rigorous self-assessment of where I should go next,’” she recalls telling Hori. “’That said, tell me what’s going on at Kellogg right now because I’m so intrigued by Sally and what I’ve read and what I see coming. You’re in the middle of it. Tell me what’s going on.’”

By the time she and Hori walked out of the restaurant and onto the Sheridan Road sidewalk, Smith had decided she wanted to be a part of Kellogg’s new leadership team. After a series of interviews in late 2011, she was hired and arrived during the midst of the round-two application deluge in February of this year as assistant dean of admissions and financial aid. For someone who had spent the past 14 years working for some of the biggest consumer brands in America at General Mills, Quaker Oats, and PepsiCo, the MBA admissions game seems at first an odd fit.


But Smith, 42, who left her job as senior director of marketing for Gatorade to join Kellogg, recalls an early desire walking the hallways of Kellogg as an MBA student to someday return to the university in a working capacity. Over her corporate years, she stayed close to the school, returning to interview and recruit MBA students as well as to participate in classroom and panel discussions on marketing.

And in nearly every way, Smith is the quintessential Kellogg grad: an exceptionally bright and engaging person with infectious enthusiasm and passion—especially for the school. “I am literally here as a byproduct of the experience that Kellogg is,” she says. “I loved Kellogg. I was thrilled to be admitted and accepted here and it was an amazing experience.”


Born in Minnesota, the six-foot-three-inch Smith was a hot basketball prospect in high school. Some 100 colleges and universities vied to recruit her. Smith ultimately went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she became captain of the women’s basketball squad. She graduated in the 1992 recession with a marketing degree. “There weren’t any great marketing roles for an undergraduate in that era,” says Smith. “So as I looked at my opportunities and I followed another path: commercial real estate.” Two years into it, however, and the desire to do marketing was felt. Kellogg became the obvious choice for a career-switching MBA.

In her first season as Kellogg’s gatekeeper, Smith saw applications to Kellogg’s full-time MBA program fall by 7% to 5,071 from 5,459. Interestingly, though, applications to Kellogg’s one-year MBA program rose 6% and the school increased the size of its one-year program by 15% to a record 100 students. In July, Smith unveiled an entirely new slate of essay questions for this season’s MBA applicants while cutting the total word limit to 1,525 words from 2,200.

What makes Kellogg’s admissions virtually unique is that the school requires all applicants to request an admissions interview. No business school interviews more applicants in any given year. About 67% of those interviews are done by alums, 26% by Smith’s admissions staff of eight full-time staffers, with the remaining sessions done by current Kellogg students.

In a lengthy interview with Poets&Quants, Smith explains the process Kellogg uses to select its MBA students as well as the core characteristics it seeks in an ideal MBA candidate. And Smith explains why she quit her job to return to the school she loves.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *