The students that arrived in Evanston this month to begin their MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management know that their new home is so much more than ‘the marketing school’. And the perspectives they now share in the breath-taking new Global Hub that overlooks Lake Michigan reflect a record-breaking level of diversity.
The Class of 2020 has no doubt been selected for the collaborative leadership potential and humility that are a hallmark of the school, and gathers industry experience from consulting (24%), financial services (19%), technology (13%), government, education and non-profit (9%), consumer goods (6%) and health/bio (4%) for three quarters of the cohort.
And they are a smart bunch, with an average undergrad GPA of 3.6, a figure that has remained unchanged for the past five years. The GMAT average of 732 is unchanged from last year, and is second only to the Stanford GSB average of 737.
But while the 34% international students is slightly down on last year, U.S. minorities have reached a five-year high at 27%. Kellogg has also moved to the top of the M7 list for gender balance, welcoming a record 46% women to the MBA Class of 2020. “Witnessing the percentage of women continue to rise makes me not only excited for Kellogg but for the future business world,’ explains Melissa Rapp, Director of Admissions for the full-time MBA program. “For now, ‘46’ is my new favourite number.”
In the past five years, our team at Fortuna Admissions has seen Kellogg’s star shining ever brighter. Far from being an afterthought for the Harvard / Stanford / Wharton hopefuls, we’ve witnessed the school’s distinct appeal to the brightest and the best in the MBA applicant pool. They are attracted by a culture that emphasizes high impact and low ego, which sees McKinsey, Bain and the Boston Consulting Group competing with Amazon, Microsoft and Apple to hire Kellogg graduates. And with close to a third of the Class of 2017 accepting positions on the West Coast, marketing in the Mid-West is just one option among many others.
MORE FROM FORBES
Ahead of the CentreCourt MBA Festival in Chicago, where admissions officers from Kellogg will be joined by peers from Chicago Booth, INSEAD and many other top schools to meet with prospective business school applicants, I caught up with Melissa to talk about what the school is looking for in the next incoming class.
How do you feel that Kellogg’s new Global Hub building has impacted the MBA student experience?
The Global Hub is an amazing place to work and to study. It was clear from the very beginning that it was an inspiring, beautiful building and that it had been designed with spaces and places throughout the building that reflected Kellogg values, especially collaboration. At this point we have a full class that has experienced the Global Hub and so we actually have their feedback to further inform how we feel about the building. What they have told us again is that the design, with bright and open and collaborative spaces has been a place that they want to come, not just to learn but also to socialize and gather as a community. I don't think we could have asked for anything more from a building to inspire students to choose to come here outside of class time, to choose to spend their social time here and to really take advantage of the inspiring skyline views, the abundant natural lighting and to have that calming effect of the water right outside the windows of the Hub.
The students have also given us great feedback on the classrooms, and I think sometimes people overlook the impact that a classroom space has on their experience. But the amount of thoughtfulness that went into developing the technology allows students to be able to be plugged in, and for professors to have the latest state of the art equipment in classrooms that have been designed as modular customizable spaces. So whether it's an in-class lecture or a debate or small group discussion, the classrooms are very accommodating for a variety of settings and need. So it has been great to hear from our students that the classrooms are exceeding their expectations, that they love coming here. It really has become the hub of our community.
Have there been any unexpected outcomes of the new building that you hadn't necessarily planned?
I think what people did not expect and have taken advantage of are some of the reflection spaces. It’s great to have a technology savvy building, but at the same time you spaces that were created with the intention that you unplug, that you'd sit quietly and enjoy some of the views without the distractions of our modern technology. And I think our students have really appreciated and taken advantage of this more than we expected. These are places and spaces to think about not only their experience here at Kellogg, but also refine some of their hopes and dreams for after Kellogg as well.
What you have been seeing in terms of applications to the full-time MBA?
We're very excited to have released our class profile for 2020. It is another incredibly diverse group of leaders that I am very excited to be adding to the Kellogg community. I've been very pleased that the fact that the overall quality of our applicant pool continues to increase year over year. We continue to see an incredible demand from women and minority students, and a reflection of the marketplace valuing Kellogg’s commitment to diversity inclusion has really been fulfilling for me personally and for the school as a whole. We continue to try to build classes that reflect the diversity that we think is so important for students to learn from, and be a part of. I think the other trend that we've seen in applications is an increase in technology as both an industry our students are coming from, and an industry that our students want to go to.
We opened our San Francisco campus not that long ago, so we've been able to infuse even more of that west coast opportunity into the student experience academically. Students can apply to and spend a winter quarter, so that's been another really great way for our students interested in technology and entrepreneurship to take advantage of Kellogg’s deep ties on the west coast.
Do you still see a strong demand from the international market?
We haven't seen any decrease in demand in the international market and we've been able to continue to place the number of international students that we feel is right for Kellogg and for our classes. Obviously the current political situation is something I think everyone is aware of, and we want to continue to have students understand that Kellogg’s commitment is an inclusive, open environment. We will continue to welcome international students and support them in every way that we can throughout their time here and as our alum.
Kellogg has a reputation for being one of the friendliest and most community-driven MBA programs. Do you screen for this trait in applicants?
We definitely have an eye towards fit in the application process. To me that's really a two-way street - we are looking for students who we think are ready to be an engaged member of our community, and that’s also a little bit on the students to understand where they are going to fit back. There is a component to this where the candidate has to visit the programs they're interested in, talk to the students, talk to the alumni and understand where they fit as well. But we do spend time in the application review process to understand how the student sees their place at Kellogg. We're very transparent about the six criteria we evaluate potential students on: intellectual ability, work experience, professional goals, leadership, impact and interpersonal skills.
Leadership and community and fit are probably one of the harder things for us to gauge from an application, which is part of why we have infused our application with so many different platforms for students to express themselves, from their written essays to our video essay to our interview. Every student has the opportunity to demonstrate why he or she is interested in Kellogg, and what kind of impact they can have here. One of our essay questions is very specific about demonstrating impact during your professional career already, and so understanding how they have found a place in other communities helps us to understand how they'll fit in here.
The school is unusual among the M7 schools for providing the opportunity for an applicant-initiated interview. Does that play a key role in looking for that sense of fit?
It definitely does play a role. It's an important part of the overall holistic application review that we do, and we enjoy being unique in that league. We continue to drive to interview everyone. It's an important part of us getting to know our candidates and looking to see what their fit will be like with Kellogg and also for them to speak to a member of our community. And that goes back to the two-way street that I mentioned before, we want them to hear from our staff and alums and students who interview for us what their life has been like at Kellogg to help them see how they might fit here.
The average GMAT for the full-time MBA program is a record high 732. How important is the GMAT in the admissions process?
We've been very fortunate to continue to have an outstanding pool of applicants year after year and the GMAT score of our applicants is rising at a similar increase than that of our incoming class. So it wasn't necessarily something that we pushed to do, but rather we saw the people choosing to apply to Kellogg were bringing higher and higher scores, which then was reflected in our class,
The GMAT is one part of the application and it reflects how a candidate was able to perform on one given task on one given day. If it were just as easy as pick the highest scores… fortunately it's not that easy and we do ask for a lot of other information as well. We take all that information very, very seriously - we're going to look at transcripts, we're going to read your essays, we're going to have you interview. And we do those things because we know that there are people in the world where their GMAT doesn't reflect them. When a candidate has a GMAT score that they either feel is not competitive of that they are concerned about, then my advice is always then take who you are and what makes you incredible and make me forget about your GMAT score. Because if I get to the point in an application where I am reading about your experiences and the things that you're passionate about, and then I look at your score, there are definitely stories out there that make me say, I don't care. I don't care what your score is, this person is Kellogg and Kellogg needs this person. The fun part of my job is getting to find those people.
McKinsey hires a great many Kellogg MBAs, and values the people skills and humility of your graduates. But in a world of big data they talk about analytics skills. So is the GMAT nevertheless an important reflection of making sure that people can handle the numbers?
Absolutely, and not just handle the numbers, but handle the rigor of the classroom. The GMAT is a tool that we do use to assess if a candidate is able to keep up with the rigor of our classroom. But it's only data point. We do look to their undergraduate GPA for selection to also help us assess their readiness. I don't want to put anyone in the class who is going to really struggle with the academic side.
While Kellogg may be perhaps best well known globally for marketing, what other programs do you wish students knew more about?
I regularly hear from people on the road, ‘Oh Kellogg, it’s the marketing school,’ and that bristles me a bit because I don't want Kellogg be put in a box that way. One of the beauties of Kellogg is the flexibility, to pursue your academic path and career the way that you want to. We’ve introduced over 100 new courses since 2012 and continue to push to educate our students rounded in our core curriculum. I think that that is something that sometimes gets undersold as part of the Kellogg experience. We deeply believe that every student who leaves Kellogg should be able to have this broad base of knowledge across functions within any industry that allows them to sit at a table and have a productive conversation, whether you're talking about supply chain or marketing or finance. A Kellogg graduate is able to hold their own in the discussion and then once you've rounded yourself in the core curriculum, you're able to either select a major and go deep into one particular subject area. All of our majors reflect our different academic departments - accounting, economics, finance, managing organizations, marketing, operations, strategy. These are majors that are optional, so you don't have to declare a major, but if you want to go deep in one of those subject matters that is something that you can absolutely do at Kellogg. We talked earlier about technology and entrepreneurship, and also social impact, these are areas that we see our students really being passionate about. If one of those areas is what you're hoping to do after Kellogg, then we have curated our pathways for that kind of student. A pathway is just a roadmap or a guidebook to which courses cut across the academic department in order to achieve your goals in one of those areas that doesn't fit neatly into an academic department. So these are faculty recommended courses in specific areas to give you a more holistic understanding of things like data analytics, entrepreneurship, healthcare, real estate, social impact, venture capital, private equity and so on. The flexibility that comes from being able to chart your own course grounded in the confidence that comes from having that rounded education. I don't know what you call that exactly, but I know it’s not marketing!
To find out why Kellogg is more than ‘the marketing school’ you can meet Melissa’s admissions team at the CentreCourt MBA Festival in Chicago. And for invaluable MBA admissions advice from the Kellogg gatekeeper, including thoughts on how to stand out in a well-represented segment of the applicant pool, the importance of letters of recommendation, and the classic mistakes that applicants make, you can catch the rest of this in-depth interview with Melissa Rapp here.