The exact, unedited essay that helped a current student get into Kellogg School of Management's MBA program

The exact, unedited essay that helped a current student get into Kellogg School of Management's MBA program

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  • US News & World Report ranked the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern No. 6 in terms of the best MBA programs in the country.
  • Kathy Hoe is a first-year student at Kellogg, and shared with Business Insider the original essay that landed her a spot in the elite business school.
  • Before applying for her MBA, Hoe worked at Oliver Wyman as a senior consultant. While in the role, she was offered and accepted an opportunity to serve as a project lead in Saudi Arabia.
  • This became the premise of her essay, which went on to impress Renee Cherubin, the senior director of full-time MBA admissions at Kellogg, who told Business Insider Hoe's writing convinced their team she'd be a good fit in Kellogg's diverse, collaborative environment.
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Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University is solidly the cream of the crop among business schools. Forbes ranked it No. 3 and US News & World Report ranked it No. 6 alongside Columbia University in 2019, and the school is no stranger to claiming its share of first-place rankings in any given year.

Kathy Hoe Headshot

Because Kellogg is so competitive, it's even more important to get one critical component of your MBA application just right if you're applying there: your essay. Kathy Hoe, who is currently in her first year at Kellogg, knows this very well, having recently gone through the process of conceiving and crafting the personal essay that helped ensure her acceptance into Kellogg's prestigious MBA program.

Doing this successfully, though, was far from easy.


Honing in on an essay topic

"In preparing to write my personal essay, I engaged in substantial reflection before putting pen to paper," recalled Hoe. In doing so, the MBA student said she started by making a list of all the significant events in her life, identifying key themes and takeaways to highlight from each.

"I then considered which experience was the catalyst in my decision to go to business school, and how it helped shape what I hoped to get out of the MBA experience at Kellogg," said Hoe.

Hoe's next challenge was to sort through all of the highlights that she identified, with a goal of determining what topic to write about in her essay. One experience rose above the others in terms of a career turning point.

Before applying for her MBA, Hoe - who received a BS in economics from the Wharton School and a BA in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 - worked at Oliver Wyman as a senior consultant. While in the role, she was offered and accepted an opportunity to serve as a project lead in Saudi Arabia.

"Ultimately, I decided to use my experience in Saudi Arabia as the key anecdote in my personal essay," explained Hoe. "Although I only spent about three months abroad, the experience radically changed my worldview, and it also stimulated a shift in where I saw my career path heading."


Digging deep to find meaning in her experience

As she began the essay-writing process, she found that the most challenging part about it was "unpacking" exactly why the experience in Saudi Arabia had been difficult for her.

"I had trouble distilling this experience into 450 words [the Kellogg essay requirement] and was cognizant that I didn't want to oversimplify the challenges, or make sweeping generalizations about a culture different than my own," said Hoe.

To overcome these challenges, the then-Kellogg hopeful asked for feedback from a diverse set of individuals within her professional and personal network.

"I wanted to ensure that the essay truly communicated what I wanted to say, and that people with different perspectives and [who had] lived [different] experiences took the same meaning from my story," she said. "I must have gone through over 15 drafts of my essay, but by the end, I was certain that my message resonated with people vastly different than myself."

Getting admissions' approval

Her approach worked. Renee Cherubin, the senior director of full-time MBA admissions at Kellogg School of Management, confirmed with Business Insider that Hoe's essay stood out for a few main reasons.


"When reading an application, and especially a personal essay, our goal is to get a sense of the person behind the achievements," explained Cherubin. "In this specific essay, we are looking for the applicant to share both personal and professional growth."

Renee Cherubin
The admissions director noted that beyond showing a significant project or professional accomplishment, Hoe's essay revealed "what kind of person Kathy is."

"She is globally minded," said Cherubin. "She wants to push herself outside her comfort zone. She is culturally sensitive. She sees opportunities where others see challenges. We understood why this was a significant experience for her and how she grew because of it."

Cherubin summed up that the essay reinforced that Hoe is "the type of high-impact, low-ego leader we look for at Kellogg."

What worked about Hoe's essay

Cherubin pointed to a few key things Hoe did right in her essay, noting that admissions looks for prospective students to successfully answer both the personal and professional aspects of the essay question (which you'll see below). She said that Hoe did a "great job" of not only answering each of the questions, but weaving the two parts together.


"We'll sometimes see applicants answer one part but not the other, or not tie the example with their future goals and Kellogg," said Cherubin. "Kathy showcased not only an impactful example but also painted a picture of what her continued growth at Kellogg and beyond looks like."

She added that Hoe showed significant academic and professional accomplishments in the other parts of her application, "but this essay showed us that she would also embrace Kellogg's emphasis on diversity and inclusion and would seek to understand her classmates' experiences and cultures."

Cherubin also mentioned that Hoe's writing effectively convinced admissions that she would fit in well with the program's collaborative culture and seek to find mutually beneficial solutions.

"We believed that Kathy would be a great asset to the Kellogg community both inside and outside of the classroom and have been thrilled to have her in the class this year!" concluded Cherubin.

The essay that got Hoe into Kellogg's MBA program

The personal essay question that Hoe tackled was this:


Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg?

Here is Hoe's answer that got her in the door at Kellogg:

When Oliver Wyman offered me the opportunity to lead a project in Saudi Arabia, I jumped at the chance to work abroad. Within three weeks, I sublet my apartment, purchased an abaya, and boarded a flight to Riyadh. As the first woman from an American office to relocate to Saudi, I had nobody to ask for advice. I didn't realize just how difficult my experience would be or how much I would grow.

The project was not structured for a woman to succeed in Saudi's conservative environment. Issues arose immediately. My Saudi client was adamantly opposed to meeting with me. Initially, I had hoped the relationship would improve once I demonstrated my skills. However, after repeatedly facing my client's closed door, I knew my usual approach of proving myself through excellent work-product would not work. I decided to discuss the problem with my Saudi teammates. I learned that while Saudi men could work with women, it was considered inappropriate for men and women to work together alone. Therefore, I requested that my team be increased to two, even though this project typically had only one consultant per workstream. Once I told my client that a first-year consultant had joined my team, he became more receptive to working with me.

Initially, I feared my Saudi experience would hinder my professional growth. However, when my team size expanded, I had a new opportunity to grow as a manager. The experience also taught me the importance of adjusting to a country's cultural norms in global business. By adapting to the cultural differences, I found a solution which met my client's needs, facilitated the project's success, and ensured my continued professional development. My experience in Saudi Arabia galvanized me to think critically about the economic and social disparities faced by women globally. I gained a greater appreciation of my own opportunities, which fueled my desire for a career in nonprofit management, focused on international development.


Through Kellogg's social impact pathway and robust global curriculum, I will grow as a nonprofit leader in international development. As a nonprofit executive, I will need to understand how year-to-year funding fluctuations impact strategic planning. Courses from Kellogg's social impact curriculum, such as Leadership Perspectives in Nonprofit Management, will teach me how to manage the resources of a mission-driven organization. Through Kellogg Board Fellows, I will learn how to best leverage the diverse expertise of nonprofit board members. Additionally, Kellogg's Global Initiatives in Management courses, such as Women Entrepreneurship, perfectly combine my interests in global business and social impact. I am particularly excited for the opportunity to liaise directly with government officials, as the ability to promote social change is significantly impacted by a region's political environment. The Kellogg experience will prepare me to scale my impact beyond borders.