Tag Archives | Kellogg MBA

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: 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? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.


The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

Why It Helps Your Application to Visit Schools in the Spring

I’ve always told students to visit schools in the springtime. Now that it’s almost April, and schools will end classes in May, it’s time to remind prospective students it’s entirely worth the trip.

If you can schedule a visit before classes are over, while the sun is shining, and when students know what’s what, you’ll get a much better idea of the school’s DNA.

Here are five reasons to get yourself on a plane sooner, rather than waiting until summer or fall.


Admit it, life is more pleasant for visitors in the spring than in the dead of winter.  OK, Stanford and Berkeley are lovely most of the year, but the rest of the country? Not so much fun.  Says one Booth second-year student, “For Chicago, the spring weather is a huge plus. The winter just makes everyone miserable.”


One of the best ways to understand an MBA program is to go when class is in session. You’ll feel a completely different vibe when a campus is filled with purposeful students. You want to sit in on a class, see what it’s all about, and get a feel for what it would be like to be a student yourself.  And if you’ve never seen the case-study method in action, you don’t know what you’re missing.

You’ve got about a month left of classes for most MBA programs – for example, the last day of classes for MIT Sloan is May 14.  HBS is a little earlier, and exams begin at the beginning of May. Stanford GSB and Kellogg, which are on the quarter system, run a little longer; last day of classes for Stanford is June 6, for Kellogg is June 2.

Students visiting one-year programs like INSEAD or programs like Columbia Business School need not worry; prospective students can see the school in action year-round.  “With classes taking place over the summer, the J-term also offers prospective students an opportunity to sit in for a class and really experience what it would be like to be a Columbia Business School student,” says Amanda Carlson, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Columbia.” It’s these types of experiences that seem to have the greatest impact on prospective students.”


In addition to class visits, you want to talk with real students to discern the realities of campus life.  First year students are usually in a state of shock during fall term – they’re overwhelmed with courses, activities, recruiting, and FOMO, or fear of missing out.   Second year students have figured out the lay of the land, but can be stressed by recruiting, which swings into full gear during autumn.

Spring is a different story.  Jodi Innerfield, Michigan’s Ross School of Business recent graduate notes, “visiting schools in the spring gave me the opportunity to speak with first years as they reflected on year 1, and MBA2’s as they ventured off to their full-time jobs. In the spring, we’re all reflecting on our experiences and enjoying the nice weather, so it’s a good time to get our perspective and see campus.”

Christine Sneva, senior director of enrollment and student services at Cornell Tech, agrees:  “Spring is actually an ideal time because as someone who’s scoping out a program’s value proposition, prospective students should be talking to folks at the end of their program. You’ll get a raw, real-time perspective that will most likely stay with you throughout your search.”


Since most MBA admissions deadlines begin in September or October, things can get pretty rushed for applicants in the fall.  Assuming the student has taken the GMAT or GRE, there’s the application to navigate, recommenders to organize, and goals to figure out, all while continuing to excel in a full-time job.  Amy Mitson, senior associate director of admissions at the Tuck School of Business suggests that, “Spring is a great time to take an advanced look at a program with no pressure. You are still months away from the start of the fall application season. Relax and take it all in! This will also give you something to reflect on when writing your application in the fall.”


In addition to reducing pressure, early visits allow a prospective student a chance to reflect on their experiences as they figure out the whole question of fit (see How To Know If Your Target Schools Fit You). The visit will help you figure out where to apply and why.  You’ll be able to go beyond rankings or brand reputation as you think about what the school offers you, and importantly, what you offer the school.  A spring visit allows you to use the summer to really think through your argument for why the MBA and why a particular school.

Not everyone can visit every target school, but it helps prospective students understand the MBA program’s culture, and it never hurts to make the effort, if possible. Says Tuck’s Mitson, “Nothing beats the first-hand perspective and showing your sincere interest like a visit to campus.”

The Warriors Have Something to Teach You About Leadership


I make no secret about being a Golden State Warriors fan. This is my home town team, and I am proud to admit that I am not just a bandwagon fan.  Sports fan or not, you’ve probably heard about their history-making skill.  You’ll see effusive descriptions about the players’ brilliance – individually and collectively.  And there are hundreds of articles about their gamesmanship.

But I haven’t seen too much about their brand of unselfish leadership.   And that’s something that all emerging leaders – whether in business school or just applying – can learn from.

Leaders who are playing from strength

Here are the things that jump out, and what students of leadership, at all levels, can learn.  Each one of these items are true of the superstars (Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Igoudala), as well as the team as a whole.

* They are masters of their skill
* They work hard, really hard
* They help each other out – all the time
* They don’t showboat (much)
* They play with joy

Each one of those traits can be true of emerging business and organizational leaders.  When thinking about demonstrating leadership in a business school application, most prospective students feel like they are embarking on a competition as fierce as the NBA playoffs.  Most other candidates are already masters of their skill. Let’s assume that you, too, are at the elite level of skill.  And I bet you work really, really hard.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a statistic for assists in your day job?

The Warriors have already made basketball history because they play like a team. Teams have taken on enhanced importance in business school and management practices.  Look up “teams” at the Harvard Business Review website and you’ll find 4,700 articles. Kellogg’s first essay question begins with the statement, “Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience.”  Wharton, for example, has pioneered the team-based admissions interview, largely because the “team-based nature is fundamental to Wharton’s identity,” writes Hannah Zheng, WG15 in the blog “Wharton Journal.” Fuqua’s dedication to teamwork is so strong that it defines its culture as Team Fuqua with an underlying culture of supportive ambition.

The Warriors have made basketball so much more fun to watch because of the assist: they’ve taken passing the ball around the perimeter, to a high art.  They aren’t focusing on muscling their way to get under the basket – most of them are too small to win at that game. Instead, they play a kind of poetic, unselfish ball, and handily lead the NBA in number of assists per game. Yes, you hear of stars – Stephen Curry is not of this world. And he too is a great passer—especially when there is another player in a better position to score.

Showboating is the opposite of acting with humility

Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of seven books on leadership, describes humility as one of the most important characteristics of great leaders.  “They  exhibit humility in their actions and interactions, yet are passionately committed to the success of their enterprises,” he wrote in March 2016 on his website. Despite amazing competitiveness on the court – embodying Berkeley Haas’ defining principle of “confidence without attitude,” the Warriors are no prima donnas.

Off the court, the Warriors act about as humble as a bunch of regular guys. Steph Curry, is almost reserved in his demeanor, and at 6’3”, almost looks like a normal-sized human being.  He’s quiet and private and brings his two-year-old daughter to press conferences.  Draymond Green, the loudest and most passionate of the team, makes a big noise, but even he is not overly impressed with himself.  A lot of that gracious off-court attitude comes down from the top, Coach Steve Kerr. A gracious man, Kerr appears to have an even temper and a wry sense of humor. The dynamics of his organization are so strong that when he was out for back surgery for the first 43 games of the 2015 season, assistant coach Luke Walton oversaw a team that won 39 of them.  And typically, Kerr and Walton credit each other for the team’s success.

This is not what we think of when we think of famous basketball players. But the Warriors seem to bring the best out in each other. And that’s leadership.

Working hard and having fun

The biggest leadership trait this team brings to the table is joy. Their fast pace, their small stature, their theatrical shots, make you think they are having the time of their lives.  In fact, of the four core values, the first one is joy. (The rest are mindfulness, compassion and competition.)  This is a team that has a “silly fine” for team members who do really dumb things. This is a team where Curry laughs with delight when he’s on the bench –and it’s infectious enough to make you laugh too.

That’s the essence of being a true leader– to take it seriously, but not to take yourself too seriously. Oh, they’re competitors, and but boy are they fun to watch. As one sportswriter for ESPN writes, “Joy? Sports aren’t supposed to be about joy. They’re supposed to be about proving yourself through a grueling slog of self-sacrifice. …To the Warriors, though, joy is a weapon, an essential aspect of winning.”

Final lessons

I could write more about learning from failure (see Michael Jordan’s Nike commercial), or about defying expectations (see Steph Curry’s original draft report video – with Drake’s lyrics “know yourself, know your worth”).  But I won’t. Watch a game. Enjoy yourself. And then, go out and break some records. The possibilities are endless.



A Reminder: Answer the Question

People always ask: How do I make myself stand out in an MBA application?  I have three words of advice: Answer the questions.  Advice so simple it barely seems worth mentioning.

At a recent school panel, a Yale School of Management admissions officer underscored just how much she and her colleagues pay attention to those answers. That’s because business schools craft their essay questions deliberately. They really do care. To put it in modern business jargon, a rep from UVA’s Darden School of Business encouraged audience members to “take ownership” of each school’s questions.  She’s right. Let them be a chance for earnest self-reflection; let them guide you through a process that not only gets you into business school, and leaves you with a deeper self-understanding regardless of the end result.

A lofty goal, and it’s a little too easy to get cynical, so try not to.  It never gets old.  That’s because the questions are deceptively simple and designed to get you to answer the question behind the question.  You are given a prompt, for example, “Why do you want an MBA”? That’s pretty straightforward, so answer it.  You want to be as unambiguous as you can. I want to be an entrepreneur, or I want to change the way health care is delivered around the world, or I want to use private equity to support clean tech investments. There are as many answers are there are people applying, because your answer will be unique to you. But you have to do one thing: answer clearly, and preferably, answer up front. And don’t forget to answer the questions behind the question: why you?  Or, more precisely, what is it about you that puts the very special you at your computer writing an application to business school right here, right now.

No matter how you answer whatever they ask, you can still be humble and compelling in your answer. Say, for example, you want to offer as one of your reasons that you will add to the classroom debate. Support the statement, just as you would in a business problem or a pitch for angel investor money. You might add to the debate because you were raised speaking three languages, or because you were one of 12 children, or because you are passionate about number theory. Whatever you decide to write about is up to you. But you have to frame your response so it answers the question, and support that response.

Finally, just a little admonishment from another one of the panelists at the outreach program last week. Resist the urge to force answers to one school’s essay questions into answers to another school’s questions.  The message to your evaluators is that you don’t care enough about the school or are too lazy to take the time to write a genuine, unique response.  I absolutely positively know for sure that you are not lazy, so be forewarned.

That’s all. Just remember that the writers of those questions write them that way because they wanted them answered. And remember, it’s no different from a business assignment. You’d answer your boss’ question, wouldn’t you?

What You Wish You Had Known Before Applying to Business School

Wharton banner 2

A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was recently admitted to Wharton (really) and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. She was also a reapplicant, and has learned While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!


I am so glad that I reapplied. I was rejected from the four top business school programs I applied to three years ago (all without an interview). While it stung to get so little traction in the business school process, I did not take it as a sign that I wasn’t “meant” for business school. Instead I tried to understand the weaknesses in my application and knew that I would try again and do it better. I have learned so much in the application process and am very happy I have even more experience that I can bring to business school when I attend.

Get feedback! Make sure the people you are asking have something valuable to add to the process and take the time to listen — better to find two people who will give you great feedback than send your materials to 10 people and listen to no one.

Also, be strategic in your decisions about who you want to use for help in the application process, and seek out those people early on. Make sure you really WANT someone’s feedback before asking for it; I have been on both sides of the equation. Recently, a friend asked for feedback on his essays. I spent a lot of time on his essays and when I returned them it seemed that he hardly looked at my suggestions. He was giving me the essays because he thought that was what you were supposed to do, but had little interest in following up on the suggestions or incorporating feedback.

In terms of my advice for people who have been waitlisted or general feedback for students after they have applied: the most valuable thing I’ve done in my application process is turn every moment I have been frustrated into an opportunity to do something. When I found myself going crazy waiting for one program to get back to me while another waited on my decision, I brainstormed a list of all the things I had accomplished since I applied and wrote a letter to the school where I was waitlisted explaining those accomplishments. I created a campaign fueled by waiting and (sometimes) panic and created something productive. I am so glad I did this, because the time you spend sitting anxiously waiting and checking MBA chat forums is, in the end, not useful (though I did that too).

Given the calculus course I am taking and other requirements, I have completely neglected to begin financial planning and thinking about the costs and consequences of my decision. I wish I had done this in a systematic way earlier, not only so that I would be better prepared and informed about my choices and responsibilities, but also because finances are an important part of my final decision (for instance, I am trying to make a decision about two programs that cost vastly different amounts of money). Now I am finding myself overwhelmed at the process of tackling everything right now. If I had to do it again, I would start planning and filling out financial aid information earlier and getting the advice of students, faculty, family and others about their tips on going through the process.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99