Students roaming down the QS list of the top-40 MBA programs in the world often develop a curiosity for the Kelley School of Business. Part of Indiana University, the business school regularly ranks highly and often trumps its more known counterparts at Harvard or Yale in specific criteria.
A proponent of online learning long before the pandemic — it’s offered a fully online MBA program since 1999 — the Kelley School of Business aspires for innovation while retaining pride in its over 100-year history.
Though the school now offers an undergraduate degree and specialized graduate degrees in finance, healthcare management, and information systems, the jewel in its programming remains its residential full-time MBA program. This two-year curriculum has a mix of classroom and experiential learning.
In this article, we will break down the issue of the Kelley School of Business and discuss the its philosophy, special programs, and its ideal candidates.
About Kelley School of Business
The Kelley School of Business draws its stellar reputation from its star-studded alumni, including:
John Chambers, president and CEO of Cisco Systems
Marc Cuban, American billionaire
Steve Bellamy, President of Kodak
Jimmy Wales, Co-founder of Wikipedia
Peter Wong, CEO of HSBC Asia-Pacific
With so many leaders among its graduates, it is unsurprising U.S. News finds “leadership is a theme that is prevalent within the school.” If you wish to become a partner at EY, a managing director at Charles Schwab, a president at The Adecco Group, you may want to attend Kelley and follow in the footsteps of those who did the same.
Besides its reputation, Kelley School of Business is known for its unique Academy programs, “an experience-based, mentorship-driven bridge between what you learn in your MBA coursework and how you'll use it in your post-MBA career.”
Based on their chosen major, first-year MBA students become affiliated with one of the school’s seven academies and get to work in close partnership with their respective Academy Leader. These include business experts bringing decades of experience in the Academy member’s desired field of work to the classroom. Academy Leaders have included: :
a former senior managing director at Accenture for Consulting,
a former executive at Johnson & Johnson for Life Sciences,
a former marketing guru at Microsoft for Business Marketing.
Ranked No. 23 in U.S. News’ Best Business Schools census for 2022, the Kelley Business School has also made the top-10 mark in specific facets of a good education:
No. 7 for best professors, according to the Princeton Review
No. 3 for its internship rate for first-year students, according to Financial Times
No. 1 for student satisfaction, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The crux of Kelley’s prestige finally lies in the success it brings to its graduates. A whooping97% of all Kelley students secure full-time positions within ninety days of graduation. The table below tracks the success of Kelley’s MBA Class of 2021 based on their base salaries and the industries they found employment in:
Level of Competition
Mature students stressing over their undergraduate records will be pleased to know the Kelley School of Business can be considered lenient when it comes to academics. The average GPA for the incoming Class of 2023 is 3.3 – noticeably lower than Booth’s 3.6 and Kellogg’s 3.7 – and the average GMAT score is 678, a similar figure to that of the Fisher College of Business.
These academic standards are lower than usual for a top-ranked university because Kelley expects applicants to show their strengths at work rather than past studies. The business school, for example, warns prospective students that 99% of its class of 2023 will be coming with full-time work experience.
The average years of hands-on business experience among these incoming students rises to slightly more than six years. At Kelley, it is not students’ grades you are competing against, but the established portfolio of work of young and mature professionals.
Thirty-two percent of these incoming students have a science or engineering degree under their belt – a figure higher than Yale’s 27% for the same criterion and almost on par with Wharton’s 33%.
Kelley has only three STEM-related requirements: to understand the basics of algebra and statistics and know one’s way around a spreadsheet. That said, what Kelley values in a STEM education is its emphasis on problem-solving.
Kelley remarks that “five of our majors are STEM-designated by the US government, reflecting the curriculum’s focus on analytics, technology, and data-driven decision making.” The United States Department of Homeland Security can judge whether a program can be considered a STEM degree or not.
The fact that Kelley’s finance major is also STEM-designated – something MIT Sloan’s finance program achieved only in 2016 – demonstrates the school’s assertive commitment to scientific methods of inquiry.
Requirements and How to Apply
You can follow a few steps to submit an application for an MBA at Kelley. After accessing the Indiana University Graduate Centralized Application System, prospective students are able to upload on the portal their GMAT or GRE scores, their university transcripts, and resume.
Applicants who are yet to sit for the GMAT or GRE standardized exams and uncertain which to choose can consult Inspira Futures’ guide on the differences between the GMAT and GRE.
After uploading your application documents, you will also be able to register a potential referee who can provide a recommendation letter. You can also tackle the admissions essay questions. International applicants are expected to provide their IELTS or TOEFL scores.
Kelley accepts applications in four rounds. Find the individual deadline for each round and when you can expect to hear back from the admissions committee below:
How should applicants present their work experience? While applicants should strive to show their unique profile, we recommend four general rules to follow in the application process.
Showcase Your Collaborative Spirit
To win over Kelley’s admissions committee, applicants should demonstrate their commitment to teamwork and comfort in collaborative settings. Essential components of the MBA program are Student Treks. Like-minded students organize cross-country road trips paved with back-to-back visits to companies whose working culture intrigues them. The landmarks on the itinerary vary based according to the interests of students:
“Students interested in the tech industry might head to Silicon Valley to visit Google, Shutterfly and Samsung or Seattle to visit Amazon and Microsoft, while those focused on finance might plan a trek to New York to meet with executives at Bank of America—the goal is the same: to explore new opportunities, companies and careers for a future that best matches the individual.”
Since these trips are student-led, the admissions committee will seek applicants who can demonstrate a similar sense of initiative that feeds from others’ input.
Find a Binding Thread to Your Experiences
Kelley also seeks applicants who know themselves and can boil down their range of experiences according to simple guiding principles. The admissions committee expects applicants to pitch themselves, like the succinct pitch of a good business idea too, through their resume or admissions essays.
Kelley’s famous Me, Inc. program aims to train students along these self-reflective lines, to help you “develop an in-depth understanding of yourself—your personal brand and how to connect your past experiences to your future goals in a way that resonates with employers.”
The admissions committee is more likely to admit applicants with a promise to flourish in the Me, Inc. program. Kelley hopefuls are therefore advised to work on self-reflective exercises and draw the common denominators behind their academic and professional experiences prior to completing their applications.
Show an Interest in Social Good
Kelley’s MBA curriculum is also valued for its promotion of social good, and admitted students are expected to contribute to the university’s outreach and community work in Bloomington, Indiana. Several programs require the sympathy and zeal of engaged citizens.
Included among its experiential learning components is 1Kelley Consulting, in which students use their business insights to “work with local businesses owned by women and underrepresented minorities, or organizations that empower these groups.” Kelley also offers a Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship, where students use their “business know-how to work solving global problems—from building clean water supplies to improving opportunities in emerging economies.”
Given the level of social engagement inherent to the MBA program, the acceptance rate is likely higher for applicants who already demonstrate a similar commitment to social good.
Insert Your Business Ethos Within a Global Context
Kelley strives to be a global institution, and it expects its students to adopt the full-range of its cultural and geographical horizon. Included among its international programs is GLOBASE, an initiative that “sits at the challenging, exciting intersection between business and global development in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.”
Long before the pandemic began, GLOBASE inserted students in a series of research-based remote work with foreign clients, followed by a week-long trip to their respective sites abroad. Kelley also has existing partnerships with ESSEC Business School in Paris and the National University of Singapore Business School.
Given its international programming, applicants should tailor their application to reflect our increasingly globalized world.
How To Respond To Kelley’s Admissions Essays
How should prospective students tackle the essay section on the application portal? The admissions committee would like to see applicants engage with a specific set of values.
The First Essay Prompt
Besides short-answer and optional questions, the crux of Kelley’s admissions essay component lies in its first essay prompt:
“Discuss your immediate post-MBA professional goals. How will your professional experience, when combined with a Kelley MBA degree, allow you to achieve these goals? Should the short-term goals you have identified not materialize, what alternate career paths might you consider? (500 words)”
Applicants should be especially attentive to the fact that this first essay question expects 500 words. By comparison, the Ross School of Business also invites its applicants to explain their short-term career goals in just 200 words.
The reason for the disparity lies in the second part of the essay prompt, which invites applicants to reflect about alternative career paths. Here, the admissions committee is interested in the applicant’s career flexibility, an attribute all the more valuable after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unforeseen consequences on the business world.
Applicants are encouraged to draw lessons learned from the way their career paths and short-term goals might have changed because of global events. By the time you graduate from Kelley School of Business, new changes in business might also conflict with your plans. The admissions committee may be evaluating your capacity to draw realistic future plans for yourself, but it is more interested in learning about your plan Bs.
The Second Essay Prompt
A less scrutinizing, more creative section is Kelley’s second essay prompt. Students have the freedom to choose the angle of their own story:
“Respond to one of the following short essay prompts (300 words):
a. My greatest memory is...
b. I'm most afraid of...
c. My greatest challenge has been...
d. I'm most proud of...”
Here, the admissions committee is giving applicants a chance to show their unique personalities. Applicants should be aware that each prompt is a trick question.
In reflecting about their greatest memory, prospective students do not want to come off as nostalgic. Likewise, prompt b and c expect students to reflect on fear without threading cowardice, in the same way one’s proudest achievement should not emit vanity.
The committee expects applicants to strike a balance in the second essay and demonstrate a self-critical attitude that values continuous learning over definitive conclusions.
1. My undergraduate degree was not in business. Can I apply to Kelley’s MBA program?
Absolutely. Kelley’s MBA program does not require a bachelor’s degree in business for admission. In fact, among the Class of 2023, 24% will come from humanities or social science backgrounds.
2. Can I pursue the MBA online regardless of changing pandemic restrictions?
Even before the pandemic, the Kelley School of Business provided its students with the freedom to pursue a fully online MBA program. That said, it has a different application procedure than the residential MBA.
3. I was told that Kelley’s MBA program is STEM-focused. I like STEM, but too much of it worries me. Will someone without a strong scientific foundation do well in the program?
Though Kelley’s MBA program expects all their students to navigate numbers and charts in scientific ways, their major in management is the only one that is not STEM-designated. Students who prefer more qualitative sides to business can opt for management as their primary major.
4. I am both interested in finance and marketing. Can I double major?
Absolutely. After completing their chosen major’s required coursework, students are left with enough credits to work toward a second major as well as a few electives.
5. I have been working full-time for a while. I am worried too much classroom time could affect the good working habits I have developed over the years. Will the program expose me to hands-on work?
Yes. Kelley’s MBA special experiential program, Bloomington Brands, recreates a regular work environment and provides a chance to “manage the marketing activities for a nationally distributed product while still a student.”
6. I don’t have too much working experience (< 2 years). Will Kelley value the volunteer and community work I also did?
Kelley’s admissions committee is especially eager to hear from engaged citizens. The business school even has a Washington Campus where students get to “meet face-to-face with policy makers, explore how regulatory changes really get made and see how those changes affect both corporate and nonprofit organizations.” Students with impressive community work are encouraged to link them to such programs.
7. Is it OK if I took the GMAT twice?
Luckily, Kelley’s admissions committee is happy to consider an applicant’s best scores.
8. Who should write my letter of recommendation?
Because Kelley is most interested in its applicants’ professional experiences, recent or current job supervisors are preferred. To secure the best recommendation letter, check out the definitive guide Inspira Futures has prepared on that matter.
Though admissions into the Kelley School of Business is a competitive process, prospective students are encouraged to give a shot to a university known for its flexibility and sense of innovation.
By accepting a substantial number of students (15%) with undergraduate records lower than the safe 3.0 GPA for its Class of 2023, Kelly is sending yet another message to its fellow top-ranked universities that it values experience over theory, and quality over quantity.
Recent Kelley alumni, Max Brickman, was named in the Forbes Under 30 List for 2022. With subsequent lists likely to include more Kelley graduates, prospective students should place Indiana on their radar and start preparing an application for their valuable MBA program.
About Inspira Futures
At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.