What is your career goal and why do you need an MBA to achieve it? Your response to the classic “goal essay” question on your business school application is a key factor in the admissions committee’s evaluation of your candidacy. It is essential that you develop an articulate and persuasive response tailored to each school to make an impact.
Many schools are revising their prompts to elicit more thoughtful responses from applicants. Below are three newly released business school goals essay prompts from Tuck, Kellogg and Stanford, respectively:
• Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?
• What career/role are you looking to pursue and why? Why are Kellogg and the MBA essential to achieving these career goals?
• What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford? Use this essay to explain your view of your future, not to repeat accomplishments from your past. You should address two distinct topics: your career aspirations and your rationale for earning your MBA at Stanford, in particular.
Below are some tips to help you answer these questions and similar questions you’ll encounter from other schools:
1.) Answer the question up front. Avoid writing a meandering introductory paragraph. Your first line should spell out exactly what you want to do. For example: “I want to transition from brand marketing into strategy consulting at a global firm like Bain or McKinsey. I need an MBA to round out my leadership and finance skills, and to learn more about organizational behavior.
2.) Articulate a plausible career goal. Even if you’re undecided about what you want to do post-MBA, you should express a specific plan in your essay. You won’t be competitive if you say that you are going back to school to explore your professional options.
3.) Be specific, but not inflexible. When explaining what you want to do post-MBA, you need to be specific enough to demonstrate that you understand the marketplace, but not so specific that you seem rigid and inflexible. If you say that you are going to business school to get a job as a brand manager for Samsung in Korea without also mentioning other positions of interest, you will seem like a risk to the admissions committee. They will worry that you will fall apart or be disgruntled if you don’t land the Samsung role, and they want realistic, happy students who can roll with it if their dream job doesn’t materialize.
4.) Acknowledge a big transition. If you are making a gigantic career transition, it is important that you acknowledge it. If you want to move from software engineering to investment banking, you need to explain how you are going to accomplish the switch. What skills and experiences do you have that will allow you to make this switch? And how do you know that you will like this new career path?
5.) Be positive about your background. Even if you disliked some aspects of your previous career – and that’s why you’re going back to school – remain positive. Say something constructive about what you learned, both topically and about yourself, and why you are convinced that the MBA and your new career path will build on your prior experience in a complementary way.
6.) Develop a coherent narrative. If you have jumped around professionally a great deal, own it. Tie your history together into a coherent narrative. The same advice holds for periods of unemployment, which are common in this economy. Be straightforward and address what happened. Attempting to obscure these facts always backfires.
7.) Do your homework. Before discussing why you want to attend a given school, you need to do some research. Contact with current students and alumni will enhance your answer if what you learned from them has made you excited about the school, and you aren’t just name-dropping. It is usually fairly easy to get in touch with students and alumni, and schools provide guidance about how to reach ambassadors. For instance, Tuck has a program called Tuck Connections – available on the admissions homepage – that will introduce you to students with common interests.
8.) Mention specific school resources. Mention school resources and opportunities by name so that your response is not generic and applicable to any top school. All of the elite MBA programs think that they are good at teaching leadership, and that they offer a broad global curriculum and a collaborative atmosphere. General answers hurt candidates because it makes them seem insincere, and like they are just looking to matriculate at any top program. Schools want students who are enthusiastic about their particular program. Mention relevant courses, programs, policies and opportunities. This level of detail will signal that you have done your homework and are excited about the school in question.
9.) Convey that you’ll make a positive contribution to the school community. Schools are looking for evidence that you will understand and contribute to the culture. They want students who will be active, loyal contributors. Candidates need to demonstrate that they get this and are thrilled to participate. Please be as specific as you can. For example: “I would like to serve as a TAA (one of the Tuck student interviewers) because I want to give back to the school. This is a tangible way to make a contribution that will leverage my strengths as a recruiter and interviewer.”
10.) Clarify your goals. I always ask my clients to write the goals essay first. Articulating your goals can be surprisingly challenging – even if you think you know what you want to do – but this exercise can lead you to the right school. However, investing the time up front, including researching whether or not your target school can match you with the right professional opportunities and truly offers the best academic and interpersonal environment, is completely worth it.