Welcome to the fourth installment of the Master Admissions 10-Tip Series on Getting into Business School. Now that you’ve started connecting with your inner rock star (and identified how that shows leadership), it’s time to start exploring.
Specifically, you want to start exploring different career paths. Clear career goals are the crux of a strong business school application. Gone are the days when you can tell an admissions professional that you want to keep your options open. You need to have a career goal, aspiration, target, or, as or as Harvard Business School’s application calls it, a “career vision.”
You want to explore internally and with others what’s out there. You don’t want to say “I want to be in private equity,” (like everyone else applying to business school) if you haven’t figured out what that means and why it fits your vision.
How’re You Gonna Get There?
Vision is a big word, but it’s a good one in this case. It inspires you to look far into the future and come up with the big dream. You can use the career essay to throw it out there and work backward. Say you want to change the way health care is delivered worldwide? (I’ve seen that one successfully used, so don’t steal it!) What’s the progression to get you there? Many different roads can take you there, and admissions officers will be looking for more than “check the box.” They will be looking at your own sense of you in the future. They will be looking at your own authenticity – are you following the herd? Or are you hoping to do what you know is right for you?
The funny part is that more than half the students at business schools end up changing their minds. Many times in fact. The economy can change, the world can change, and the student’s circumstances can change.
It’s an open secret that students’ pre-business school and post-business school plans change. Admissions officers agree; they don’t go back and audit students’ career decisions after graduation. I’ve seen one student swear he wanted to go into investment management, but end up in a cool new startup in the luxury travel business. I know a number of people who wanted to go entrepreneurial but then decided to take a job in consulting to get more experience and pay back their bills.
Getting from Point A to Point B
So why does every business school take your career plans so seriously during the application process? Because they want to know that you have thought it through. They want to make sure you are grounded in reality. That if you want to change careers, you’ve figured out how to get from Point A to Point B and maybe even to Point C and D.
This essay is about how you write about your future and how you connect it with your past. Admissions officers want to know that you are clearly in touch with what brings you to these decisions. For example, the Berkeley Haas application asks you to discuss your short- and long-term career goals, and then wants you to relate your professional experiences to these goals. Others, such as Duke’s Fuqua School ask you for your inspiration for pursuing this career path.
So go out and explore – talk to people – especially current students or recent grads on their career experience. (More on this in Tip 7). Do some self-exploration as well. And make sure you take notes, like I recommended in Tip 3. There’s no model answer, but the closer you get to your own truth, the better your application.