Writing about Career Goals in the MBA Application

So, what do you want to when you grow up? That’s the spirit behind the goals essay questions on business school applications.

The sky’s the limit

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future. Some schools even make their desire for you to think big quite clear–Stanford GSB asks, “What do you want to do REALLY?” Others ask about your professional objectives (Wharton), or more specifically about your short and long term goals (Columbia Business School).  Harvard Business School, even with its reduced word count, still asks why you want an MBA.

You should get used to thinking coherently about the question. Surely, the managers who will write your letter of recommendation for business school  want to see a sense of your purpose.  Yet on the application, you don’t have to spell out your specific, minute-by-minute goals.  You simply need to imagine yourself on an upward trajectory, and where that will lead.

You probably have been going through some introspection as you think about what it means to “be yourself” in a business school application. It’s important to try different ideas on for size. Business schools all know that you may very well change your mind—they are not going to take your degree away if you shift focus. Throughout the application process and later at school, you may shift all over the place – and that’s all right. Certainly, if you go through a transformational experience such as an MBA program, you will be introduced to ideas and experiences you didn’t know were out there.  Look no further than Chicago Booth’s focus on the word “Transform,” to appreciate that it’s ok to change.

Try Explaining it to a Non-MBA
As an experiment, imagine you are having a conversation with your favorite high school teacher. Write down a few sentences explaining to her why you want to go to business school, and describe your broad long-term goals.  Or, if that doesn’t work, ask yourself some questions like the ones below.

  • If the MBA or business school did not exist, what path would you take?
  • What have you always dreamed of doing?
  • What have you not done that you wish you had done?
  • If you could change the world in one way, how would you do it?

Here’s another way to get at it: Reflect on what earning an MBA would bring to your professional life and do for you personally. Give yourself time. Then jot down your thoughts envisioning the future, the potential and possible fruit of your labor.

Having encouraged you to project forward, I should point out that not every school asks about your goals. MIT’s Sloan School’s application looks only to your past behaviors to predict your future performance. “Your essays and cover letter should focus on what you have already done, your past performance, rather than what you want to do. We do not evaluate you on why you want an MBA or what you intend to do with it afterwards, but do want to get to know you and your interests better,” they say on their website.

Just when you thought you were getting the hang of it.

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