When reviewing your business school application, admissions committees want to see that you can clearly articulate your goals and tie them into your personal story. Why, you might ask, do you need to articulate your goals if many people either change their mind or want to explore career options during their time in an MBA program? What you are really doing with a goals story is showing that you can build a plan to reach a goal. Do the research to find out what is feasible. Assess what skills and experience you need to reach that goal. And find the resources (at each individual program you are applying to) to achieve that goal. Here are some things to think about that can help you write a standout goals essay.
Start with the Why
A story that articulates what you need from an MBA—for example, a problem that you need additional skills to solve—can be a compelling way to start a goals essay. Depending on the essay prompt, you might use more or less space on this story. If the prompt is about the inspiration behind your goals—such as Columbia’s goals question or the Consortium’s Core Essay 1—make sure you take the time to explain what has inspired you.
Explain Your Long-Term Aspiration
Make the connection between the story and your long-term goal. Your long-term goal can be directional—if we’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s that things can change. What role do you ideally see yourself in 20 years from now, and how would it help you achieve your aspiration? This role can be your long-term goal. What industry do you want to be in? What kind of company do you want to be working at? A startup? Something midsized? A large and established corporation?
Identify Your Short-Term Goal
What is the best first step in your plan? What role can build on your current skills (and soon-to-be-acquired MBA skills) to help you achieve your aspiration? Would time as a product manager help you own your own product, much like you want to own your own company as an entrepreneur in the long term? Would time in consulting give you the breadth of industry experience to help you become a supply-chain expert and eventually a COO?
Articulate What You Need from an MBA
Find a description of your ideal job to identify where you need to grow and which of these skills you can gain from an MBA. Mental check here: Is the list of skills you need to obtain larger than the list of skills you could already bring to the role? If so, your desired career change might be something bigger than you can achieve with an MBA alone, and you might want to reassess whether this goal is the best first step for you. In such cases, identify another role you could take first that would help you grow into your ideal role.
Do Research on Each Program
Now that you can articulate what you need from an MBA, find the resources that can help you gain those skills at each business school. Think across classes (core and elective), experiential learning opportunities, clubs, conferences, collaboration with other departments (law, engineering, etc.), and professors. It is much more valuable to speak in depth about a couple of resources than it is to include a laundry list. Show you’ve taken time to think about what you can learn from each one—and how you can contribute. Schools will be looking for evidence that you want to be an involved classmate. So much of the learning that you will do will be outside the classroom.
Explain Why You Want to Change Careers
Many people pursue an MBA to make some sort of change in their career. Career changes tend to encompass four different factors: level, location, industry, and function. The more factors that you want to change, the more important it is to find the right MBA program to help you make that change.
If you want to use an MBA to change careers, then you should explain why you want to make such a change. Starting your goals essay with a story that can show the motivation behind your goals can be particularly helpful here. Are you trying to transition into an industry that more closely aligns with your passion? I recently had a client who had been working toward a career in professional dressage. She balanced her career between the equestrian world and other interesting jobs but wanted to use an MBA to actually bridge these worlds and eventually run her own company. So her story of growing up in the equestrian world was key to her goals essay and explaining why she wanted to transition from a financial role to a product manager role in a sports-focused company.
Brainstorm to Identify Your Goals
If you are having trouble defining your goals, spend time doing informational interviews with people who work in industries or jobs that you find interesting. Brainstorm what about your current job excites you and what impact you want to make on the world. Talk with a trusted advisor or mentor to identify different options.
Telling YOUR story and explaining why YOUR goals make sense for YOU is the most compelling and authentic approach you can take in your business school applications!