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? By submitting a well-thought-out goals essay, you are 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 program to which you are applying to achieve that goal. This way, if your goal changes while at business school, you are showing admissions teams you have the skill set to build a new plan to your new goal.
Here are seven tips to help you write a standout goals essay:
1. Start with the “why” behind your goals.
A story that articulates what has inspired your goals—for example, your experience working on a consulting project or a passion that until now has only been a part of your extracurricular life—can be a compelling way to begin a goals essay. How has this experience informed your aspirations? Depending on the essay prompt, you might use more or less space on this story. If the prompt pertains to 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. Be specific in your story to hook the reader.
2. 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 is your target industry? In what kind of company or industry do you want to work? A startup? Something midsized? A large and established corporation? CPG? Finance? Tech?
Your long-term aspiration could also be articulated as a problem you want to solve, rather than a specific role, company, or function. Start with what you know, and then build your long-term goal from there. Make sure it is clear how your short-term goal will be a step in the direction of your long-term goal.
3. 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 spending time working 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 spending time working in consulting give you the breadth of industry experience to help you become a supply-chain expert and eventually a COO? For a short-term goal, you want to be more specific. An ideal short-term goal statement would include your desired role, function, industry, and example company (or two). Leverage a school’s employment report to identify potential companies that recruit at a specific school.
4. Articulate what you need from an MBA.
Find a job description of your ideal role to identify where you need to grow and which skills you can gain from an MBA. Mental check here: Is the list of skills you must 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. For example, big tech companies often want to hire engineers or computer science grads for a product management role, but there are more business-oriented roles such as program manager or marketing roles such as product marketing manager than can be a part of this same team.
5. Conduct research on each program.
Now that you can articulate what you need from an MBA, find the resources at each business school that can help you gain those skills. 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. However, realize that much of the learning you will do will happen outside the classroom.
6. If you want to change careers, explain why.
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, you should explain why you want to make such a change. Beginning your goals essay with a story that illustrates the motivation behind your goals can be particularly helpful.
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.
7. Brainstorm to identify your goals.
If you are having trouble defining your goals, spend time conducting 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!
For more guidance on your MBA journey, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with a Stratus admissions expert today!