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MBA Admissions Tip: How to Earn an A+ on Your Career Goals Essay

Posted in Test Prep on December 3, 2010 by

This post comes to us courtesy of MBA Prep School. Remember, MBA Prep School is hosting a free online workshop this Tuesday, December 7, from 6-7 PM EST, all about the 5 Questions Your Must Answer in Your B-School Application. Register here. One lucky attendee will win their Prepare to Be Accepted Package — a $299 value!

There is a common misconception that we want to clear up: namely, that an acceptance letter to a top-tier business school is all about what you’ve achieved so far. An acceptance letter to a top tier MBA program is not a blue ribbon for past achievements. While it’s certainly true that admissions committees want to know what you’ve accomplished thus far, it’s because they are trying to assess your future promise – your potential. You must convince the admissions committee that you are just getting started and that you will achieve even greater things in the future!

But how?

One of the primary ways is to get the admissions board excited about your future plans. You can do that with your career goals essay.

One question appears in some form in just about every application:

“What are your short-term and long-term career goals and how will our program prepare you to achieve those goals?”

Is the admissions committee really all that interested in what job you hope to get when you graduate? Do they want to read 10,000 essays about each candidate’s rung-by-rung plan for climbing the corporate ladder? Not really.

If not, then why do they ask the career goals question?

They ask the question because they want to be convinced that you have outstanding “potential.” There’s that word again. At MBA Prep School, we define “potential” as a collection of capabilities fueled by passion and directed by purpose toward a defined set of career goals. It follows that an A+ career goals essay must express your career purpose, career goals, and career action plan.

Your past achievements are evidence that you have the capabilities (i.e., skills, talents, and experiences) necessary to achieve your aspirations. Many candidates undermine their chances for admission by proposing a set of lofty career goals that don’t appear realistic when viewed in the context of their past experiences and strengths. Grand ambitions are fine but you can hurt your chances for an acceptance letter if you are unable to convince admissions officers that the dots connect from your past accomplishments to your future aims.

Defining your career goals is a central step in formulating your application strategy. A powerful career goals essay will tell the admissions officers how you plan to become a leader of consequence once you graduate. The coherence of your career goals essay will serve as an elegant proof of your potential. Your career goals, if properly developed and defined, will set you apart from other candidates competing for a spot at that school.

To help you meet this challenge, we’ve created a simple rubric that you can use to predict how your career goals essay might be “graded” by the admissions committee. By grading your essay drafts on your own, you will be able to determine how to improve upon the quality of your essay.

A+: Your career goals establish your desire to address a significant problem that you have the capabilities to solve. In addition, they are personally meaningful, socially beneficial, and related to a field in which you are passionately interested.

A: Your career goals establish your desire to address a significant problem that you have the capabilities to solve. They are also personally meaningful and related to a field in which you are passionately interested.

B: Your career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities in a field that interests you.

C: Your career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities.

F: Your career goals are unclear or misaligned with your capabilities and lack significance, passion, meaning, and social benefit.

Let me be clear that writing a career goals essay that scores in the top 2% is not easy. The difference between an A an A+ is that the career path you are dedicated to will benefit others in a significant way. We are not suggesting that you need to write about starting a non-profit organization to get into business school. The world needs investment bankers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and corporate CEOs too, and business schools still have room in their classrooms for candidates with these kinds of ambitions. If it’s hard to make a case on social benefit, you just need to work that much harder to convey your passion for your career path and explain why your career goals are meaningful to you.

Nothing we’ve said here should imply that we are recommending that you manufacture an answer that is simply meant to hit the admissions committees’ hot-buttons. Remember that admissions officers read thousands of these essays and so they can tell the difference between aspirations that have integrity and those that are simply engineered for effect.

Creating an A+ answer to the the career goals question will require hard work and soul searching on your part, but can be very exciting once completed. You will have a coherent, logically structured set of career goals aligned with your abilities, deeper motivations, and sense of purpose. In essence, you will have a road map to guide your career journey from MBA school onwards.