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Book Excerpt: The Importance of a Candidate’s Goals in the MBA Application

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Welcome back to our 10-part series, in which we share an excerpt from the recently published book Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions, with added commentary from its author, Alex Brown.

In this fifth part of the series, we look at the importance of a candidate’s goals.

Book Excerpt:


Your career goals are important for the success of your application. Four aspects of your goals will be examined:

  1. Articulation of goals: Are your goals focused or are they under-developed and vague? It is always better to be specific and consistent in your goals. If you are uncertain about the path you want to take after the MBA degree, then you need to do more research. Identify people who are working in the industries that you are considering and conduct informational interviews to learn about their roles and assess your own interest in that sort of work.
    Also be aware of the “herd mentality” of the applicant community. Because social impact is in vogue, this does not mean that you should design your goals around social impact. The admissions committee will probe your background and how your interest in social impact has developed, and if there is nothing there, they will naturally be skeptical. Similarly, don’t design your goals around what you think that the school wants to hear. The best strategy is to be genuine and authentic about how you see the MBA program advancing your goals.
  1. Rationality and feasibility of goals: Do your goals make sense within the context of your experiences and attributes? If your post-MBA goal is to work in private equity and you have no finance experience at all, the adcom will consider this goal to be unrealistic. If you are a PhD who has researched cancer at a leading hospital and now wants to move into the business side of health care, it will be important to demonstrate that the MBA is a necessary step and also to suggest how your experiences are relevant to the MBA experience. (Note: A PhD could be labeled a “lone wolf.” To mitigate this, she should highlight teamwork and leadership experiences.)
  1. Aspirational nature of the goals: Are your long-term goals ambitious? Are they a stretch in terms of making sure that you are maximizing your future potential?
  1. Potential impact of the goals: Will your goals enable you to make an impact in the long run, whether it’s on the organizations in which you work or on society more broadly?

Ultimately MBA programs want to admit leaders who will make a broad impact on society, as articulated in the mission statements of most schools. Here are a few examples:

Harvard Business School: “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”

MIT Sloan: “To develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world.”

U Michigan Ross: “To develop business leaders who really understand how to use business to make a positive difference in the world.”

Stanford GSB: “Our mission is to create ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world.”

Yale SOM: “Educating leaders for business and society.”

Author’s Commentary:

Some candidates find it surprising that goals are even relevant in the business school admissions process, but there are two broad reasons why this is the case.

First, top MBA programs offer myriad resources and learning opportunities; if you attend a program without a thoughtful plan, you will likely not be able to make the most of the MBA experience. You will also be “competing” for resources and opportunities with those who are more focused, which will present challenges for you. So your goals become a useful guide to make the most of your business school experience.

Second, your goals can also improve your candidacy. If you examine the mission statements of most schools, they want to develop leaders who will make a broad impact on the world. As a candidate, you want to show how you might support the mission of the programs that you are targeting by illustrating your aspirations for making an impact. Thus goals are not only important to improve your MBA experience, but they can help your candidacy standout from other candidates with a similar profile, much like a unique profile enables a candidate to standout from others with more traditional profiles.

With all that said, inventing goals just for the purpose of being different, goals that have no relationship with reality and your prior experiences, may not pass the scrutiny of the adcom; you want to make sure those goals are realistic as well as aspirational.