Guide to MBA Applications • MBA

Goals Essay for MBA Applications: All You Need to Know

POSTED ON 09/23/2023 BY The Red Pen

Goals Essay for MBA Applications

The goals essay is a staple of MBA applications. Typically, the goals essay prompt has two parts: first, the school asks you to lay out your short-term and long-term career goals. In the second part, the school wants to know how you plan to leverage its resources and the perspective you gain on campus to achieve those goals. 

There are numerous variations on this theme – some schools, like the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, enquire solely about your short-term career goals and require you to be extremely concise in describing it (less than 200 words). Others, like Chicago Booth, give applicants free rein and unlimited word count to elaborate their goals, allowing them to go into much more detail. However, before we delve into what strategy you should adopt to tackle the goals essay, understand why this prompt is a consistent feature of business school applications.

Why is the goals essay important in MBA applications?

The ubiquity of the goals essay in business school applications suggests that schools highly value the information you share. Through this essay, they hope to discover how much thought you have given to your professional future and how passionate you are about the work you want to do. As Chelsea Hann, Associate Director of Admissions at Cornell University’s SC Johnson School of Management, states, “We want applicants to be very intentional and specific about where they see themselves going immediately after the MBA and then 5-10 years down the road.”

The keywords are ‘intentional’ and ‘specific.’ Hann’s use of these words highlights the preference for candidates with a clear purpose in pursuing an MBA. Schools seek applicants who aim to land a job at their dream company, innovate and solve problems, or start their own business. These candidates know the gaps in their knowledge and skills that they need to address. On the other hand, if the goals are vague and the reasons for pursuing an MBA are not specific, the admissions committee may question whether the candidate will make it through the most of the program and go on to create a positive, real-world impact.  

Thus, the goals essay is a litmus test for screening out candidates who are more focused and more ambitious in their professional lives. Conversely, and more importantly, it is an opportunity for passionate, driven, and purposeful candidates to shine through.

Now that you know what business schools are trying to learn about you through the goals essay, we can begin to detail the process of bringing your writing to life.

How to brainstorm goals for your MBA application essay?

The first step in writing any MBA essay is self-reflection; the goals essay for MBA admissions is no different. As experienced MBA admissions consultants, we recommend dividing the self-reflection process into three key components:

1) Identify your goal

Your first step is to select a goal that motivates you. Ask yourself the following questions – what is your passion? What world problems do you want to solve? Are you willing to dedicate several years or even decades to your goal? After you have reflected on these questions, think of your path thus far. What have you done in your career that has given you perspective and experience to ground your ambitions? 

While switching your field or role makes for an excellent reason to pursue an MBA, you must demonstrate to admissions officers that your ambitions aren’t fanciful dreams but are based on hard work and demonstrated passion. For example, over half of the most recent INSEAD graduates switched sectors post-MBA. Other leading business schools also report similar figures regarding career switches. For instance, suppose you are enthusiastic about protecting the environment. In that case, you can talk of using your MBA to build on your experience helping firms build and scale operations as an ESG consultant to drive sustainability in business through impact investing or social entrepreneurship. 

2) Consider why you want to pursue an MBA

Once you have identified your goal, the next step in your self-reflection exercise is critically evaluating your current skill set. This step is crucial as it will help you identify gaps and define the skills you need to develop to achieve your career goal. This evaluation is instrumental in explaining to the admissions committee why you need an MBA at this point in your career. You must describe in detail how you will leverage the school’s resources to bridge the gaps in your skill set and accomplish your goal. As Cornell Johnson’s Hann points out, “It’s important that you’re choosing a school that can give you the platform to transition into whatever it is you’re hoping to do after business school,” and the goals essay is the place where you make a case for why the school is a good fit for you.

3) Define short and long-term goals 

The final step in the self-reflection exercise is to break down your broad career goal into distinct and actionable short and long-term goals after MBA. While short-term goals cover three to five years, long-term goals cover what you set out to achieve five to ten years after your MBA. But they also differ in terms of scope and practicality. Tuck School of Business Director of Admissions Patricia Harrison says, “Both your short- and long-term goals should be ambitious and realistic.” She adds, “Though, on the margin, we will expect your long-term goals to tilt towards the former and your short-term goals to tilt towards the latter.” Harrison’s advice should help you articulate practical and audacious goals, representing your personality’s pragmatic and visionary aspects.

Short-Term Goal Example: Secure a management position in a leading tech company within three years after completing an MBA. Focus on project leadership and team management.

Long-Term Goal Example: Establish an innovative tech startup specializing in sustainable energy solutions within a decade post-MBA. Aim to make a significant impact on environmental conservation through cutting-edge technology.

How do you conduct school research for the goals essay in MBA applications?

After the self-reflection exercise, there is still one more step to complete before you pen down the all-important first draft. This step requires you to explore the business school you are applying to in as much detail as possible. Each school represents a unique combination of academics, values, history, exposure, extracurricular activities, research initiatives, employment opportunities, teaching methods, and location. To make a compelling case for why you are suited to a particular school, you need to know how all these factors will bring you closer to achieving your goals. 

Kickstart your school research with the following:

  • Arrange campus visits (in-person or virtual), attend virtual events, and correspond with the admissions office.
  • Connect with alumni members and ask them about their business school experience and post-MBA recruitment.
  • Use the school website and social media to learn about employment opportunities, student clubs, and extracurricular activities.

In-depth school research will indicate to the admissions committee that you have put in the effort to learn about the school and will also give a unique flavor to your goals essay. As Tuck’s Harrison says, “A strong response will go beyond generic responses, applicable for any MBA program.” Suppose you can simply replace the school’s name in your goals essay with that of any other school without the essay losing its meaning. In that case, Harrison adds, you have most likely failed to convincingly articulate the alignment between your goals and the school’s resources.

How to structure the goals essay for MBA applications 

Once you’re done with the self-reflection exercise and school research, you should feel confident about writing down a solid first draft of your goals essay. While there is no single formula for success in writing MBA essays, The Wharton School’s Director of Admissions Blair Mannix suggests structuring a strong MBA essay about goals  in the following manner: 

  • The setup: Provide a brief description of your professional journey so far.
  • The pivot point: Describe the moment you realized that an MBA is what you need to fulfill your goals. In Mannix’s words, it is a “light-bulb moment.”
  • The future: Articulate how you intend to use the skills you learn from an MBA to reach your goals. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do – company X in city Y,” Mannix says, “but where you want the skills you get from the Wharton MBA to take you.”

In addition to the structure mentioned above, it is also helpful to keep the following general guidelines in mind while writing your goals essay:

  • Be truthful, authentic, and realistic.
  • Write multiple drafts, incorporating inputs from your friends, family, and colleagues.
  • Proofread, spell check, and fact-check each draft.

With the help of this detailed guide, we hope you will be able to identify your career goals and draft a unique and compelling goals essay that will catch the eye of the admissions committee!

At The Red Pen, we help you reflect and articulate your goals to create a strong pitch for the world’s leading business schools. You can read our blogs on Writing the Harvard Business School (HBS) Essay and How to Write the Standford GSB Essays. If you need further guidance with your MBA application essays, please get in touch. Our essay specialists look forward to helping you.