No MBA applicant should be without a clear professional goal for their essay or application.

Every top MBA program, with the notable exception of HBS and MIT Sloan, has an essay that requires you to discuss your future professional goals. Unfortunately, a lot of business school applicants don’t yet know what they want to do (around 50% of the b-school candidates we see at Forster-Thomas—and 70% of those from finance backgrounds fit this mold). All they know for sure is that they no longer want to be doing what they’re doing right now. And since we all have friends who got into top business schools with ambiguous goals, you might ask: why can’t I just say that?

You can – but it would not be a good idea. Specificity is one thing that can distinguish your candidacy and set you apart in everyone’s eyes—especially admissions officers. When applying to business school—ANY b-school—there are bound to be successful applicants who buck the trend (those who have a perfect GMAT and whose last employer was David Loeb) and do just fine. You know, people who ignore every piece of advice out there and somehow still get that coveted Stanford admit. We here at Forster-Thomas like to call them “Easy A’s” (for easy admits, of course). Actually, we call them the exceptions that prove the rule. And the other thing, when they’re not looking.

The good news is that that's OK; b-schools don't necessarily expect that you're going to have the same goal going out as you do coming in. However, they do want to see vision, passion, and direction. And that’s pretty tough to demonstrate when saying, “I’m not exactly sure what I want to do.” So yes, you do have to have a specific professional goal. Here are three points to help you get there.

1. Don’t worry—you’re not signing a contract with the future. This isn't a business plan, and you're not going to be forced to sign in blood (with a few exceptions, like Wharton's Healthcare Management program—read the fine print!). This means that you should feel free to write about a possible goal you might pursue, as long as you’re genuinely interested in it and can write articulately about it.

2. Your goal must demonstrate a specific direction and vision for your career. Like Christine Sneva, director of admissions at Cornell’s Johnson School, says (along with just about every other admissions director at every other top school): “Please show you have a clear direction for your goal post-MBA.” In other words, even if you aren't 100% sure what you’re going to be doing 10 years from now, you need to show that you know how to get there. Say it’s you’re Sarah Jessica Parker, and you’re going in for an audition for the role of Carrie from Sex & the City. You wouldn’t stroll into the audition and say, "Hey, I'm really good. Take my word for it!” No, you would do an audition to show off your acting chops. Even if you had never seen a word of the script, you’d have a some other monologue memorized and prepared. If that monologue blows everyone away, the director will hire Sarah because if she can do that well, she can do his script well. The goals essay is an audition for your vision—can you conceptualize and plot out a long- and short-term career arc? Top B-schools want to see you think in concrete career terms.

3. Your goal has to make sense and be organic with who you are as a person. Sticking with our acting theme, Chris Colfer (the gay kid from Glee) would NOT be auditioning for Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. You got that, Stella? If you're a Quant Jock who has never cared about the triple-bottom line, don't rhapsodize about social entrepreneurship—your goal should inspire real passion in you. You need to love the concept of your goal and be able to talk with passion and persuasion about it—both in your essays and your interviews.

The goals essay is nothing to fear. In fact, once you write it, you may find yourself liking it so much you want to build your whole candidacy around it … an approach we heartily recommend.

--Ben Feuer

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