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by Vault Education Editors | June 30, 2011


By EssaySnark

Last time, we walked you through an exercise of how to construct your career goals for your applications to business school. Those instructions—and the short-term and long-term goals you identified for yourself through that process—are perfectly suitable for an application to most of the best MBA programs.

Why do we say “most of”?

There are some schools that do not even ask about career goals, or at least, not directly. Consider Harvard's current incarnation of the career goals question: “Why do you want an MBA?”

Harvard really does expect you to provide a fairly traditional “career goals” response to this. You can present those short-term and long-term goals that you have already developed, but the big difference with why those goals may not be quite enough for Harvard (or for Stanford) is that they might sound a little basic.

Many people with very standard consulting or finance goals do not do enough to distinguish themselves to the admissions committees of these special schools. Harvard expects an awful lot from its graduates. At the HBS '11 graduation last month, Dean Nitin Nohria even quoted Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That means they expect an awful lot from their applicants, too.

Now, this does not mean they expect you to embellish your career goals or make up something that you think sounds impressive. They will be evaluating the full package. The pieces have to add up. You can only get away with telling them you're going to do something awesome down the road if you've already been doing “awesome” in your previous life.

The objective that you should set for yourself in pitching these schools is what we'll call practical ambition.

If you say that you want someday to lead a Fortune 500 company as CEO, then that might work out just great—provided that you have enough ammo in your belt to show that you're on that type of fast track to success already.

  • Have you already been given responsibility beyond what's typical of someone of your age or level in the organization?
  • Have you been promoted faster than your peers?
  • Have you sought out new ways to improve things and make an impact?

The HBS adcom will look for this in the rest of your application, to see if you're the guy (or gal) who will put his money where his mouth is and actually go DO these fabulous things in the world once he gets through the Harvard experience.

So again, you do not have to stake a claim to some super-ambitious career goal. It's more important to be realistic and believable, given who you are and what you've done to date.

The key point here: Present goals that you are excited about, that you fully understand, and that you could make a compelling case for achieving. Lay out your full vision of your future goals, all the way out to that distant horizon. If your goals are appropriately ambitious (yet realistic), and if you've put in enough thought to talk about how you'll actually get there, then you might look attractive to the admissions committee.


About Essay Snark

MBA admissions consultant by day, anonymous blogger by night, Essay Snark wants to help you get into business school! EssaySnark is sometimes amused and often appalled by what applicants write in their admissions essays, and is here to help you avoid the standard errors we so often see.

We have a further discussion of career goals and Harvard essays in the SnarkStrategies Guide to Harvard Business School, available in a Kindle version for your iPad or PC from Amazon, and soon available for purchase in a softcover version as well. Cruise over to the EssaySnark blog for more tips and tricks on applying to Harvard, Stanford, and all the other great business schools in the world.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School

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