MBA Admissions: What is a Goal?

I am talking with many MBA applicants these days. They tell me about stats. They tell me about their work experience. They tell me about community service, the schools they are targeting, and the challenges they feel their candidacy will face. I ask about their post-MBA goals.

“I’m interested in investment banking or consulting or marketing.”

That is not a goal. It might be a bad joke. To me it is a statement of general interests. From an application reader’s perspective, it is usually a ding. Can you hear that cow bell ringing?

A strong, clear MBA goal should guide your admissions research and  your choice of target schools. A goal is something you want to do (not just study), and for MBA admissions purposes it should relate to a specific function and ideally an industry. For some applicants, geography is also an important element in their goal. Your goal should be based on your experience, not television, not what your parents/significant other or friends think you should do, and not simply what will make you a lot of money.

I am not saying that you can’t change careers. You clearly can because roughly 50% of MBA students are career changers. But you need to have a realistic vision of your future based on skills and character traits you have developed and experience that you have had.

In the recent (and worthwhile) MBA Podcaster segment on  “Various MBA Tracks: : Non-profit Management, Marketing, Real Estate and Healthcare,” there was a revealing, lengthy segment in which Lucinda Wright, MBA Career Services Director at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State, discusses the different dimensions and opportunities subsumed under the heading of “marketing,” including business development, market research, brand management, and channel management.

Do you see how general and unfocused you seem if you say your post-MBA goal is “marketing,” not to mention a goal of  “marketing, investment banking, or consulting”?  On the other hand if you are a software consultant who had worked on software marketing projects or a software designer who had worked in product development and you now want  to go into brand management in the software industry, your goal makes sense. It is focused. It is clear. It is an asset to you in the application process.

As Dean Robert Bruner of Darden recently wrote on his blog in an excellent critique of the rankings and applicant misuse of them.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. As the Proverb says, “Without a vision, the people will perish.” A big red flag is having no vision for your future.  Without a vision, you might as well throw a dart to select a school. Better yet, without a vision you might as well defer your enrollment until you have figured things out.”

Know where you’re going before you start packing your bags. And certainly before you start applying.


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