Welcome to Accepted’s newest MBA admissions tip series, MBA Admissions A-Z. Get ready for 26 fantastic tips!
Let’s begin with defining your MBA goals and aspirations.
What is the Difference between a Goal and an Aspiration?
- A goal is something that you plan to do or accomplish in a particular timeframe. One way to look at it is this: Industry + Function + Timeframe = Goal. Example: “Immediately upon earning my MBA I plan to become a consultant at a top strategy consulting firm. Five to ten years after achieving my degree I hope to move up to a principal or partner position.”
- An aspiration (or vision) is broader both in impact and timeframe. Example: “As a manger, principal, and partner at a major consulting firm, I envision developing an enhanced form of consulting where clients rely on us to be proactive – to prevent and foresee problems, and not just solve them after they occur; inform them of opportunities, and not just explore those they may have uncovered. In addition, I would like my consulting experience and business acumen to benefit Favorite Cause X. My management skills and my proactive approach would allow Organization Y, where I have volunteered for the last two years, to make the most of its scarce resources and have a far greater impact on Favorite Cause X.”
For the goal, you want to highlight what you plan on doing and when you plan on doing it. For the aspiration, your focus is usually less sharp and geared more to the long term with a dash of motivation included. What impact or benefit will accomplishing this goal have on you, on your chosen industry, or on the world around you? Is there a non-professional or community element to your aspirations?
A Parable to Further Illustrate the Difference between Goals and Aspirations
Once upon a time in the Middle Ages there were three stone masons, all chipping away at the same large rock. A passerby saw the sweat of their brow and asked what they were working so hard on.
- “I am cutting this stone,” said the first, rather bitter man.
- “I am building a parapet,” said the second man, who was less distraught but still exhausted and unsatisfied from his job.
- The third stone mason, who was as sweaty and as hard-working as the first two, looked up at the passerby, and with a radiant smile answered, “I am building a magnificent cathedral to glorify our Creator for centuries to come!”
The immediate task for each of these three men was the same: to cut stones to particular sizes and shapes. The first mason is simply doing a job. The second mason has a goal. The third mason, however, has vision or aspiration. He isn’t simply earning his daily bread or finishing a construction task; he is building a structure that will have a lasting impact on the world by bringing beauty and glory and godliness into the lives of all future generations. Now that is an aspiration.
Your aspiration doesn’t have to be nearly as grand, but I think the parable illustrates the difference. And if you do have grand dreams, aspirations, or visions for your future and are asked about your long-term goals, aspirations, or visions, don’t be afraid to share them.
Now You Know What They Are. So What?
Goals and aspirations are critical in the MBA admission process. They serve at least four vital functions:
- They guide you in choosing where to apply. Clear well-defined goals and long-term aspirations should be among the major factors determining where you apply.
- The overwhelming majority of applications have an MBA goals essay. Many ask about “vision” or “aspirations.” You need to know what’s driving your decision to pursue an MBA if you want to answer these questions well. They are also frequently asked in interviews. Wishy washy non-answers can kill an application.
- Show fit. Schools want happy students attending and happy alumni out in the working, earning, and donating world. People who know what they want and end up doing it, are happier customers. They belong. They fit. Admissions offices look to your goals as one essential element in that elusive “fit” factor.
- Prepare you to hit the ground running. Recruiting and career planning usually start before you arrive on campus. Internship events start within weeks of the start of classes. If you don’t have a clear idea of where you are headed, you flounder in the internship recruiting process.
So before you plunk down US$200K in out-of-pocket and opportunity costs and spend two years at a top business school, think about where you want to end up. As Stephen Covey recommends, “Begin with the end in mind.”
Aspirations are a great place to start MBA Admissions: A-Z.
Determining your vision or aspiration is no easy feat, and it can be done only after you’ve defined your goals. Learn how to do it right when you view The Art of a Gripping MBA Goals Essay, a FREE on-demand webinar that addresses the what, the how, and the why of MBA goals and aspirations.