Whether you’re applying to an early career Masters in Finance program (MFin or MSF) or one for experienced finance professionals, you’ll be writing a goals essay. It may be 100 words or 750, or anything in between – but I haven’t yet seen a Masters in Finance application that doesn’t ask for goals.
Make your goals appropriate for the program
Most MFin programs target very specific professional experience levels, e.g. 0-2 years, 2-3 years, 3+ years. And, obviously, career goals (at least the short-term ones) will be different for each of these groups. This experience level is key because the adcoms want to admit people who will get hired, and their recruiters target the same age/experience level they do – it’s symbiotic.
Two points on understanding what MFin programs are looking for:
• Most MFin programs targeting 0-2 years of experience are seeking upcoming or recent college grads. If you’re transitioning into finance from another career at, say, age 30, you may have 0 years of finance experience, but most early-career MFin programs are not interested in you. They know their recruiters are looking for the youngsters.
• Know the type of finance company you want to work for and make sure your target programs attract recruiters from such companies. Finance career tracks in corporate finance, retail banks, investment banks, asset managers, and hedge funds differ. Your goals essay should demonstrate knowledge of your area of interest within finance, and of the program’s related career services.
Information to include in your Masters in Finance goals essay or statement
“Financial analyst in a major company” is not good enough. Specificity is essential for 2 main reasons:
1. Credibility: Specificity shows you are serious and have taken the time to plan and prepare for your future career.
2. Differentiation: Many MFin applicants have similar goals, but your motivations, your experience, and your perspective all are uniquely yours.
So, which details should you include?
• For short-term goals, include: Desired sector within finance, type of company (mentioning 1-2 examples is fine), ideal position, expected scope of responsibilities, why this position appeals to you, and what you hope to achieve in it. Geography may also be relevant.
• For long-term goals, include: Your target position or level of responsibility (e.g. you hope to become a CFO but it’s that scope of accountability that’s important, as companies don’t always adhere to the same titlest/structure) and desired impact (think legacy). This is obviously and appropriately less detailed than your short-term goals – it should indicate a clear and logical direction rather than a detailed plan.
Balancing short-term and long-term goals in the goals essay question
To get this balance right, be guided by the actual essay questions. For example:
• If a question asks for short-term goals, don’t write most of the essay about your long-term dream (I’ve seen this).
• If it asks about goals without specifying short- or long-term, you must decide how much to allocate to short-term and long-term. My advice is to allocate more space to and be more detailed in short-term goals. And then sketch a longer-term career vision.
When to present a “Plan B” goal in your Masters in Finance application
You don’t have a crystal ball, and the adcoms know that. You don’t have set goals in stone, and if you have a backup plan, or a Plan B, that’s okay. Consider the following:
• For the short-term goal: It makes sense to have a Plan B when you are new to finance and/or know your ideal short-term goal might be hard to achieve. Briefly sketch a viable Plan B that will also take you to your long-term goal.
• For the long-term goal: It’s perfectly reasonable to envision two possible future paths once you’ve gotten traction in your finance career – e.g., considering both advancing in a company and starting a venture. In such a case, focus on one (of greater interest now) and cite the second as an attractive second option.
Both these Plan B scenarios show you to be thoughtful, in tune with uncertain reality, and resourceful.
Goals issues for early-career (0-2 years) Masters in Finance applicants
You likely have interned in some finance environment(s), but your professional experience – where you are accountable for significant outcomes – is limited. Your key challenges are:
• Understanding the substance of your target post-graduation role(s): For example, how can you show you’re making an informed decision if you haven’t had firsthand exposure to these roles?
SOLUTION: Research, including ideally informational interviews, to get the nitty-gritty, and include the resulting insight in your essay.
• Just getting a good first job seems daunting: Articulating a long-term plan feels absurd at this early point!
SOLUTION: Have some fun mentally sketching out a career path that you like and present it in that tentative light. E.g., “At this point, I’m excited to consider eventually doing X or Y…” You don’t have to say that you’ve got this all worked out.
Goals issues for experienced applicants
You have other challenges:
• Incorporating your experience into your goals: It’s not always intuitive or easy, especially if your experience and goals diverge (maybe you’re in sell side and want to shift to buy side).
SOLUTION: Identify and portray relevant skills, industry perspectives, and types of knowledge you’ve gained that will benefit you in your future role.
• Matching your target short-term position to the level recruited for: Out of early-career territory, there is more variability in recruiting practices.
SOLUTION: Research the program’s career services and recruitment stats. If you don’t see the stats on the program’s website, contact career services or admissions and ask what types of positions their recruiters typically look to fill.
Upcoming posts will dig into other aspects of applying to Masters in Finance programs. Contact me to learn more about how Accepted’s one-on-one admissions advising can help you achieve your educational and career goals.
• From Example to Exemplary, a guide to writing outstanding application essays
• 16 Grad School Application Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make, a podcast episode
• How Your Undergrad GPA & Test Scores Affect Your Masters in Finance Application