The application process is a tricky balancing act: You want to show your target schools that you’re a perfect match, but you don’t want to blend into the multitude of applicants or become just a number. How can you show your authentic self in the application process? How can you present your strengths, and stand out? This series shows you how.
So far, we’ve discussed two crucial ways to show you “fit” in a school’s applicant pool – demonstrating you can do the work and showing how your interests align with the school’s mission and culture. A third key way you can show your fit is by demonstrating you have a clear, realistic goal – a goal that the program will help you achieve.
Goals are an important part of the application process for many types of programs. That’s why MBA programs normally ask you about your post-MBA goals, and why grad programs in a variety of fields ask for a “statement of purpose” – they want to know that you have thought clearly about your plans and goals for the future, and what role their program will play in helping you get there. (If you’re applying to college, it’s OK for your goals to be more nebulous – but you can still start thinking about your interests.)
Some programs may ask you to describe both short- and long-term goals. Think about the industry you plan to work in, and how you hope to see your career develop.
Where Are You Headed? How Will You Get There?
If you’re early in your career, your goals may still be evolving – and that’s fine. The key here is that you have thought about the direction you want to go in and how the skills and training you’ll gain in the graduate program will help you get there. An example of this early-career goal dilemma: Some med school secondaries ask you to consider the direction your future career might take. Even if you’re really not sure which specialty you might choose, this is a place to think seriously about how you see your future career – what type of practice you envision, whether you want to incorporate research into your career, etc. They’re asking that question because they want to know you’ve thought seriously about your goals and understand the path you’re setting out on.
Using Your Goals to Stand Out
While having a clear, coherent goal is one of the things that will help you show you “fit” in a school’s pool of target applicants, your description of your goals/statement of purpose is also a way to stand out. What do we mean by that?
Your goal is unique, because you are unique, and the set of experiences that have prepared you (and motivated you) to pursue that goal are unique. Your goals essay/statement of purpose must connect your previous experiences and your future plans, and show how the school’s strengths meet your educational needs and will help you transform your plans into your future. Think about your experiences, and how they’ve helped shape your interests (and your goals for the future). Even if you’re going to grad school to change careers, there’s normally something in your experience that has set the foundation for your current interests.
Connect the dots for your readers. Show them how your path – a journey that is distinctive to you – has led you to your goals for grad school and your career.
In the next post in our Fitting In/Standing Out series, we’ll talk about how you can highlight your unique perspective in your application.
• From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding essays
• 4 Ways to Show How You’ll Contribute in the Future
• 4 Steps to Show Fit in Your Application, a podcast episode