Posted on April 11, 2022

Avoid these 13 Common Mistakes in Goals Essay

13 Mistakes_ Goals Essay

Round 1 deadlines for MBA applications are only five months away. So if you are applying to business schools in Fall this year, you should begin the application process by thinking through your goals. Though business schools change or tweak essay questions every year, the two things that nearly every business schools ask applicants are "What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?" and "How will Business School X help you achieve these goals?" These are the essential questions of the entire application process.

The Purpose of Goals Essay

A goals essay aims to provide the Ad Com an understanding of your professional and personal aspirations to help them determine your fit with that school. B- schools want you to have a clear idea of why you want to invest two years of your time, money, and effort to pursue a management education from your target business school and how they can help you achieve them. They also want to know what you will bring to the table.

While guiding students with their applications in the past 11 years, we have noticed some common pitfalls/ mistakes across their essays. We will discuss those mistakes and the pointers/guidelines to correct them in this article. We will illustrate them with 'before' and 'after' examples from MER students' essays.

Click here for the webinar recording.

Pointers to Avoid 13 Common Mistakes in Goals Essay

1.  Inability to identify Goals

Some students have a hard time putting together their thoughts on their career objectives. The clarity of career goals is the foundation of your MBA application. Therefore, before you consider MBA as the next step in your career, it is vital to do a deep self-reflection to identify what you want to do in the next 3-4 years (short-term goal) and where do you see yourself doing 8-10 years down the line (long-term goal).

Some of the most common themes you can organize your thoughts on are:

  • Why do you want to pursue an MBA?
  • What is your career goal post-MBA?
  • Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now?
  • How will you contribute to the MBA classroom?
  • Why are you interested in the program?

2.  Inability to Understand Essay Prompt

It may sound cliché, but the key to writing a compelling goals essay is understanding the essay prompt and addressing it. Read the essay prompt carefully and gauge what the school wants to know about you through this question. Then, stay focused on the theme without going off track. Some applicants do not go deep into the essay prompt to comprehend its intent when writing essays. A typical goals essay or a personal statement will include career history, short-term and long-term goals,  skills you lack to achieve your goals, and the X school's role in helping you achieve them. No two schools have similar expectations regarding applicants' career goals. For example, Ross asks you to elaborate on your short-term aspirations in 200 words. It doesn't ask about long-term goals, nor does it expect you to explain why you want an MBA from Ross. Duke Fuqua asks a100 words question about short-term goals and your backup plans; NYU Stern asks about short-term goals in 150 words, whereas the  Darden asks about the short-term goal and how it aligns with your long-term vision.

Some schools also ask for backup plans (Duke, Kelley, CMU, Oxford, etc.) Maryland Smith asks for Plan B as well as Plan C. The bottom line is even though your short-term and long-term goals will remain the same across all schools, you need to strategize and tailor your response as per the essay prompt of that particular school. You cannot recycle one school's essay for another school.

3.  Inadequate Structure/ Organization

Another pitfall to avoid is the poor organization of ideas. In addition to providing all the relevant content about your career objectives, it is also crucial to organize your story well to make a lasting impact on the reader. You are the author of your story, so you should make sure to explain each logical step of your career history without leaving any loose ends. A goals essay is a narrative of your past (professional experience), present (your MBA), and future (short-term and long-term goals). So, it is vital to connect these three essential components of your story to convince the admission committee about where you want to go, and how they can help you get there.

Also, you must pay equal attention to all aspects of the essay question Address Each part of the Essay Question. Some essay questions have 2-3 parts, and sometimes, applicants tend to ignore the second or third part of the prompt. By asking three questions in one essay prompt– the schools seek to evaluate specific attributes in their prospective students through their responses to every part of the essay prompt. To answer the essay question holistically, you should break it down into multiple sub-segments and then build a structure around each sub-segment.

For example, some applicants address the first part of the essay (career history), leaving the other essential elements (short-term goal and why X school) unanswered or incredibly brief. The key is to give equal footage to all parts of the essay questions. Also, Use Transitional Expressions (therefore, additionally, also, moreover, etc.) to connect your ideas. Do not assume the Ad Com would know what you have not relayed to them. To make your story compelling to the Ad Com, fill all the gaps in your story, explaining each logical step.

For example, let us look at the following question of LBS:

What are your career objectives, and what steps are you taking to achieve them? What alternatives are you considering? What geographical region do you hope to work in? (maximum 500 words)

This question has 4 parts:

  1. Career goals ( both short term and long term )
  2. What steps are you taking to achieve them ( An MIF from LBS is one of them. What else are you doing to achieve your goals?)
  3. What is your Plan B?
  4. What geographical location do you hope to work in?

When organizing ideas for this question, you need to address each of these questions. But #1 and #2  will need more space.

4.  Lack of Specific Details

The most common mistake I have seen in application essays in the past 11 years is -the lack of specific examples or details. Specificity is the key to MBA admission essays, so avoid vague generalities. Please note that the members of the Ad Com read hundreds of essays for evaluating the candidacy of their prospective students, so make sure your goals are succinct, articulate, and specific. It is not enough to say that you would be a great contributor to the program; you must explain how you will add value by getting involved in the school's specific clubs/ student organizations. Also, to show the Ad Com that you have done thorough research about the program, you should cite more than one offering to align your interest with the program.


Before: I was also impressed with the choice of student clubs available. I will love to join Foster Consulting Club, Net Impact Club, and Blue Dots club. 

After: The Foster Consulting Club will provide me with resources to prepare for challenging consulting interviews and case studies. The Net Impact club will allow me to start a conversation about the mining industry. This primary industry will play a central role in dealing with challenges such as climate change, as most of the material required for the production of solar panels and electric cars is produced through mining.

The first example provides generic info, while the second explains how specific resources (clubs) will set the candidate up for success.

5.  Inability to Articulate Post-MBA goals

This is the area where people struggle the most. Whether you are a career enhancer, career switcher, or career entrepreneur, you need to articulate how you plan to do it. Please note that it is vital to specify the job title, function, industry, and target firms you aim to join post-MBA. Also, explain what you see yourself doing in that position. Make sure your goals are realistic/ achievable as well as ambitious. That is, you aspire for something that is, in some way, connected to your professional experience. Even if you are changing industries, you must carry some transferrable skills to help you with your post -MBA goals. Some schools also ask (Plan B), so you need to think hard about that. And make sure that both your plans A and Plan B lead you to your long-term goal.

Let us look at the 'before' and 'after' examples of an essay about short-term goals.


Before: My short-term goal is to work as a management consultant for any Big 3 consulting firm. My long-term goal is to move into a strategic management consulting role and work as a partner in a top-tier management consulting firm, most preferably McKinsey, BCG, or Bain. A role in which I can create strategies at the organizational level based on the companies' goals and make critical decisions for future direction.

After: My short-term goal is to be a management consultant in the technology transformation domain for a top consulting firm like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain. In this role, I will help organizations implement technology-driven transformation programs to leverage maximum value out of existing resources. In the next 5-6 years, I want to move up towards a role and advise organizations on the kind of transformation they need to undertake to unlock their true potential and add value to their products or operations.

In the first example, the writer has not articulated short-term goals and jumped right into long-term goals. Also, he has not explained how he sees himself progressing from short-term goals to long-term goals. In the second example (after three iterations ), the writer has named his target firm, described what he plans to do in his desired post-MBA role, and how he sees himself progressing towards his midterm goal.

6.  Inability to Explain 'Why X school'

This is the most crucial component of most goals essays. Every school has different character culture and offerings, so they need to know if they are a good fit for you or not. To explain this, you need to align their specific resources with your career aspirations. Singing their praises about their high ranking will not get you an admission offer. They already know where they stand. Instead, provide specific details about how their resources (curriculum, clubs, student organizations, teaching method, professors) will set you up for success. Also, share essential information about your efforts to learn about the school. For example, if you are talking to current students and alumni, attending virtual events, explain how the insights you gained through these conversations and events enhanced your understanding of the school and confirmed your decision to pursue your management education at this school.


Before: Switching the career path will be achievable with the help of an MBA program where I can acquire the in-depth skills needed for the field of interest. At the same time, an MBA degree will make my dream of becoming a top-level executive a reality by providing both academic and practical insights that I currently do not possess.

After: An MBA from XX will equip me with the in-depth skills needed for Consulting as it offers the option to combine two concentrations and add emphasis on consulting. The learnings will help me earn a senior consultant position in consulting firms, such as Deloitte, Cognizant, Slalom, Ernest & Young, the major recruiters at XX School.

7.  Use of Jargon

Another common mistake I have seen in student essays is the technical terms of the applicant's industry. Some applicants inadvertently provide lengthy technical details to highlight their technical expertise and tend to omit relevant information. However, they don't understand that the industry-specific terms are comprehensible only to their industry people. The use of excessive jargon makes it challenging for the non-industry members of the admission committee to comprehend your story and distracts them from the 'real narrative.'  To create effective essays, you should use only as much jargon as is required to convey your story.


Before: I am currently working on a project to leverage historical buying data of the world's four largest advertising holding companies to forecast the pricing of online media inventory and provide valuable insights to the media buyer during negotiations with publishers. Right now, different operational workflows, the absence of standards, and the fragmentation of data prevent most of the holding companies in the advertising industry from getting the actual value of scale. My experience providing solutions to such industry issues will complement the academic knowledge I will gain through the part-time MBA program at XXX and accelerate my career growth.

After: I am currently working on a project to leverage historical buying data of the world's four largest advertising holding companies to forecast online media inventory pricing and provide valuable insights to the media buyer. I believe my experience providing solutions to such industry issues will complement the academic knowledge I will gain through the part-time MBA program at XXX and accelerate my career growth.

In the first example, the writer has described his recent project in detail to explain how he will complement his skills with the knowledge he would gain from his target MBA program. In the second version, we eliminated the technicalities of the project. As a result, it is now simple and easy to understand for a non-industry person.

8.  Use of Passive Voice

One of the most common issues I have seen in applicant essays is a lack of personal touch. This is primarily because some applicants often use passive voice, making their impressive personal stories impersonal and lifeless. The use of passive voice weakens their message and turns their heroic accomplishments into lackluster ones. Also, it makes the admission committee wonder if these are the writer's goals or someone else's. I strongly recommend using an active voice to personalize your professional experience, accomplishments, and goals.

However, being personal doesn't mean beginning every sentence with an "I". The excessive use of 'I' will make your writing monotonous. You may use a variety of sentence structures to enliven your writing. Even though these application essays are about you, you should not have more than two sentences in a paragraph beginning with an 'I'. You can convey the same message by phrasing your sentences differently. Sentence variety helps make your writing strong and compelling, so aim to compose a mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences.


Before: In January 2018, at TCS, when one of my colleagues was hospitalized, he had to leave in the middle of a project. Thereon, after intense discussions, it was decided that I would lead the team for the live upgrade of the biggest oil refinery on the east coast.

After: In January 2018, at TCS, one of my colleagues left in the middle of a project due to a medical emergency. After intense discussions, I volunteered to lead the team for the live upgrade of the biggest oil refinery on the east coast.

In the first example, passive voice makes it difficult for the reader to understand who decided to lead the project. The second version articulates that the writer volunteered to lead the team when his colleague had to leave the project.

9. Writing Quotations

Another mistake that I have seen in goals essays (and other essays, too) is quoting famous and distinguished people (leaders, philosophers, scientists, etc.) who have positively impacted the lives of future generations. It is a general perception that using quotations from eminent personalities is a powerful way to impress the admission committee. Hence, some applicants like to begin their essays with quotations. However, I strongly advise against using precious space to quote someone else. First, the Purpose of MBA essays is to gauge your motivation, values, beliefs, career goals, and accomplishments to determine your 'fit' with the school; therefore, quoting famous personalities may not be a value addition. Secondly, considering the increasingly stringent word limits of B- school essays, you must use each word to throw a spotlight on YOU, not on someone else.


Before: "We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." - Marie Curie

Post-MBA, I will assume a CTO role with xxx and contribute to the business strategy and development. Today, there are countless research achievements in the medical research community sitting on the shelf waiting to be realized/ for commercialization.

After: My post-MBA goal is to take up the CTO role with XXX and contribute to business development and operations strategy. I intend to lead our startup into different industry verticals beyond entertainment by defining a varied product portfolio and expanding the customer base and geographical presence.

In the first example, the writer starts his goals essay with a quote from a famous scientist Marie Curie and uses up 22 words in a 300 words goals essay. Also, there is a disconnect between the quotation and the following statements. In the revised version, the writer begins his goals essay with a direct statement about his post MBA goals and then expands on it. The final version is concise and much more effective without the quotation.

10. Spoon-feeding the Ad Com

One of the common mistakes I see in applicant essays is that they try to spoon-feed the reader. You do not need to say everything explicitly. Instead, follow the 'show not tell' principle and let your story (facts) speak for you. For example, you do not need to say that your manager was quite impressed with your work, so he gave you a promotion. The fact that you received an early promotion indicates that your supervisor appreciated your excellent work and rewarded you with a promotion or an award.


Before: I believe I have a talent for accounting which can be proved by my academic performance".

After:"I passed all five of the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accounts unified exams with high scores in my first attempt, though the passing rates for these exams are less than 10%."

In the first example, the writer talks about his talent in accounting but does not provide any evidence of his talent. As you can see, the second version is an example of 'show, not tell', and it is more impactful. As you can see, the second version is an example of 'show, not tell,' and it is more impactful.

11. Inability to be Precise

Beating around the bush is another common pitfall in MBA goals essays. Every year, B- schools are reducing the number of essays and words, so you need to be as precise as you can. Follow the principle of 'less is more' and learn to use fewer words to describe you. Avoid repetitive content, get to the point, and replace the long phases with their shorter equivalents. Do not Provide lengthy background information. By choosing your words wisely and judiciously, you can achieve precision in telling your stories. For example, you may replace 'with regard' with 'about', 'in order to' by 'to,' 'made a decision to,' by 'decide,' 'despite the fact that' by 'although' and so on. Some words that are often a part of our conversation do not add value to our writing. We can safely omit empty words without impacting the meaning of the story. For example, you can part with empty adverbs to save one word.' actually', 'very'.' quite', 'totally', 'absolutely', 'definitely', 'really', No matter how short your essay is, you must finish strong and end the piece with an effective concluding sentence.



Technological advancements and breakthroughs have reshaped our way of life. As the philosophy of the XXX MBA program stresses, I believe that to thrive in this increasingly digitized world, one has to be agile and be able to speak the language of technology. It is also important to ensure that the dialect of technology is comprehendible and that the benefits of these machines and human collaborated brainchild are realized by maximum people. The field of Analytics is the sweet spot where Business meets Math and Technology.

This was the introduction of straightforward goals and why X school essay of 300 words.

After: Post-MBA, my immediate goal is to rise to more strategic roles in the business technology sector with a primary focus on product management. I envision myself in the role of a Product Manager or Product Marketing Manager in technology firms such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google. My enriched experience in the retail industry can also help me add immense value to e-commerce giants such as eBay and Amazon. Finally, as a product owner, I see myself managing the product lifecycle, prioritizing customer, and stakeholder requests, defining the vision and working cross-functionally to deliver winning products.

In the first example, the writer starts his goals essay of 300 words with a lengthy introduction of 85 words but doesn’t say anything about his post-MBA goal.

12. Writing Bulky sentences

I often come across essays filled with extraordinarily lengthy and complicated sentences stretching 50-60 words. Sometimes people write a paragraph comprising one sentence only, making it difficult for the reader to comprehend it. Please avoid overpacking your sentences; break them down into two sentences to make them easily understandable. As I suggested earlier, bring variety to your essay by writing a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Finally, proofread it for sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. These errors are a poor reflection on your candidacy and can hurt your chances of admission. Lastly, when applying to US B-schools, the non-native applicants should proofread their essays for terms that US Ad Com may be unfamiliar with.

Click here for specific proofreading tips for non-natives.

 13. Providing Descriptive Details

Descriptive details indeed paint a picture of the situation in the reader's mind. But in these short essays of 200-250 words, such descriptions take away a big chunk of the allowed space. I would omit them or keep them to the minimum (depending on the permitted length) and focus only on the essential details.


Before: Being at the backstage of the Bogota's Philharmonic Concert Hall for my first presentation was surreal. The lights, the scenario and the audience were perfect for the occasion. However, I was stunned, and just wanted to be the best after all the hard work I had done. Playing the saxophone has been a passion for me and an example of how effort and commitment can take you anywhere.

In this example, the writer provides descriptive details of his thoughts before starting his stage performance in concert. However, this fascinating description uses up 69 words but fails to provide background info about his career goals.

After: In early 2018, I was undecided if I should continue my consulting career at KPMG or pursue a pre-experience Master's degree in finance. At that time, I was offered a lower-paid position at Credicorp, one of the biggest brokerage firms in Colombia. I accepted it, rejecting a promotion offer and postponing my Master's plans. Since my first day at the trading desk, I was fascinated by finance and understood the career path I wanted to seek.

In the first version, the writer provides descriptive details of his thoughts before starting his stage performance in a concert. However, this fascinating description uses up to 69 words but fails to provide background info about his career goals. The second example is the final version (after 4 iterations), wherein the writer begins by providing background information to explain his interest in finance.

Thus, if you follow the pointers we discussed, you will be able to create a compelling and convincing goals essay that will set you apart from the applicant pool and earn you admission into a program that is your best fit. MBA admission essay writing is a highly time-intensive and challenging process that requires self-reflection, planning, preparation, and a significant amount of writing, rewriting, and editing. However, you will love the process if you give yourself enough time.

Related  Resources

10 Key Essay Tips with Examples

Success stories of MER students in their own words

Case Studies

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