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Aspirations And Goals: What’s The Difference?

Aspirations and goals are crucial to your pre-MBA strategy. Think of them as your true north, your guiding star in the application process and even throughout your time in business school. Why? Knowing the reasons for pursuing an MBA will help you choose the right program for you – and help you get the most out of your MBA experience.

Let’s face it: An MBA is a serious investment of your time and money, so understanding exactly what you want to get out of it is critical. Plus, most adcoms will also be looking to see that you have described a clear, realistic goal in your application.

You’re likely motivated by both goals and bigger-picture aspirations. What’s the difference? What is an aspiration?

  • A goal is something that you plan to do or accomplish in a specific period of time. One way to look at it is this: Industry + Function + Timeframe = Goal. Example: “Immediately upon earning my MBA (timeframe) I plan to become a consultant (function) at a top strategy consulting firm (industry).”
  • An aspiration (or vision) is broader both in impact and timeframe. Example: “As a manager, principal, and partner (function + timeframe, since this shows career progression) at a major consulting firm (industry), I envision developing an enhanced form of consulting where clients rely on our firm to take initiative – to prevent and foresee problems, and not just solve them after they occur; to inform them of opportunities, and not just evaluate those they may have discovered (broad impact). 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 limited resources and have a far greater impact on Favorite Cause X (broad impact).”

For the goal, we advise our clients 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 achieving this goal have on you, on your chosen industry, or on the world around you? Is there a non-professional or social element to your aspirations?

So yes, knowing why you want an MBA is wise given the investment, but there is an additional reason for having compelling and credible goals: They will help you get accepted. And lack of such goals can contribute to, if not cause, rejection.

Let me give you an example. Jeff, an applicant with strong stats and good work experience, purchased an Accepted Rejection Review. Accepted consultant Esmeralda Cardenal reviewed his rejected application and told him she would have rejected him too! His goals made no sense given his experience. When applying the first time around, well-meaning friends had told him that entrepreneurship is hot and a good goal. So he wrote that he wants to be an entrepreneur. NOTHING in his background or experience related to entrepreneurship. His goal simply wasn’t credible.

He then decided to reapply and work with Esmeralda on his applications. She persuaded him to provide an authentic and logical goal that truly reflected his interests and ambitions. It also made sense given the schools he was applying to. He got into an M7 school with a scholarship.

Always remember that keeping an eye on your larger aspirations – what really motivates you – can add meaning to your goals. And help you get accepted.

One of the questions you will almost certainly have to answer – either in an essay or an interview – is: Why do you need an MBA? Will you have a strong answer? Learn how to strategize effectively by downloading Accepted’s admissions guide, Why MBA? – get it here for free!


Accepted: the premiere admissions consultancy

Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets&Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.