Why MBA? Why Now?
As you can see, there are two questions here: Why are you pursuing an MBA? And why is now the best time for you to do so? Let’s jump right in.
Another way to phrase this question is: What do you want to do that requires an MBA? After all, isn’t your reason for getting an MBA the fact that you want to use your MBA in the future? Therefore, when addressing this question, you must focus on what your career goals are and why you need an MBA to achieve them.
Short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals
Before you draft your goals essay, you need to work out three types of goals: short-term, intermediate, and long-term. Short-term goals are immediately post-MBA until about two years later; intermediate goals are about two to five years post MBA; and long-term goals are those goals from five years in the future onwards. Essays usually ask for short- and long-term goals, but awareness of your intermediate goals will help you bridge the gap between the two.
When describing your goals you’ll want to be more specific for your short-term goals since they’re the direct link to your MBA program. Define your short-term goal in terms of function and industry. In other words, what do you want to do after your MBA (not study during the program) and in what industry do you see yourself doing it? If geographic location is relevant, include it too.
As you progress to your intermediate and then long-term goals, it’s okay to use less detail; nobody knows with certainty where they’ll be in 20 years, so it’s not expected that you describe the far off future in as much detail as you do the short-term. Also, since no one can predict the future of an industry in flux (like healthcare), be sure that your goals reflect this fluidity.
Answering specific goals questions
Read the question carefully, and emphasize in your writing what the question emphasizes (e.g., does the question ask for a description of short-term and long-term goals specifically, or does it just mention post-MBA goals in a more general manner?). In other words, let the question guide you.
Often a question will ask why you want an MBA or why you want to attend a particular program. Link these points directly to your goals – again, your career goal is your reason for attending a specific program and for pursuing an MBA. If a specific program will help you develop the skills you need for a particular goal, then there’s your answer for “Why MBA” and for “Why MBA at this particular school.”
Creating clear, concise goals
You should create goals that are clear, credible, and convincing. That’s Step 1. Some programs, either in essay or interview questions will also want to know how your goals developed. What’s motivating you? What makes you tick? An authentic answer that tells your story creates excitement about your dream. You want the adcom to respond to your essay with, “Wow, it would be amazing if she could achieve that!” Think of it like this: You want to turn your reader into your personal cheerleader.
Let’s look at a couple of factors that can really engage the reader in the story of your goal.
What is experience? When you describe an experience, you are describing those events – the when, where, and how – that lead to the development of your goals.
What is motivation? Motivation is that pivotal point when an experience gained traction with you, when you became captivated and engaged in such a way that you were led to pursue a specific path. It can contain emotional, experiential, and analytical elements.
While generally separate entities, these elements can be intertwined in your goals essay. Here is a brief example, slightly modified from a goals essay co-author Cindy Tokumitsu and I wrote for a hypothetical applicant in The Consultants Guide to MBA Admission:
Last year, when I was in Taiwan advising a global financial services company on consolidating its Asia strategy, I found myself thinking what a shame it was that my relationship with the client proved responsive rather than proactive. With my knowledge of the region’s changing demographic and logistical realities, I could have recommended strategic opportunities a year ago to prevent the client from getting bogged down in redundant acquisitions and incompatible markets. Following that experience, I envisioned a new consulting paradigm resembling primary care medicine, based on a long-term, prevention focused relationship between the consultant and client.
Describing your experiences and motivation, when asked for them, will transform your goals from static to dynamic. Also, by highlighting your experiences, you’ll enhance your credibility and create a story which is more memorable than pure exposition.
Important: Make sure that your goals really require an MBA. Any and all learning is helpful for almost any endeavor, but the adcoms want to see that you really need the resources that an MBA (and specifically an MBA from their program) will offer.
In addition to asking why you need an MBA, many b-school goals essays will also ask you to explain why you are applying now. This question provides yet another way for you to explain that an MBA is right for you.
The “Why now?” question is really a focus and maturity question. You may have rock-solid, detailed career goals and a strong case for how an MBA will help you achieve them, but if you can’t explain why you need to pursue your MBA now – now and not a year from now – then the adcoms may conclude that you’re applying now for the wrong reasons.
A sense of urgency or momentum will convince the adcom that your seat in the next MBA class is a necessity.
The implicit “I need it now” mentality should infuse your essay. The fact that all of your experiences and motivations have led you to this point and that the lack of an MBA will keep you from following that trajectory of your leadership roles, skills, and functional breadth should underlie the description of your goals. There should be no “Why MBA?” answer without a “Why now?” answer alongside it or implicit within it.
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In the ideal world, if you have decided to do an MBA, you should have complete clarity on the what, when, where and how. But then, we all know that the world is far from ideal. Many MBA aspirants start off from scratch and only have a vague sense on these interrogative words.
We’ve already written about how to choose the right post-MBA career goal. Even before that, comes the question of Why MBA in the first place and we’ve tackled that too.
In our experience, most candidates (thankfully) have a reasonable sense of this. The one question where several stumble in giving a strong rationale, is why pursue an MBA at this stage in your life, whether it is about articulating it in a written essay or during the interview.
While universal solution set could be huge, we present 3 illustrative reasons that may work in many cases.
Why MBA Now question in business school essays and interviews
3 potential ways to tackle the question
- You have the ‘magic’ work experience years count. As per some research we’ve done in the past, most GMAT based MBA programs have an average experience range of 4-5 years, give or take (at the time of joining the program).
So, if you are near this average, then the explaining required is a tad easier. Having these many years of experience by itself is of course not going to magically work by itself. You still have to spell it out and reason out the why of it.
After all, not everyone in the world with this experience range applies for an MBA or is even eligible. In this context, it might be important to understand why MBA programs even care for work experience in the first place. Once you being to comprehend that, it gets easier to build the story thereafter.
- You just reached a career milestone or are about to. This can be a potent one if explained well. Say you are a mechanical engineer in a core field and are trying to answer Why MBA now after engineering.
One of the ways to justify the switch is to explain a career milestone you’ve reached (say an engineering manager) and juxtaposing it with the rationale for giving a different direction to your career.
Yes, I know it sounds a bit complicated and it is a bit. But at the heart of it, is the logic that if you have to change something in your career, why wait for another milestone. The milestone can work as both an achievement and a good pivot point.
- It is a logical next step. Remember, the Why Now question can hardly ever be de-linked with Why MBA and goals questions/narrative. This particular storyline works in case the degree of change you are seeking through an MBA is not huge.
Let’s consider an example. If you are in the proverbial IT pool and are a developer. You are already a star performer and the ‘logical’ next step for you, in the business world (as opposed to the tech world), is to become a Product Manager.
The MBA can then work as a fine next step. Bear in mind however that MBA is not a must do for becoming a Product Manager.
Some others argue, especially for those doing it a bit late in their careers, that it is a matter of financial stability. A slightly weak argument (the materialistic answer hardly ever is strong, philosophically speaking) but can fly.
It is important to bear in mind that the actual response is hardly ever one of the above and more likely to be a layered one. Because of its intimate relationship with Why MBA and Goals questions, it is tough to provide a clear guideline on this one; the answer as they say is, complicated.
We hope that this gives you a starting point though and enough ideas to build your own story. We’d love to hear if you have a different narrative which might help the other readers – feel free to share it in the comments section below.