Discussing MBA Short-Term Goal Alternatives

MBA Plan B

After asking applicants about their short-term and long-term career goals after graduation, Fuqua’s MBA application asks candidates an interesting question:

Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize, what alternative directions have you considered?

While this is only a 500 character (with spaces!) answer in Fuqua’s application, getting it right can tell the adcom a lot about you as a potential student and businessperson.  

Below are a few tips on how to tackle this kind of question in your MBA applications.

Changing Industries

We see this one a lot. Say a client’s short-term goal is to work at one of the Big 3 management consulting firms before starting their own boutique consultancy. When they get to this alternative plan question, they tell the adcoms that their plan B is to work in an industry different than management consulting.

To make this changing industries approach work, an applicant must make sure that they communicate that they’ll be learning the same kinds of skills and gaining the same kinds of experiences in this new industry that they would have been at a Big 3 firm. With Fuqua’s super tight word count, this requires some serious wordsmithing. Applicants should focus on two or three specific skills or experiences they could gain in their alternative plan, and briefly explain how they will gain them.

The Unrealistic Plan B

This one can come in many forms, but most often involves an applicant being over-ambitious with their alternative path. Let’s say an applicant’s primary short-term goal is to become a portfolio manager at JPMorgan after graduation. It’s probably not a good idea to say that if that plan A doesn’t work out,  they’re going to become a portfolio manager at Goldman Sachs. If you’re not ready for a job at one industry giant, you’re probably not ready for the same position at a different industry giant.

A better approach for this client might be to seek a similar position at a more niche company, learning the same kinds of skills and gaining the same kinds of experiences, but in a slightly different environment. That’s a much more believable, and humble alternative path.

180°  Turn

Probably the trickiest alternative path to sell to an adcom is one that is completely different from an applicant’s plan A. For example, an applicant’s plan B involves changing industries and a completely different kind of position with different skills to be gained in that role. The only way that this kind of approach will work is if the applicant can somehow make an argument that the challenges and experiences they’ll face on this divergent path will somehow result in the applicant being prepared to accomplish their long-term goal.

This kind of approach isn’t impossible, but it takes a lot of creativity and requires the applicant to have an extremely thorough understanding of their target industry in order to create a workable answer. It’s probably best to avoid this kind of approach, especially given tight essay word counts.

These alternative career plan questions can seem tricky at first, but if you keep your long-term goal in mind, approaching the questions is pretty straightforward. Will your plan B still give you the skills and experiences you’ll need to accomplish your long-term goal? If so, then you’re on your way to crafting a compelling answer to these types of questions.

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Discussing Humble Leadership in MBA Essays