MBA Goals Essay: Common Pitfalls for International Applicants

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When answering the standard MBA application “Goals Essay,” many of the international applicants we work with talk about their long-term plans for returning home to start entrepreneurial ventures.

These essays are often very compelling, with applicants dreaming of improving people’s lives, helping small businesses, and giving back to the communities that helped them succeed. These plans for returning home also often have a sound business case behind them. Duke’s Vivek Wadwha predicts an entrepreneurial explosion in emerging economies like India where internet connectivity and digitization is growing exponentially. With increasingly limited numbers of working visas in the US and political instability, returning home to venture out is looking like a pretty good idea.


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While these entrepreneurial long-term goals can be compelling, there are several mistakes that we see clients make when trying to effectively communicate them to adcoms. Below, we outline two of the most common pitfalls we see.

Failure to Differentiate

One of the most common long-term entrepreneurial dreams we hear from applicants is a plan to return to their home country to start a boutique consultancy.

These applicants often have firsthand experience with the problems that they want their future consultancy to solve, and great ideas for how they could fix those problems. Where these applicants struggle is communicating to an adcom how their future firm is going to differentiate itself from the competition, namely the Big 3, McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.

If you’ve identified a problem that can’t be fixed without help from a consulting company, the odds are that one of the Big 3 consultancies is already working on how to fix it. So, these applicants need to come up with creative ideas for things that will help their entrepreneurial venture find a niche that can’t be or won’t be filled by the time they are starting up. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, and it can only be answered with a lot of introspection, creative thinking, and research.    

Training Mismatch

Another common mistake we see from candidates who dream of eventually starting a business in their home country is a failure to identify resources at their target school that will translate across countries and cultures. Yes, the global economy is becoming more and more interconnected, but learning how to navigate American financial regulations isn’t going to help a Chinese Fintech startup navigate the Chinese regulatory environment.

What we suggest is that these aspiring entrepreneurs write about their plans for utilizing resources at their target schools that are tailored to their goals. Want to start a renewable energy startup in Africa? Then you might want to write about your plans for taking Professor X’s Renewable Energy Strategies in Emerging Markets. Instead of writing about interning at a major energy firm that relies largely on coal, why not write about your plans to intern at a successful renewable startup, where you can learn the strategies they used to overcome early startup challenges in the energy sector.

Avoiding these common pitfalls and staying focused on your target school’s resources that you’ll be able to utilize throughout your career will communicate to adcoms that you’ll be an entrepreneur with a forward-looking approach, an essential skill of any successful business leader.

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