How to State Your Goals and Avoid Misusing “Unique” in MBA Application Essays

When writing about your career, strive to inspire your reader by showing that your goals are ambitious, but not to the point of being implausible. You should work to find a middle ground between goals that are easily achievable and those that are naïve or entirely fantastic. For example, stating your short-term goal is to return to your existing position at your firm would be an example of an unambitious goal and thus an unwise approach. On the other hand, declaring that your short-term goal is to become CEO of the New York Yankees would be shooting unreasonably high, and the goal would therefore be viewed as unrealistic.

Generally, with respect to short-term goals, you should be able to identify a reasonably precise position that you could expect to enter after graduating from your MBA program—or if you intend to start your own firm, you should have a clear understanding of what that firm will be, the direction you will take, and how you will steward the business to achieve its short-term goals. As for the long term, pick a goal that derives from your existing career path or could be considered a logical transition from it and that represents an ideal of sorts. Essentially, we recommend that you write about goals that would be within your grasp if everything were to go according to plan.

Another thing to look out for while writing your essays is misusing (and overusing) the term “unique.” Consider these examples, which one of our consultants recently found in a single 600-word essay:

“The semester I spent in France during high school was a unique experience.”

“I want to attend Columbia Business School because of its unique Entrepreneurial Club.”

“The opportunity to do hands-on consulting at Ross is unique.”

“My finance background and strong interpersonal skills will allow me to make a unique contribution to Cornell’s Investment Management Club.”

Not one of these examples actually fulfilled the term’s correct definition: “existing as the only one or as the sole example.” Business school applicants tend to use the word “unique” in an attempt to make themselves stand out to the admissions committee. However, because they use the word imprecisely—and often too frequently—it ends up having the opposite effect instead, and the essay loses its distinctiveness and believability. Another danger of using the term too casually is that you risk exposing your lack of research about the school if you claim something is unique to the school when it really is not.

Here are the same four statements we presented earlier, written without the generic “unique.” In each case, the sentence is far more descriptive and therefore much less likely to appear in any other applicant’s essay.

“The semester I spent in France during high school was eye-opening, from the frogs’ legs I was served at dinner to the concept of shopping daily for my food.”

“I want to attend Columbia Business School because its Entrepreneurial Club offers an incredible range of activities that will prepare me to better run my own company.”

“The opportunity to do hands-on consulting at Ross will complement the theoretical background I will gain by taking classes on consulting.”

“My finance background and strong interpersonal skills will ensure that I will effectively coach and mentor classmates new to finance through the mentorship program offered by Cornell’s Investment Management Club.”

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