When they announced their Class of 2021 profile recently, Harvard made a point to say that they’ve updated the industry categories that they use in describing their incoming class. They said that this would be “easier for students” because it’s in line with what their Career Services office uses. We’re a little baffled on how this change affects students at all, but that’s not really why we’re mentioning it.
In their online applications, as you probably know, all of the schools ask for you to enter your career history to date. They also want you to identify your current industry, and probably they ask you to identify what industry and function you’re going to target through your MBA studies. Some schools also ask for a major or concentration to be named.
In most cases, you’re not locked into these choices. One important exception is Wharton, if you are applying through their Health Care Management major; that requires pre-selecting the major and specifically applying to that major as part of your application for the MBA. If you’re accepted to Wharton through your HCM app, then you’re accepted to HCM, and you cannot change it later. Think carefully if that’s the path you want to pursue!
For most schools, the major you select on the app is just informational. It’s to help the admissions team understand your whole rationale for wanting an MBA at all. It’s certainly not a trivial item to select, but it’s also not set in stone; you don’t have to live with those choices forevermore if you’re admitted. You can design your curriculum as you wish once you’re there (again, except for a few cases like that Wharton HCM option and some rare others).
But just because you can change it later doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway item. EVERYTHING IN THE APP DATASET MATTERS and the admissions reviewer will be looking at literally all that you enter — even the items that seem insignificant. Like what major do you want to focus on when you get there.
So what do you pick? How do you answer this question?
Don’t worry: It’s not a trap lying in wait for you. The adcoms aren’t trying to trip you up. Knowing what to choose should not be that difficult. You just need to figure out your career goals, and then do enough research on the school such that you understand what major the employers in your future post-MBA industry will expect you to have. If you’ve done your homework effectively, this should be not that challenging of a choice to make when you’re completing the app.
(If you need help laying out your career goals effectively, we can help!)
Now, before we get too much further, this is an area where there is tremendous variability by school, and the way one program does things isn’t necessarily the way other programs do. Not all schools even require their MBA students to select a major. Most have some type of concentration or area of interest or some other type of label that they use for “major” but in many bschools, you can do your own thing without formally meeting the requirements of a specific track or specialization.)
However, in the context of your MBA essays, and the application as a whole, as a pitch then yes, this advice pertains to all the schools.
Here’s how the content strategy that you’re executing on for your essays matters a lot, and this is why we say that you need to take a holistic approach to putting the pieces of your app together.
Let’s continue using Wharton for this discussion.
If you’ve attended an info session or webinar with the Wharton admissions team where they go into their advice for how to answer their essay questions, you may have heard them tell you that one way to answer Wharton Essay 1 (essentially a why MBA/why Wharton question) is to think about the moment when you realized you wanted to get an MBA, and use that as the starting point of the essay.
Some people are able to incorporate this effectively into how they write their Wharton Essay 1, but many people flounder. It’s not necessary to do this to construct a strong answer to their question. However, if you do it well, then yeah, it can sometimes be a nice way to begin your discussion of goals.
Well guess what?
If you do this, then whatever you select for the major in the app needs to sync up with that anecdote in some way.
When we lay it out like this, it sounds soooooo obvious. You’re probably sitting here going, “Well duh EssaySnark. That’s a no-brainer.”
But if it were, why do we see so many BSers with majors designated on their apps that have no connection whatsoever to the things they say in their essays about why they want to get an MBA?
Actually, we have a solid theory on why this happens. We’re betting it’s because of compartmentalized thinking.
When you’re writing essays, you’re in “storytelling mode” – you’re trying to come up with things that you think will impress your reader. (Which is a fully misguided impulse, but it’s what literally everyone does.)
Almost everyone who is writing a career goals essay is basically just making sh!t up. They’re just like, “Hmm, I dunno, why don’t I say this?” And they’re writing-writing-writing, to get to the word count (and then cutting-cutting-cutting, to make it actually fit within the restrictions that the school has). Essays are not a creative-writing exercise, but some folks sure seem to get, err, creative in what they’re claiming they will do post-MBA.
Anyway, you finally get through all your drafts and revisions to those essays and put them aside. That task on your application to-do list gets a little checkmark, and you breathe a sigh of relief. And then you turn your attention to the app dataset (which hopefully you do in a separate session entirely!! since it’s so easy to introduce really basic errors into your app if you do it when you’re tired, or rushing). When you’re filling out the fields on the many forms they have online, you’re going into fill out a form mode. That’s very different than the mindset you were in when you were struggling with the right words to talk about your goals. You’re even using a somewhat different part of the brain. The fill-out-a-form mode is retrieving from the database; it’s doing lookups to find the info to fill in your work history and where you were born and your permanent mailing address (hint: most people use their parents’ house) and all this historical stuff that you just have to remember and enter into the fields.
It’s a different mode of thinking. And when you’re in a different mode of thinking, then the things you recall are often totally and completely different from the mode of thinking when you were writing those essays. So you are cruising along with your straightforward data entry task, and you come upon the question about what major would you choose during your MBA, and it’s like, “Oh, this is fun!” and you look at all the choices, and you …. select the one that sounds sexy. The one that has “strategy” in its name.
Or whatever. You pick something that seems exciting.
While skills in strategy surely are needed in plenty of post-MBA careers, it’s not necessarily the very first and most important thing that you would be expected to study for every career.
So this post is only a reminder that when you come into the page of the online application that asks you to write your career goals, and identify what industry you will focus on, and maybe choose areas of interest or concentrations or a major, then stop. Sit back and question what you’re choosing. Does it sync up?
If you wrote an anecdote in Wharton Essay 1 about how you first realized you needed an MBA based on XYZ happening at work, when you were exposed to some concepts or skillsets for the first time and suddenly appreciated that you were lacking in that area, well, does the major you are naming in that part of the app coincide with what you’re claiming your gap in knowledge is about?
These things don’t HAVE to line up precisely, but it surely would be better if they matched somehow. Like, in the same universe. To help with that whole “holistic review” thing, ya know? It lets the admissions reader see that you’ve put more than two seconds of thought into this whole endeavor.
You may also be interested in:
- Why “general management” isn’t a career goal
- Career goals, and past interests, and clear messaging
- Random tips for filling out the app dataset for your MBA programs
You’ve picked up our SnarkStrategies Guide, right?!?