Advice on writing about your career in your MPP, MBA, and MPH admissions essays

Almost any top professional school, whether an MPP, MBA, MPH, M. Ed, or MSW, is going to ask you to describe your career vision—your professional plans and goals.

Why do they ask me about my professional goals?

Top professional schools ask about your career vision and your professional goals, because they want to make sure that you have a clear, confident, well thought out reason for attending their schools. Top schools want high-achieving graduates who do great things in the world, bring prestige to the school, and attract funding to the school in the form of donations (from you—and other proud alumni.

If they let in a bunch of people who don’t actually know why they are going to school, they end up with a bunch of wanderers who may or may not find their footing in their careers.

Admitting you would be a disservice to you, your peers, and the school’s brand as a whole. So the stakes are high to get this right!

What if I don’t really know what I want to do?

The beauty of applying to a top professional program is that you can gain further clarity about what you want to do through the process of writing, revising, and polishing your essays. Ideally, you will have worked for 3-5 years in a variety of roles and organizations so that you can better understand what kind of organizations and roles are best suited for you.

But this is real life, and things don’t always turn out that way. So if you’re applying with an unclear sense of what you want to do, the best thing you can do for yourself is give yourself plenty of time to write, research, revise, and polish your essays and convey a sense of confident and clear direction in your essays.

What if I change my mind?

Changing your mind about your professional goals is totally okay and completely expected of a portion of the class. Our interests evolve and shift as we learn more about various industries, problems, and opportunities—as well as the disparate income potential involved with various career paths.

Your essays are not a contract between you and the admissions committee; they are more like a cover letter for your job as incoming Ivy League student and community member. Just like you can’t know exactly what a job will be like before you’re there, it’s nearly impossible for you to know exactly how your professional career path will play out.

Your “career vision” essay is just that: your ideal vision for your career and the change you hope to make.

What’s an example of a “career vision” essay prompt?

The requirement to write about your career vision may come as part of a statement of purpose (as in the case of this year’s Columbia SIPA MIA/MPA Essay 1) or it may be an entirely separate essay on its own (as in the case for the HKS MPP Essay 1).

Here’s the HKS Essay 1, which is completely dedicated to writing about your career:

Harvard Kennedy School MPP Essay 1 (2014-2015):

Essay 1: The Harvard Kennedy School motto, echoing the President for whom the School is named, is “Ask what you can do.” Please share with the Admissions Committee your plans to create positive change through your leadership and service. (500 word limit).

Here’s the Columbia SIPA MIA/MPA Essay 1, which includes a portion during which they want you to write about your career:

Columbia SIPA MIA/MPA Essay 1 (2014-2015):

Question 1: (400 words maximum): Why are you interested in pursuing your MIA or MPA degree at SIPA? How will a degree (and intended concentration/specialization) from SIPA enable you to achieve your career goals? Describe your academic and research interests and career objectives. Be sure to include details regarding the features of SIPA that you believe are integral to helping you in your career pursuits.

What are some tips for writing career vision essays?

  • Show us your career over time. What is your immediate post-graduation career plan? 3-7 years out? 7-10 years out? What is the ultimate dream position?
  • What kinds of organizations do you want to work for? Give specific examples of leaders / companies / nonprofits / intergovernmental organizations that you’re interested in working for.
  • What kinds of roles do you want to have and why? Give real job titles if possible and explain why particular roles appeal to you.
  • What kind of impact do you want to make—and for whom? Be as specific as possible. Saying “China” is better than just saying “Asia,” and saying “rural China” is more specific and thus more helpful than just saying “China.” Even better: Rural villages in coastal China. No, Adcoms don’t have a preference for people interested in rural villages in coastal China; it’s just that this is much more specific and clear than simply “Asia” or “China.”

Help! I don’t know how to start.

If you can’t answer those questions above, it’s time to do some research. Make Google and LinkedIn your best friends. Ask people about their careers. Search through old articles in your favorite news sources. Listen for job titles that appeal to you and figure out the issues that you are most invested in.

Once you have the answers to the above questions, write it out without trying to make it sound nice or link together well.

Once you have something to work with, do your best to make it all flow well and connect to one another.

If you still can’t get it to flow well and be within the word limit, get some help!

As always, we here at The Art of Applying are here to help. You can purchase our essay editing service, send us your near-final drafts as a part of the Good to Great package, or go big and get comprehensive coaching.

Time to get to writing! (or Googling!)


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