What’s motivating you? Why do you want a graduate degree? Here are three common, but unexpected situations that you might face in your own life. How you disclose and incorporate them into your application essays will determine if you are taken seriously as a candidate or if you come across as too complicated for the admissions director. We all have issues, but don’t let them get in the way of your success.
These auestions have been on my mind because of a couple international students I’ve been advising. Usually, motivation for graduate degrees is rooted in career choices and long term goals. Whether you are looking for the management skills and career an MBA can bring, or the independent research that can pull one into a PhD and an academic career, the educational goal is usually a function of the career goal. Three recent reminders show me that is not always the case.
The first example is a student about to embark on a one year master’s in construction management. He has no work experience and just finished a bachelor’s in civil engineering. His career plans call for leaving engineering and moving into project management as a transition to company management at the executive level. After surveying over forty employees at all levels of the target firm, he learned that work experience, followed by a reputable MBA is the most recommended path. I tried to disuade him from pursuing any graduate program at this time so he can gain work experience. He wouldn’t entertain the idea at all. Cultural Nd family expectations were firmly set. He had to go for a masters now, that is just the way it is. He expected it of himself, his family expected it of him, his professors and peers all expected it. And so it was. His motivation is not rational, logical, but cultural. Admissions committees understand this can be a strong force in your motivation, but you still have to get to the underlying story about your future after the degree program and communicate it well.
The second example is someone seeking a career change after over fifteen years of professional experience. She has grown disenchanted with her industry (banking) and through some personally distressing experiences, is seeking a change to social services. Pesenting this information as motivation to seek a masters in psychology made some sense. Only much later was the true motivation revealed: a planned divorce. She is seeking a fresh start in a new life, for herself.
The third situation is one uniquely affecting international students. A prospective student planned for years to do an MBA in America and was working to gain professional experience while saving money for this future investment. That was the plan until he and his wive learned they are expecting a baby. All around the world, having a baby changes everything – it’s a big deal. For this candidate, it meant immediately accelerating his plan for an MBA so his new child could be born in America and gain the long term benefits of US citizenship. This isn’t exactly what the admissions committee is looking for if they ask “Why now?” in their essay questions. Still, there are ways to position the application appropriately and share some of this story so it strengthens your applications. There are risks too and applicants should do all they can to identify and mitigate them.
Life happens to all of us and no two people are exactly alike so we shouldn’t expect everyone to fall in to the same patterns. These are understandable situations that could represent your own situation. The challenge facing people in circumstances like these is how to separate those situations from the true passion for a graduate degree. How do you position yourself best in the eyes of the admissions committee? How much do you reveal about this background and what do you keep to yourself. These are big challenges for applicants and it is risky to reveal everything without thinking about it carefully.