Let’s be honest. Unless you’re a future university professor, then chances are you’re hoping grad school will kickstart a rewarding, well-paid career. This is obvious if you’re targeting a professional-track master’s, like an MHA or MS in Marketing. But even if you’re a Physics mad scientist, I’m guessing you’re at least contemplating a career in industry, no? Either way, if grad school is the obstacle between you and the job of your dreams, then writing a smart career goals statement in your SOP can go a long way toward making that dream real.
In fact, clarifying your career goals might be necessary if you’re applying to competitive master’s programs. It shows that you’re a sharp, long-term thinker, and that you understand how grad school will prepare you to make a difference in the suit-and-tie world.
Unfortunately, I’d estimate that 3/4 of grad applicants don’t do this. Maybe more. And that’s a shame. Luckily, this article will prevent you from making the same mistake. With the tips, templates, and examples below, you’ll have everything you need to convince grad schools that you’ll be the shining star of their next class.
What does a Career Goals Statement look like?
Let’s see a few examples. One of my former students, a financial engineer, wrote the following in the SOP that earned her admission to multiple top-5 schools:
“After graduation, I plan to launch an analyst career in Singapore, hopefully in a buy-side investment firm like Stark Capital or Redstar Securities. Southeast Asia still has tremendous potential for social development, and I envision a career in asset management because I believe in the potential of impact investing to address issues like healthcare accessibility.”
Another student, Yichen, whose entire SOP you can read here, wrote the following to get admitted to his #1 target MPH program:
“My long-term goal is to participate in research on genetics and disease in either orthopedic hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry. I am deeply interested in applying data analysis and modeling to the field of bone health, and hope to participate in research on prevention of long-term disease and occupational health issues.”
For comparison, a wonderful CS scholar wrote:
“Upon graduation, I aim to pursue software developer roles in EdTech companies such as Gotham-based Wayne.ED or Tate. As revealed during the COVID pandemic, the education sector has lagged in adopting secure digital technologies, but GU’s interdisciplinary approach will enable me to aid in building learning ecosystems that meet the heavy demands of overpopulated urban school districts.”
How Should I Write My Career Goals Statement?
I recommend you start with this template:
Upon graduation, I hope to attain a _____ role in a company like _____ or _____, both of whom are currently developing fascinating new ______ solutions applicable to the _____ industry.
Thus, the final version may appear something like this:
Upon graduation, I hope to attain a Senior 3D Designer role in a company like Stark Innovations or Oscorp, both of whom are currently developing augmented reality training platforms applicable to the space mining industry.
Use your own words. Don’t just copy this statement outright. I can’t tell you how often I see SOPs on Reddit that wholesale copy-paste the text from sample essays on this blog. It boggles my mind. Even if grad programs aren’t using AI plagiarism checkers, why would you want to risk someone reading your SOP and saying: “Waitaminute, I’ve seen these sentences ten times! Plagiarizing heathen! Reject! Reject! Reject!”
What Key Elements Should You Think About Conveying?
- A Specific Job Title
If you don’t know what kind of job you want in the future, then why would a grad program take you seriously? Show them that you’ve formulated clear, mature, and reasonable goals. Use Indeed or ZipRecruiter to find your “dream job.” After all, that’s why you’re going back to school, isn’t it? To get your dream job?
- One or Two Potential Employers
It’s easy to say that you want to work as a “software developer” or “health administrator.” But if you’re applying to a MSCS or MHA program, well, that’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? Go further. Tell them where you want to work in an ideal world. Maybe even tell them in which city or country. This only gives them a clearer picture of the ultimate impact you want to make. Don’t be rigid and say you WILL work in these employers (presumptuous much?), but the more detail you can provide, the better.
- Why These Employers?
It would seem naïve (if not obvious) to just say: “I want to work for SpaceX!” Go further. Tell them WHY you want to work in these target employers.
The best way to do this is to connect the companies to the #1 most important sentence in your SOP: the “Sentence of Purpose.” (If you haven’t read that article, I suggest you read it now.) This sentence is a thesis statement that explains the problems you want to learn to solve in grad school, and what you hope to achieve afterward.
Imagine that in your Sentence of Purpose you told the reader you want to work in California coastal ecosystem preservation. Now, imagine that in your Career Statement, you told them you want to work somewhere like the Orange County Sanitation District. Now, tell them WHY you’ve pinpointed this public agency as a potential employer.
Perhaps you want to be a phytoplankton specialist, and the OCSD just released a new initiative to mitigate the effects of wastewater on the local phytoplankton community. When you explain this in your SOP, the admissions committee is going to think:
“Wow, this guy has really done his research and knows what he can achieve. I like him.”
Where to Place Your Career Goals Statement?
Honestly, there are a few places you could work this in. Some students do so deftly in their Sentence of Purpose, at the end of their Frame Narrative Introduction, then weave it throughout the SOP. This, however, takes keen writing skills.
Other applicants include it in their Conclusion paragraph. That’s a solid option, especially if you’ve got a tight word count.
The easiest way, however, if you’ve got the space beneath your word limit, is to include a short paragraph between your “Why This Program” section and Conclusion. At this point in the essay, you’ve explained your credentials in chronological order. Thus, it feels natural to transition ahead and explain the jobs you’ll apply for in the future. This, after all, is your ultimate “purpose.” Describing it here makes it very easy to then sum up your SOP in a concise, meaningful conclusion.
Whatever you do, however, limit this paragraph to no more than 3 sentences. (Just like in the examples above.)
In the end, your SOP should look something like this:
You want a job.
I know it. You know it. Grad schools know it. They want you to get a great job too! (Hence why they publish a “Career Outcomes” page that lists all the fancy places their graduates go to work.)
Certainly, your intellectual proposal or research questions are still the TRUE distinguishing feature of your SOP. But if you’re applying to career-oriented programs, or plan on working in industry after graduation, your intellectual proposal is necessarily tied up with the problems you want to solve in the professional world.
Including a smart career goals statement in your SOP will show grad programs that you understand this, and convince them that you’re mature enough to handle the work ahead.
Make sure to include:
- A specific job title;
- One or two potential employers;
- And an explanation for WHY you’re targeting these employers.
Do that, and next year, Dream University might feature your handsome, smiling face on their own “Career Outcomes” page.
Still unsure how to explain your career goals in a smart, persuasive way? I can help!
How are you going to write a Career Goals Statement in your SOP?