Many MBA applicants fear they don't have enough or the right type of extracurricular activities and community service to impress b-school admissions committees. Business schools do not assess candidates' extracurricular activities based on a numerical scale—three or more acts of demonstrated public selflessness certainly do not guarantee admission—but they're still an important part of the application process.
Extracurriculars are worth incorporating into your application for several reasons. First, they show admissions officials that you are multi-dimensional. They demonstrate your interests, passions, and personality, which helps the committees get to know you beyond your professional goals. Extracurriculars also indicate how you might contribute to the diversity and vitality of a class and alumni network.
Having interests outside of work shows that you can balance multiple commitments, and that you are the type of person who is capable of juggling academics with clubs, conferences, recruiting, and more.
Community involvement also shows that you have a larger view of the world, that you see what's happening outside of your office, and that you're interested in contributing in some way. Your extracurriculars can show admissions officials that you understand your own role as a leader and your ability to leverage your position and give back. It's an opportunity to demonstrate qualities such as creativity, leadership, teamwork, communication skills, and initiative. These qualities are important outside of a professional setting, as well as at work.
Unfortunately, if you have spent the past five years buried in your office, suddenly joining an organization or volunteering at a soup kitchen one Sunday is not going to help you much. That kind of effort is pretty transparent, and besides, business school officials realize that many applicants are extremely busy with demanding jobs that make it impossible to commit several hours a week to a worthy cause. Still, the most successful applicants find ways to carve out time for interests and contributions.
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When thinking about ways to become involved, don't get hung up on traditional volunteer work. There are many ways to show your diversity, and a good place to start is with your interests and passions. Think hard about what excites you and how you can leverage those interests for a greater good. Here are some examples from some of my past clients:
Client 1 enjoyed painting as a hobby until she accepted an investment banking job out of college. She felt she had no time to become involved outside of work. But when she became involved in a company-sponsored fundraising initiative, she rekindled her art interest and designed T-shirts to raise extra money and unite the team.
As a result, Client 1 showcased her artistic talent and interest, became involved in a great cause, and demonstrated creativity and leadership.
Another former client was on the swim team throughout high school and college. She decided to coach a middle school swim team, where she developed meaningful relationships with the kids that she mentored and ended up learning a great deal from them as well.
Client 2 showcased athletic interests and found a personally meaningful way to give back to her community. In doing so, she highlighted important coaching and motivational skills.
A third former client struggled with learning English in Israel. He started an English public speaking club and grew it over the course of four years.
As a result, Client 3 highlighted a creative approach to solving a personal problem, which also helped others and demonstrated leadership and an ability to get things done.
Keep in mind that quality is far more important than quantity. Rattling off a list of 10 involvements will not help your admissions chances as much as something that truly reflects who you are and can showcase important interests and skills.
You may be surprised to find that these involvements will add a great deal to your life, which is exactly the point.