This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.
If you’ve been holed up in your office for the past three years, you may not have realized that volunteer experience and extracurricular interests are a crucial aspect of your business school application profile.
Now you might be panicking as to what to do to fill out your application. You may even wonder why the admissions team is so keen on learning about your community service efforts or hobbies.
Top-ranked MBA programs aren’t looking for number-crunching robots to fill their seats – they are seeking multidimensional candidates with interests and passions outside of work who have shown a commitment to serving their community in some meaningful way.
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An added bonus: The ability to make time for such endeavors shows that you’re someone capable of juggling academics with clubs, conferences, recruiting and more once at b-school. It also provides insight for the admissions team as to how you might one day contribute to the vitality of a class and the school’s alumni network.
If you’re planning to apply to b-school during the 2017-18 admissions season and don’t have many volunteer experiences or extracurricular interests to speak of, now is the time to start becoming involved – and avoid looking like you did it just for the application.
But there’s more to it than merely adding another line to your resume. Here are two ways to strengthen your MBA application with volunteer work and extracurriculars.
• Brainstorm interests and activities: Start by brainstorming things that you enjoy doing in your personal life and seek out related organizations. Your extracurricular activities should be things that resonate with you and don’t have to include saving the whole world.
Perhaps you can expand one of your lifelong hobbies within a group setting. Are you a cycling enthusiast? Consider volunteering at an advocacy organization working to improve the cycling environment in your city.
Or do you love food and feel passionate about sustainability or the fight against hunger? Start a community garden or become involved with a food bank. The possibilities are endless, and any meaningful involvement can give you the opportunity to exercise your leadership and management skills in a low-risk, high-responsibility situation.
One client we worked with, Ali, had a strong applicant profile, complete with stellar undergraduate GPA, a high GMAT score and impressive work experience at a prestigious investment bank. Admissions committee members know that most investment bankers have little spare time to devote to community service, but we felt it would further bolster his candidacy if we could show Ali had an interest in helping others.
Ali and his consultant mined his background for relevant activities that would not seem abrupt if he became involved just six months before his MBA application deadlines. Inspired by his sister’s work with nonprofit organizations related to girls’ education in the Middle East, Ali had an idea to have young professionals in New York sponsor a high school-aged girl in a Middle Eastern country and mentor her in terms of possible postgraduation career paths.
Ali enlisted friends and colleagues to recruit mentors, and he launched the first year of the program in the spring before his application deadlines. In his MBA applications, Ali discussed how he had recruited six mentor-mentee pairs for the program and raised a meaningful amount of money to support it.
While low in time commitment for Ali, this activity had high impact and assisted him in his successful applications to Columbia Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Harvard Business School.
Think about activities that you participated in as an undergrad and become re-engaged. It’s ideal to be able to show continuity in your interests and goals. Even impacting your alumni organization in a positive way can be as impressive as engaging in charity work.
If you are a career-changer, your extracurricular activities may be a great introduction to your new target industry or function. Think about how you can demonstrate knowledge of your newly chosen career path through volunteer and community activities.
• Focus on quality: If you’re already involved in a volunteer activity, that’s great, but that means that the quality of your contributions is most important.
Seek out leadership opportunities in your existing activities or find an organization that can benefit from your management skills. Taking charge in your extracurricular interests is great material for any leadership, management or teamwork-themed essay.
Business schools pride themselves in training future leaders and look for individuals who are concerned about doing great work and improving the world around them. Having interesting hobbies and community involvement shows that you have a larger view of the world and that you see what’s happening outside of your office and are motivated to become involved and contribute in some way.
These activities can also show self-awareness about your own role as a leader and your ability to leverage your position. You still have several months to create a meaningful impact before the first-round application deadlines, even if your free time is limited. But the time to get started is today.