If you’re applying to B-school in fall or winter, then we hope you’ve already begun assessing your profile. In this series we’ve already discussed taking the GMAT and evaluating your GPA; today we’re going to examine extracurricular activities and volunteer experience. The main question you’ll need to ask yourself is: Do I have enough extracurricular experience? And then: Do I have time to add more?
In your best case scenario you will have participated in non-work, non-academic extra-curricular or volunteer activities during and since college. In such a case, you will have no trouble presenting a strong summary of your activities and their significance to you. Please note that you don’t have to have a laundry list of activities. one to three consistent commitments with increasing responsibilities can be extraordinarily impressive.
Now, there’s a pretty wide spectrum between our best case scenario above and our worst case one, which is that you haven’t participated in any regular activities, even for a short period of time, outside of school and work.
But even in the latter situation, it may not be too late for you to pack in the activities between now and when you apply to business school.
You may ask, “Won’t it look bad if my resume or essays reflect that the only extracurricular activities I’ve participated in were in the last few months only? Won’t the adcom members see right through that and know that my involvement was only in an effort to bulk up my B-school qualifications?”
Those are good questions, and if we were to answer honestly, we’d have to say “Yes” to both—it may not look great that all your extra-curriculars were crammed into the last few months, and the adcoms will probably be on to your scheme. HOWEVER, recent, crammed-in extra-curricular activities are still better than no extra-curricular activities at all.
Top business schools are looking for well-rounded students who are committed to pursuing life outside the classroom or office, in addition to their busy professional and academic lives. The fact that you are stepping up and showing that commitment now, albeit a little late in the game, still reflects that commitment, and is therefore still better than nothing.
Furthermore, if you maintain your commitment and are waitlisted or rejected, your participation will start to carry a little more weight. And of course if you need to reapply, then you will be able to show a consistent commitment that went beyond bulking up a resume and continued over a lengthy period of time, regardless of your original motives.
Be sure to show that your activities are not just quantitative, but qualitative too. Blandly listing “basket-weaving” on a list of activities is not nearly as impressive as explaining how every summer since high school you volunteered in a women’s business co-op in Northern Uganda weaving baskets.
Finally, community service and other non-professional commitments provide a great venue for you to show leadership and impact — sometimes tough to do when you are a low person on the totem pole of a large corporation. It is usually much easier to assume responsibility and show your motivational talents on a sports team, fund raising committee, or band. Take advantage of that opportunity.
Your extra-curricular activities will add depth, personality, and life to your application which is otherwise filled with job descriptions, numbers and test scores. This texture and color will be particularly important if you are teetering on the line of acceptance or rejection. In such cases, the adcoms will likely turn to the non-academic, non-professional aspects of your application to establish whether your personality and humanity are a good fit with their top MBA program.
Still worried your few months of extra-curriculars won’t be enough? Mine your experiences for activities that you may not have initially considered “extracurricular” or “volunteer.” Singing in a church choir, participating in your little sister’s annual ballet bake sale, or tutoring a day laborer for his GED are all perfectly valid volunteer options. Not everyone needs to volunteer in a soup kitchen to qualify as a good Samaritan!
So, MBA applicants, if you’re not already involved in an extra-curricular activity, take some time to find something that you feel passionate about. Then, follow your passions and DO something!
By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of Accepted.com, the leading MBA admissions consultancy, and co-author of the new book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.
Our Series on the Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application