Why Extracurriculars Matter To Adcoms


How Extracurriculars Make You a Stronger Candidate

Twenty years ago, Mel Brooks wrote and directed a comedy called “Defending Your Life.” In the movie, a workaholic enters the hereafter following a car accident. Unfortunately, eternity isn’t populated with angels plucking harps on a cloud. Instead, it is a large courtroom. Before the main character can enter a higher phase, he must stand before judges to have his courage and character reviewed. And it isn’t for the faint of heart! In the end, the main character is returned to earth, as a punishment for living a life of fear and failing to live up to his potential.

Sounds a bit like the admissions process to a good MBA program, huh?

When you apply to business school, you’re literally submitting your life for judgment. That means adcoms will be poring over your decisions and how you spend your time – the outward projections of your inward self.

In your applications, GMAT and GPA are paramount…but you’ll find plenty of applicants with numbers similar to yours. Strong essays and recommendations will make you a memorable candidate with pluck, purpose, and perseverance. But when it comes to forecasting the type of alum you’ll become in the next 10-20 years, there’s no better barometer than your extracurriculars.

In the end, the personal is the professional; there are no church-and-state walls separating the two. And how you spend your time away from work speaks volumes on how well you’ll fit in with a given school culture. So what are schools looking for, and how can you position your passions to enhance your chances of being admitted?

This week, Fortuna Admissions, a team of former admissions directors from top-tier schools, shared their insights on how to frame outside activities. And it starts with candidates knowing exactly what adcoms are thinking when reviewing an application. Here are some sample questions that members of the Fortuna Admissions team would ask when assessing a candidate:

  • “Are you really a well-rounded person, or are you only interested in work? For example, for the consultant who works 80-hour weeks and is always traveling, you still need to demonstrate some sort of commitment or activity outside of your professional life. There will always be some consultant who works just as hard as you but participates in something else—so who do you think admissions will choose?”
  • “Are you someone who participates in activities that you’re passionate about? Schools are seeking engaged individuals who understand their own personal and career purpose. If your activities are random and not associated to interests or passions, you’ll have a less captivating story to tell.”
  • “Are you an individual who’ll contribute to life at school beyond the classroom? A major part of your MBA experience will take place outside of the classroom. Can admissions expect you to organize a career trek to Silicon Valley, contribute to a student blog, or run the Private Equity Club?”
  • “Are you a high-achiever? High-achievers tend to shine not only in academics but in other aspects of life. Being a member of the National Synchronized Swimming Team meant long hours at the pool before and after school/work, disciplined training, team collaboration, and a lot of competitive drive.”
  • “In the future, will you be an active alumni member of the school? An active and engaged alumni network is invaluable for the continued success of an MBA program. Your experience gives an indication of what kind of alum you will be.”

Talk about some pretty sobering questions. They signal exactly the caliber of candidates you’re competing against. And they reflect the kinds of men and women who populate their alumni ranks. Then again, no one ever said getting into business school was easy. If you want to get a leg up, you’ll need to anticipate these questions in your applications – and defend your life in the process.

So what can you do if your resume is light on extracurriculars? For starters, you can always put business school off for a year, to boost your leadership track record in the interim. Otherwise, you can adopt these strategies from Fortuna Admissions:

  • “Go for quality not quantity. It’s better to get deeply involved in one thing you’re really passionate about, than to start four new activities simultaneously.”
  • “Pick something that supports your personal purpose in life. Don’t just get involved because it’s an admissions criterion. Do it because it genuinely resonates with who you are, your values, and your sense of purpose. It will reflect positively on your character and enhance your entire application. In any case, it’s very often the right thing to do.” 
  • “Think about what traits can be communicated through your extracurricular activities. For example your marathon running can carry more weight than saying you enjoy wine tasting. Though there’s no fault in enjoying fine wine (in fact this Shiraz beside my laptop is delicious), the former requires much more discipline and dedication, which can speak to your drive. Or going every Wednesday evening after work to a deprived neighborhood to give complimentary math tutoring to high school students shows altruism as opposed to impressing your partner in the kitchen after having completed a cooking class. Save your culinary flair for the weekend!”

For additional advice on bolstering your extracurriculars, along with how to use parenthood as an advantage in an application, click on the Beat the GMAT link below.

Source: Beat the GMAT

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