Is Community Service Critical for Your MBA Admissions Success?

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted, offers some Stanford GSB application tips

Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted

The short answer: Yes, community service is very important if you’re seeking admission to a top business school. Showing leadership and impact in your community helps you show the school that you have the skills and personal qualities they’re looking for.

Why is community service important to business schools?

B-schools are looking for evidence of leadership. Your community service activities give you a chance to demonstrate your initiative and caring beyond the immediate needs of your job. In addition, in your service activities, you may have had the chance to use different skills, or use your skills in different contexts – perhaps by initiating new projects.

Additionally, b-schools are looking for students who will be engaged members of their student and alumni communities. They’re interested to see how/whether you’ve taken an active role in your community in the past. Evidence of past engagement is more compelling than just telling them you want to be active in the future!

What if you haven’t done any community service up to now? Is it too late?

No! While adcoms want community service to come from an innate desire to serve your community, last-minute community service is still better than no community service at all. There’s no way to hide the fact that you only recently joined your church’s adult literacy outreach program, so you need to focus on how this new experience has suddenly enriched your life, and how it has motivated you to start your own adult literacy program in another underserved community across town. Or you can talk about how your new volunteering stint has helped shaped your goals by adding a service angle to your long-term vision.

What counts as community service? Does it need to be a traditional volunteer experience?

The best community service is service you do because it means something to you. Whether that’s a traditional volunteer experience like working in a soup kitchen or with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, creating your own service initiative, or anything in between, the point is to contribute to a community and issue that is meaningful to you.

Bottom line: Be authentically engaged, and that will go a long way toward bolstering your chances of admission.

For more advice on submitting a compelling MBA application, including strategy, essays, and much more, download Accepted’s free guide – MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips.


Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets & Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.

  • RM,

    Sorry it’s taken me a while to reply. I was away.

    Yes, community service/social impact during undergrad does hold weight in MBA applications. It’s considered. Ideally you would be able to show some community service, etc both during college and after, but the fact that you don’t have both doesn’t negate what you did while in college.

    This is especially true if you work very long hours. It’s a little less true if your job is less demanding and others in similar positions do make the commitment and the time for social impact projects.

    Finally, be aware that community service as a professional could be different than as an undergrad. Perhaps it’s something you do through work or a professional association. While I didn’t do so above I frequently have defined community service as “active participation in and assumption of responsibility for your community.” And your “community” isn’t just your neighborhood or city. It could reflect a community of interest or belief or ethnicity. And as I did write above “the point is to contribute to a community and issue that is meaningful to you.”

    Thanks for the great question.

  • RM

    Hi Linda, thank you for your post.

    I have one question however: Does community service/social impact work done during your undergrad hold weight in mba applications? Or is it community service done along with work that really matters to adcoms?

    If both matter in bringing out leadership qualities, what would a typical adcom think of a candidate who did ~100 hours of social work in undergrad but did not do much whilst working?

    Thanks!