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.
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.