The Scoop on MBA Extracurriculars
If you’re applying to business school in round one, pulling together your MBA applications is pretty much your life for the coming months. A particular focus will be planning how to best position yourself. We’re big believers that applying to top MBA programs is a self-selecting process, meaning that almost everyone who applies is already a superstar and likely deserves to get in. Having a solid GPA, test scores, and an impressive career trajectory is just the baseline. Now, it becomes a matter of what else you bring to the table, and that’s where extracurriculars can come in.
There are two time periods that the admission committee will be looking at on this front. The first is what you were involved with outside of class during college, and the second is what you’ve done in your spare time since graduating. Let’s take them one by one. AdComs like to take a cue from your time in undergrad. If you were involved in clubs, student government, sports, etc., during that time, they view that as a predictor of what you might be like as a graduate student. The ideal situation is to have some leadership experience in college.
For instance, this could be as the president of a club, a position in a fraternity or sorority, being the captain of a sports team, having done mentorship work, writing or editing for the school paper, starting up some organization on campus or off, or participating in student government. Involvement in anything, even as a club member, is better than nothing.
Too Busy for Extracurriculars During College
But don’t worry if you had to work through college and had time for a little else between your job and coursework. Part-time work during school counts as valuable experience as well. And it’s something you should communicate in your application so the admissions committees know how you spent your time. Including that in an essay may make sense if there’s a bigger story about your part-time work. Or it could be a one-sentence note in the additional information section.
Extracurriculars After College
Now, it’s time to think about the extracurriculars you’ve done after graduation. Have you:
- Mentored high school or college students?
- Helped with recruiting at your firm?
- Participated in your company’s community service initiatives?
- Volunteered somewhere?
- Been part of a community sports league?
- Advised a nonprofit?
- Cultivated a passion or hobby outside of work?
Think about those activities and the context of what you learned from them and what your future classmates could learn from hearing about your experiences.
But what if none of this sounds like you? No volunteering experience, no extracurricular involvement, basically, zilch. Does that mean you should throw in the towel on your MBA dreams? Is your candidacy doomed? Not necessarily.
Admissions committees understand that it’s tough for some people to have meaningful involvement in an organization outside of work. That’s often the case for people whose jobs constantly keep them on the road. Or those for whom a typical workday doesn’t even afford them the opportunity for a full night’s sleep.
Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.
Consultants and bankers often fall into this category, as do some military applicants. The good news is that we’ve seen compelling candidates get admitted to elite MBA programs even though they lack post-college extracurriculars. However, if you weren’t involved with anything outside of work since graduation or outside of class when you were in college, that combination might be a red flag.
As we mentioned, nearly everyone applying to the top business schools is a Type-A overachiever in academics and at work. Therefore, unless you have some unique life or work experience that will blow the AdCom away, you must bring something else to the table.
The MBA experience is about leveraging all facets of your life—not just what you’ve achieved on the job—to help your classmates learn. So, if you have no volunteer work or extracurricular activities to talk about, you need to brainstorm other relevant things you could share with classmates. Think along the lines of hobbies or travel, or cultural experiences—even a family situation.
What else are you passionate about besides your job? How does that passion manifest itself?
Do you do standup comedy? Play an instrument or maybe in a band? Do you write? Are you into photography? Did something ever happen on a vacation or a trip that changed how you viewed the world? Have you spent time helping a family member or friend through a challenging situation? Is there a personal or family event that altered the course of your life?
“I’ve had more than one client write about a personal or family situation, sometimes tragic, other times uplifting, that inspired their career path or drove certain decisions that they made,” says B-Schooled host Erika Olson on this episode of the podcast.
Things to Avoid
We often need to rein in candidates who want to write about a topic that could hurt their candidacy. Or, at the very least, make them indistinguishable from the pack. “I’ve had to steer clients away from including their family’s immigration story or their love of running marathons,” Erika says. She explains that those are two big ones she’s heard dozens of times. That means admissions committees have also heard these stories hundreds of times across applicants.
Sometimes, writing about a challenging topic is critical for the AdCom to understand why you made certain life decisions. Other times, it might feel manipulative. So, if you’re considering a potentially controversial topic, talk to a trusted adviser or an admissions consultant first.
How HBS Advises Applicants to Think About Extracurriculars
Isn’t It Too Late to Start Something Now?
While it could look disingenuous to join any volunteer organizations in the months leading up to the first round deadline, it’s better than having absolutely nothing to say for yourself on this front. One caveat, though. If you still need to take the GMAT or GRE and have yet to hit your target scores on practice tests there, focus on studying before committing any significant amount of time to a new organization. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin.
If the GMAT or GRE is still on your horizon, do not miss this comprehensive post with expert advice for test-taking.
But if that’s not an issue, you could see if your employer has any community-focused committees with which you could get involved soon. You could mentor a junior employee or head up a company-sponsored fundraising drive. If your company is hiring right now, you could lead efforts to recruit at your alma mater. That’s a way to give back while leveraging connections you already have at your college.
Any of these steps could result in additional accomplishments you can add to your resume, write essays about, or discuss in an interview.
In conclusion, the months ahead will provide more than enough time to get involved — or ideally, get more involved — in a cause that’s close to your heart. You cannot change some aspects of your candidacy: where you earned your undergraduate degree, your GPA, and your career choices up until now. But there are other things, like your extracurriculars, that you can improve over the next several months if you’re willing to get creative.
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.