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MBA Admissions - Importance of Extracurriculars and Community Service


Q) I've read that extra-curricular activities (ie. leadership via community involvement) is an important part of the assessment. As a consultant/auditor I have little time for activities outside of work, however I have good leadership experience of many teams in the work environment. Could you comment about the weight placed on community involvement in the application process? – Jay


Stacy Blackman:


Hi Jay,

Community involvement is very important to the application process because MBA programs pride themselves in training future leaders, not just educating a bunch of people who know how to calculate an IRR. They look for individuals who are concerned about doing great work and improving the world around them.

Although some younger candidates feel that even though they have not prioritized “extracurricular” activities early in their careers, they will definitely focus on these activities once they are more established. However, typically the patterns we establish toward community activities early in our careers remain fairly steady. If you feel that your commitment over the last several years to outside causes does not reflect the balance you want to have, put your money where your mouth is and get involved.

If you haven’t been participating in outside activities, look up a few opportunities on the internet and get involved next weekend. It’s really as easy as that. Applicants who get involved even early in the year they apply will have a six or even nine-month track record by the time their applications are due. Although young professionals work long hours and often have demanding travel schedules, the next person I meet who cannot take out two hours on a weekend to give back to the community will be the first.

If you have been involved with outside activities over the last couple of years, consider stepping up your activities. I recommend you read our
Designing Your Business School Brand E-Book.  You will learn to effectively market yourselves to admissions committees. This guide provides insight into how an admissions committee operates and helps you construct a marketing campaign that will resonate. The E-Book has a collection of brainstorming exercises and practical tips.

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Pawan Gupta on MBA Extra-Curriculars Business Schools look at the holistic picture of an individual. They try to know as much about the person, and that is exactly what one should do in an application essay and recommendation letter. Don’t worry too much about extra-curricular activities. Let us consider that you like to read books, and if the activity motivated you to write an article about it with the intention of spreading knowledge, then it matters more than the routine extra-curricular activities that most applicants mention in their essays.

If you like solving community problems, mention some steps that you took. It is a myth that working in NGO will get you in. If you have taken any tough decision, which was met with resistance from your family, friends and peers that eventually allowed you to follow your larger vision, mention that in your essay. It should be something outside your work.
More than interest in a subject, the actions that you have taken, and the motivation, to pursue the interest (or the Why Question) will mean a lot to the schools. Everybody has amazing stories in their life. Ideally, Business Schools select you based on your past three years of work experience, your positioning (pick 10-15 stories from your life that are unique) and how you create a compelling story from your personal, and professional life. Extra-Curricular activities hold little importance (5-10%) in your selection. GMAT (10-15%) will cease to matter when you consider the application in its entirety.

I will tell you from example. I have a habit of thinking about solutions on whatever I could see in my community. It was never an extra-curricular activity but I used that habit to contribute outside my work. That gained the attention of the AdCom and I was asked thoroughly in my interview on how I think and how I come up with solutions.

I advise the same to my clients. I remember a case where one of my clients, a typical software engineer from Samsung used a small company event and translated it into something that gave a much bigger picture of who he was. He used the story to get a call from a US Business School and an interview invite from ISB.

So go and find out those things from your life that can be translated into compelling stories. Everybody has it. It is just about digging. I advise the same to my students and other MBA aspirants.

About Pawan Gupta

Pawan Gupta, an alumnus from Birla Institute of Technology, became the Indian student with the lowest GMAT Score of 700 to be selected for the MIT Sloan 2-Year MBA Program, starting Fall 2013. He got dings from Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Duke, NYU Stern, UCLA, Tepper, and just one week before MIT MBA Application deadline, with the help of current MIT Sloan students, he changed his approach and started tweaking his stories. Now he uses the same approach of tweaking life stories to help MBA Aspirants around the world to get into Ivy-Leagues(top MBA programs) with an affordable MBA Admissions Consulting service. Visit The Ivy Club to learn more.

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