Business schools indeed evaluate candidates for their academic excellence, professional experience, leadership roles, and career progression. But they also give significant weight to their extracurricular and community service activities because they want candidates who are not just focused on work but are well-rounded and have other interests.
Often, the applicants are so deeply involved in GMAT prep and professional commitments/ accomplishments that they tend to ignore the importance of extra-curricular activities. Some candidates candidly confess that they do not have time for extracurricular activities, e.g., hobbies, sports, arts, and volunteering or community service. Please note that extracurricular activities (ECs) play a critical role in your MBA application; therefore, if you can make time for other aspects of your application (GMAT prep, essays, résumé, LOR’s), you should also set aside some time for extracurricular activities.
There are several reasons why ECs play a significant role in enhancing your profile.
1. ECs add a new dimension to your candidacy: ECs broaden your perspective and enhance your personality and demonstrate that you are more than your GPA, GMAT, and work accomplishments. Some of my students have used the optional essay to showcase to the Ad Com their involvement and accomplishments in philanthropy, sports, or music. Some schools (e.g., INSEAD) even require the applicants to write an essay to explain how their extra-curricular activities (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc.) have enriched their life
2. ECs present you as a well-rounded individual: Your involvement in sports, music, and theater demonstrates that you are not just focused on your work, but you also have other interests and that you are willing to accept responsibilities outside of your job. Your community work involvement shows that you are passionate about helping other human beings in distress or need. I have worked with candidates whose strong involvement in community offset their not-so-competitive GMAT and earned them admission into their dream school. For example, one of my students used his vacation time to contribute to his home town Port-au-Prince’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For more than a month, he helped clear out the rubbles, build temporary shelters, and raise awareness to bolster fundraising efforts. (He received admit offers from both Wharton and Haas.)
3. ECs can help you explain your academic performance: Some candidates are so involved in extra-curricular activities (sports, etc.) during their undergraduate days that it takes time away from academics impacting their grades, so they can use extracurricular activities or community service to explain their academic performance. One of my students launched a volunteer teaching program at a local teaching academy and taught underprivileged students, thus making a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. He received admission in one of the top 30 schools despite his low GMAT and only three years of work experience.
4. ECs help you showcase your contribution to school: The schools want to know how you will contribute to the campus community and enhance it. That is why most schools ask how you will be a fit for the school or contribute to the school. Being a perfect ‘fit’ means what you will gain from the school and how it will benefit you. For example, one of my students was actively involved for ten long years in a student-led NGO for the education of low-income teenagers. He implemented a new admission process, raised funds that enabled them to increase annually enrolled students from 140 to 350, and tripled the rate of students admitted to top universities. Thus, he made a deep and lasting impact on the organization's growth, which enabled him to convince the Ad Com of Yale of his ability to contribute significantly to the Yale community. He was admitted to Yale with a scholarship.
5. ECs help you demonstrate your leadership experiences: Your involvement in ECs showcases your ability to contribute significantly out of the classroom and enrich your peers' experience as a student and later as an alumnus. ECs can also compensate for lack of leadership experiences at work. One of my students did not handle leadership roles at work, but he received admit from his dream school because of his extraordinary voluntary work during the earthquake in Nepal last year. He raised funds from people across the globe and traveled to Nepal to assist the victims despite the risk involved with continued aftershocks. Along with Indian Air Force officials, he was one of the first to reach the worst-hit places with medicines and relief material. He even received a certificate of appreciation from the government of India for his relief work. His story impressed the Ad Com.
6. ECs can be your distinguishing factor: Your extra-curricular activities/ community work can distinguish you from another candidate with an exactly similar profile. Your work accomplishments, GMAT, GPA, and LORs may be equally strong as other candidates. Still, your community involvement is the only factor that may showcase you in a better light than other candidates who have not taken initiatives at voluntary work. This may be the reason for your acceptance into the program because of B schools’ preference for students who will stay involved in clubs, organizations, and student communities as students and as alumni.
7. A Little voluntary work is better than no work: Some applicants who do not have community service experience or other non-academic interests are sometimes hesitant in starting 3-4 months before applying. My suggestion to them is that a little voluntary experience is better than no experience. Even 2-3 months of community work can enhance your application. A résumé that is filled only with professional accomplishments and education details but lacking in the candidate’s interest, hobbies, or voluntary work may not be considered a strong résumé.
The Round 1 application deadlines are still 4-5 months away. If you have absolutely no extracurricular activity or interest, it’s not too late to get started now. Get involved in an activity you are passionate about- join a local NGO, sign up for Toastmasters, start practicing in the sports you used to play in college, volunteer in a church, temple, or a Gurudwara, but get involved on a regular basis.
Good luck with your application. 🙂