It’s winter, and many of you probably haven’t started thinking about next year’s MBA applications yet. But now is actually an excellent time to get started – not just on test prep and boosting GPAs, but on taking time to examine your community service. At most top b-schools, community service is virtually a requirement, and if yours is on the weak side, then you have just enough time to start bulking up your experience…if you start NOW.
First let’s discuss what “community service” is and isn’t. I define it as:
“Active participation in and assumption of responsibility for your community.”
That is an intentionally broad definition that includes taking an active role in sports teams, professional organizations, alumni groups, churches, literacy programs, political campaigns, environmental causes, fund raising for immigrant assistance groups…whatever you define as your community. Community service almost always does – and should – reflect your values and priorities.
The operative phrases in the definition are “active” and “responsibility.” Writing checks is not enough. And helping your elderly neighbor occasionally makes you a nice person, but doesn’t mean you are taking responsibility for your community. Community service requires commitment.
So why is community service important?
1. It provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate attributes that young applicants frequently can’t reveal in the classroom or in their jobs: leadership, initiative, interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle responsibility. It expresses your willingness to contribute.
2. A foundational principle of admissions is “Past behavior predicts future behavior.” To adcoms a history of activism and participation evidences that you will be an active participant in their student and alumni communities. That’s exactly the impression you want your application to make.
3. It indicates breadth and well-roundedness. Surprise. Surprise. Top MBA programs don’t want workaholic nerds.
At the most competitive schools, community service and extracurricular activities frequently make the difference between who is accepted and rejected among otherwise competitive applicants. If you have been involved in community service, great. Keep up the good work and strive for a leadership role. If you haven’t been an active participant or leader, become one. Choose an activity, cause, or organization that you would like to contribute to. And then be consistently and actively involved so that you will have a commitment to write about other than school and work. You may even find that you enjoy it.