YES! Don’t underestimate the value of non-academic, non-work activities! These activities that you participate in – hobbies, sports, volunteering, etc. – do tons to liven up your otherwise one-dimensional application.
Here are some reasons why you should bulk up your extracurricular quotient:
• Extracurricular activities add life and texture to your application. As mentioned a moment ago, MBA applications can appear flat and single-dimensioned. Add a little stamp collecting, your involvement in your church’s softball league, a splash of trumpet lessons, and the fact that you started a neighborhood bi-seasonal clothing drive, and VOILA – you’ve got yourself one heck of a vibrant profile!
• Extracurricular activities show you know how to commit. You’ve been volunteer tutoring at the school for the blind in your city for the last 11 years? You must be a reliable, dependable, and committed person. Adcoms like this. Period.
• Extracurricular activities demonstrate passion and creativity. Your extracurricular activities don’t need to be run-of-the-mill Big Brother or soup kitchen experiences. They can include the summers you spent doing AIDS research in a hospital in Swaziland or taking your autistic nephew to the park once a week for a game of tag. Neither of these examples are related to business, yet leadership, initiative, passion, and creativity can all still be read into each experience. Share your passions and inspire your readers!
• Extracurricular activities give you an opportunity to show leadership and organizational skill. It can be hard in a hierarchical organization when you are in your early or mid-twenties to show lots of leadership. But in a community service or volunteer context, there are leadership opportunities galore. Grab them and demonstrate the attribute admissions committees can’t get enough of.
I’d like to end by sharing an important side point. Many applicants ask what they should do if they don’t have long-term extracurricular or volunteer commitments. Is it worth it to start an activity or resume a hobby just a few months before applying to b-school, or will that look shallow?
My answer: A little volunteering is better than no volunteering at all, and the impact that you can make and the effect the experience can have on you can be great, even in a short period of time. Also, maybe you’ll be waitlisted, and then this last-minute volunteering will turn into a long-term commitment that will look great in a waitlist letter update, not to mention how it will add if you need to reapply.