This is not about “community service” — it’s not about doing halo-worthy things in your free time. (Though neither Harvard Business School nor I will discourage that, and “engaged community citizenship” and “community service” certainly can overlap.)
Community service is an activity that you do; engaged community citizenship is a quality that you embody. Doing community service does not automatically mean you possess the quality of engaged community citizenship.
Harvard Business School explicitly seeks this quality in its applicants – announced in bold letters on its “Who are we looking for?” page.
Plaudits to HBS for the directness and clarity. Yet it’s a complex idea. Let’s see exactly what “engaged community service” means by examining each element.
Showing up. Participating, with your heart and mind as well as your actions. When you ask a question or make a comment, it’s not just for participation brownie points; it’s thoughtful, pertinent, contributing. You share doubts and fears as well as offer solutions. You know how to listen, you do listen, and you synthesize what you hear. You check your ego at the door, knowing it’s not about you, it’s about the issue or project or process.
It’s your organization and your team or department within it. It’s your social circle. It’s your sport team and/or religious group and/or music ensemble and/or hobby club. It’s your service organization. Not least, it’s your school – including the HBS classroom. It is also your neighborhood. And your country. It’s the people around you on the subway platform. It’s every group formal or informal with which you have a connection.
Citizenship involves a sense of responsibility, a sense of ownership, the values that inform and drive your engagement with your community. First and foremost, you care – about the community at large, the people within it, and, yes, yourself. You act on that caring and your actions reflect that caring. Therefore, you are ethical and honest. You are reliable and generous. In a nutshell: You can be counted on to pitch in and do the right thing for your community.
Actually, the quality of engaged community citizenship is something that any b-school adcom will value. So how do you express it effectively in your application? Use example and anecdote. For HBS, reflect it in your essay, even if indirectly. Also, try to bring it out in your resume and your interviews. Ask your recommenders to highlight it.
If you have it – let it enhance your candidacy.
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