If you’re applying to b-school next year, you may not have started thinking about 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 activities. At most top b-schools, community service is virtually a requirement, and if your involvement is on the weak side, then you have just enough time to start bulking up your experience…if you start NOW.
Let’s take a look at 4 common questions on the topic of community service in MBA admissions.
- What is community service?
Community service is defined as active participation in and assumption of responsibility for your community.
This broad definition can include taking an active role in sports teams, professional organizations, alumni groups, religious institutions, literacy programs, political campaigns, environmental causes, fundraising 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 while helping your elderly neighbor occasionally may make you a nice person, it doesn’t mean you are taking responsibility for your community. Community service requires commitment.
- Why is community service important?
Community service is important because:
• 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.
• A foundational principle of admissions is “Past behavior predicts future behavior.” To adcoms, a history of activism and participation shows that you will be an active participant in their student and alumni communities. That’s exactly the impression you want your application to make. If you’ve been passive in the past, they have no reason to assume you will be active in the future.
• It indicates breadth and well-roundedness. It should come as no surprise that top MBA programs don’t want workaholic nerds.
- If I haven’t done community service until this point, won’t the adcoms see through my last-minute efforts as an admissions ploy? Don’t they want us to serve the community out of the goodness of our hearts and not simply to look good on an application?
Yes, the adcoms want community service to come from an innate desire to serve your community, but last-minute community service is still better than no community service at all. There’s no way to hide the fact that you only recently joined your church’s adult literacy outreach program; so you need to focus on how this new experience has suddenly enriched your life, and how it has motivated you to start your own adult literacy program in another underserved community across town. Or you can talk about how your new volunteering stint had helped shaped your goals by adding a volunteerism angle to your long-term vision.
- Do I need traditional community service experience, like working in a soup kitchen or joining Big Brother/Big Sister?
Of course not! Since when has an element of the MBA application asked you to be common or traditional in any way? Community service comes in all shapes and sizes and is certainly not limited to the obvious. Maybe you started a community crocheting group that meets once a week to crochet hats for Ukrainian orphans. Maybe you bring your nine-year-old autistic nephew to a special needs yoga class twice a week, and have been doing so since he was four. And if you work in a soup kitchen, or better yet, manage a soup kitchen, then that’s great too. The best community service is the community service you do because it means something to you.
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.
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