Extracurriculars for MBA Applications: What Admissions Committees Look For

InGenius Prep

Extracurriculars for MBA Applications: What Admissions Committees Look For

The typical business school admissions officer does not rely solely on GPA, test scores, or work experience of a candidate when making application decisions. Although these factors are important, there are other criteria that MBA admissions committees look closely at, such as the candidate’s intellectual curiosity, unique personal qualities, leadership potential, and past and present engagement in community service. As a result, don’t underestimate the power of your extracurriculars for MBA applications.

Many business school applicants tend to bring similar profiles to the table – they might have identical college majors, worked in the same industries, and scored within the similar range on the GMAT or GRE. In order to separate yourself from candidates who might have also been in consulting for three years, you need to think about how to frame your extracurriculars for MBA applications. To guide you through navigating them, we’ve outlined the importance of activities in b-school applications, the type of activities that programs prefer, and how to include them in your resumé in order to distinguish yourself from the competition. 

The Importance of Extracurricular Activities in Business School Applications

Business schools look for candidates who have it all. Since b-schools have so many candidates with similar experiences, they naturally want to choose the ones who have done something more compelling outside of the classroom. Most business schools see extracurricular involvement and community service as opportunities for students to capture where their passions lie. By showcasing activities in your MBA application, you can bring a sense of your unique personality to separate yourself from other equally qualified applicants.

When applying to business school, highlighting extracurricular activities can allow you to demonstrate your soft skills or how successful you can be when dealing with practical issues. Not only would you provide programs with an idea of whether you would make an exceptional addition to their incoming class, but you can convince them of the ways in which you would uniquely contribute to campus.

Extracurriculars for MBA are not just an “extra” criterion in most business schools’ application process. In fact, a business school candidate with a reasonable academic and work performance who has distinguished themselves through their activities may be viewed as favorably – if not more so – than someone who otherwise looks perfect but has no clear theme to their application. Business schools won’t see you as a must-have candidate if your profile lacks character. Extracurriculars add more color to your application through facts that adcom members might not be able to immediately guess about you.

The Type of Extracurricular Activities Business Schools Prefer

One misconception about extracurriculars for MBA is that they have to be altruistic. Community service is not a bad idea, as the word of business is typically associated with privilege. However, the truth is that when reading about how you spend your free time, admissions committee members just want to know what candidates are truly passionate about in their everyday life. Hobbies and activities that you include could be anything from playing the guitar for the local children’s hour, to participating in the local community garden, to being a master in Tae Kwon Do. Unsurprisingly, these qualities might not come through in the rest of your application, so you must take the time to show these sides of you! 

Extracurricular activities bring forward another dimension to a candidate’s application, but they have to be natural and true. The reader will know if you try to feature something that doesn’t seem authentic. Don’t just include “learning languages” as a hobby if you only took one Spanish class in the 10th grade. They have to reflect who you are currently. Instead of trying to aim for activities you think admissions officers will appreciate, consider the pastimes that you genuinely enjoy.

For those still in the market for an extracurricular activity, identify what interests you, what you do in your spare time, and what motivates you to make an impact in society. Do not attempt to fake passion because the admissions committee will know and weed you out in a hurry. Do you enjoy singing, drawing, or writing? If the answer isn’t obvious, think about topics you can give a five-minute presentation on at any given moment or issues which bring out the most heated debater in you. 

How to Frame Extracurriculars for MBA in Your Application

There are primarily two places in which your extracurriculars for MBA would show up: your resumé and your business school essays. Because your essays should cover topics you haven’t addressed in the rest of your application, your extracurriculars can come forward in your writing. For example, take a look at the following prompts:

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton): Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)

University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler): What is one thing that we do not know about you that you want us to know? (250 words)

University of Chicago (Booth): Chicago Booth immerses you in a choice-rich environment. How have your interests, leadership experiences, and other passions influenced the choices in your life? (250 words)

Although none of these prompts explicitly ask you to elaborate on a hobby, they are all framed in a way that allows you to do so. If one of your extracurriculars had a meaningful impact on your life, talk about it in your Wharton essay. If there’s a fun interest you have, such as participating in baking contests, that would make for an interesting topic in your Kenan-Flagler essay. Your extracurriculars provide the reader with the chance to understand what makes you tick.

When it comes to your business school resumé, add a section for hobbies towards the end. Don’t overwhelm yourself thinking about which couple to include. Because you have such limited space, your anecdotes don’t have to be outrageous or out-of-this world. They only have to educate the admissions committee members about what you do for fun, why, and how it can be relevant to your future career goals.

When you’re a business school candidate, it’s often easy to get lost among a shuffle of applicants with similar backgrounds. Extracurriculars for MBA programs can help you stand out from the pack and remain memorable in the admissions committees’ eyes. Take your unusual interests and use them to take one step closer to that MBA dream. Good luck!

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