The adcoms want to get to know you as a person.
The best way they’re able to do that is by seeing what you’ve done.
Not just the accomplishments you’ve made in your life and career, but the things that you’ve done.
So many times, BSers hit us up for a Comprehensive Profile Review, and they lament how they’ve not done any volunteering since college, and they wonder how much that will hurt them. Or they ask, “Should I start something now?”
Well, sure you can, if you’re motivated to do so. Maybe you just got busy. (For four years?) Maybe you didn’t have time. (Outside of all those happy hours and video games and Snapchatting? Hmm.)
You can certainly strike up a newfound interest in volunteering today if you think it’s a massive gap in your profile that will keep you out of school.
We’re here to tell you that it’s probably not going to add as much as you think – and also to offer the perspective that, if you’re not someone who did not do a lot of volunteer work or charity service before the idea of applying to business school hit, what is it about the applying-to-business-school endeavor that has made you into someone who does?
Sure, despite our snarky asides above, some people legitimately just get too busy. They’re service-oriented on the inside but they get caught up in the Demands of Life. They’re in a crazy-making job that’s keeping them at the office for 80 hours a week and they’re just too stressed out and exhausted otherwise, and they’ve let it slip. It’s not the only thing they’ve let go. The houseplants all died. The cat abandoned ship and lives at the neighbor’s house now. Their mom has staged more than one intervention. Their life is just not going to allow extraneous activities outside of work for now.
And that’s fine. Volunteering is not a pre-requisite for admission to a top MBA program. It’s not like our example of Extreme Overachiever Who’s Working Too Hard is screwed because she’s not doing any volunteering. Someone like that is likely to have incredible stories of workplace performance and achievement, and great recommendations that talk about all the contributions and impact. They should be set up just fine to make a strong presentation in the MBA apps.
If the only reason you’re thinking about starting some volunteer work now is because you’ve been bitten with this MBA bug, and you have heard that it’s important in the admissions process, then by definition, volunteer work is not important to you. You’re considering doing it as a means to an end – because you think it’ll impress someone that you’re so selfless and giving.
Sharing who you are.
If you’re not someone for whom volunteering has been important, then that’s who you are. And that’s OK.
This isn’t a contest of coming across as noble and “good.” Of impressing the adcom with all the ways that you’re generous and socially-minded.
If you ARE those things, it will naturally come through in your app. You won’t be able to hide it. Without even trying, that’s the message the adcom will receive about you, from simply presenting the facts of your life.
So does this mean, if you’ve never done any volunteering, then you’re off the hook and you can forget about that idea for the rest of your life, since we’ve just helped you recognize that it’s not who you are?
Well, no. Not necessarily.
If this idea of applying to business school has made you REMEMBER that you’re someone who enjoys giving back, and you now feel sheepish about how many years it’s been since you’ve been involved in some type of selfless service out in the world, then hey! What an opportunity! Now would be an excellent time to reconnect with those roots.
Giving back is always good.
Giving back is even good when it’s selfishly motivated, like when you do it only for the purpose of your apps.
But giving back when it’s only to pad a resume and impress an authority figure with how “good” you are will, guaranteed, be seen for what it is. If you’re clocking hours with a charity only because you think you “have to” as part of this process, then that motivation will be communicated loud and clear. It’ll come across as insignificant and shallow.
Might it still be worthwhile? Might it lead to something that inspires you to do more? Sure. Because, hey! It could actually provide value TO YOU.
The secret of volunteering is that it benefits the volunteer.
Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get out of our self-centered world and shrug off the blinders of personal drama and suffering. If this project of applying to bschool serves that purpose and gets you out of the rut you’ve dug yourself into, so that you PARTICIPATE in the world in a larger way, then awesome! It’ll be worth it.
Many eager-beaver BSers come to us this time of year, asking “What can I do to improve my profile? Should I start volunteering?”
The answer to those questions is, “Not much” because it’s simply too late to do anything that will add high impact to an app in a few months’ time, and “YES!” If you’re feeling motivated to do it now, regardless of the reason.
Volunteering is good.
Making a difference is good.
Being yourself is good. If that means, acknowledging that you’re just not someone who volunteers, then that’s good! You know one more thing about yourself today.
Tell us what you think.