Yesterday we posted a question from a Brave Supplicant who was worried about their lack of extracurriculars, and we stated that probably, they were overthinking things. If you didn’t read that original question, you probably should go back before continuing, so you get the full picture of what this BSer was asking about. Here’s our…
We’ve got another question to tackle today that was submitted way back. This particular BSer did pretty darned good in the application process and is guaranteed to be starting bschool in the fall; which one is still up in the air, as there are some apps still in play, but there are at least a…
EssaySnark sits in on a lot of MBA admissions chats (and hopefully you do too!!) and today we’re going to answer some questions that we saw candidates asking admissions peeps recently, but the admissions peeps didn’t get to their questions. Obviously this is EssaySnark’s take on the answers and not what the adcom said (since…
There are so many myths flying about in the MBA Wanna-Be forums that it’s laughable. Most of them won’t actually hurt you but certainly many of them can cause undue distress or misdirection of effort. A huge category of getting-in myth surrounds the idea of volunteer work and charitable service. Here’s a secret: Your volunteer…
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.
OK so, if you’ve been coming around here any length of time, you know that some stuff bothers us.
Like, overfocusing on brand and ranking when you’re choosing the bschools you want to apply to.
Like, neglecting good manners and not saying ‘thank you’ when someone does you a kindness.
Like, ohdunno like several dozen other things you’ll hear us griping about on a regular basis here on the blahg.
Well, here’s one that we’ve been stewing over for ages – years, really – and we’re finally going to post about it because even though it does not directly affect the BSer’s process of applying to bschool, it may come up for some of you – and heck, this is our blahg so we can rant about whatever we want to.
Today’s snarky issue is,
Why in heck do people say “Pay it forward” when they mean “Pay it back”?!????
You remember of course when the whole concept of “pay it forward” first emerged on the scene. It was that movie, you know the one, with the kid?
No, not Macaulay Culkin and Home Alone. The “I see dead people” kid.
Yeah, right. Him.
Haley Joel Osment.
(Hmm, wonder what happened to that guy?
Anyway, he had that OTHER movie called, what was it?
PAY IT FORWARD.
And the whole premise of the movie is about doing random nice things for total strangers JUST BECAUSE.
You’re alive on this earth, and that alone is a reason to do stuff for others.
So you pay it forward.
You act when you don’t have to.
You make a gesture with the Universe.
You try to help. Not because you have to. Not because you have a debt to repay. Not because anybody is watching or cares. Because it’s your aesthetic.
You’re definitely not doing it because of what others have done to help you.
You’re doing it because it’s your nature. It’s who you are.
We see all these earnest BSers talking about how they have gotten such blessings in life, how they’ve been helped by mentors and the kindness of others, and they want to pay it forward.
You want to pay it back.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s no less nobility in paying it back.
That doesn’t discount the value of what you’re doing in any way.
It’s just not PAYING IT FORWARD.
To pay it forward is to, like, do something because it’s what you do. Do something because you care. Do something regardless of what’s been done to you.
It has nothing to do with resetting the scales, or balancing things out, or telling the universe you’re grateful.
(OK, maybe it does have something to do with that, but more on a macro scale – not a micro one. It’s not about scorekeeping. It’s about who you are.)
OK, rantover. You get the point.
And we know that this is yet another snarkism.
This is clearly not how others see the phrase.
Plenty of people out there are perfectly fine with the idea of “pay it forward” to mean, making an effort to help someone else because that’s what someone did for you.
No problem. We can roll.
But we do have to point out: IT’S NOT THE SAME.
This may come down simply to our obsession with language. We care about clarity, and precision. We work very hard to say what we mean – and we work hard to coach others to do the same.
Clear words, clear writing – that means there’s clear thinking. These things are related.
If you mean sortathesamething, yeah, OK, you’re in the ballpark.
But please know that if we read that phrase in your essay, we gonna balk.
Nobody is really all that selfless (or very few of us are). Call it what it is. “Pay it back” is perfectly fine and equally noble – and more accurate.
We dig on accuracy.
It’s just how we’re wired.
Several weeks ago, we did a series on volunteering – and we have another point or two to make today.
As a refresher, to date we’ve written these posts:
- “Request for help: No extracurricular after college”
- “No extracurriculars after college” continued
- Exploring the BSer’s claim: “I work too much to have time for volunteering.”
- Extracurriculars and military applicants
- Volunteering and MBA applicants from the non-profit world
Whew! That’s a lot o’ stuff on the subject.
To wrap this series up, we just have make one more point, and that is to call out the ridiculousness which apparently is unobserved by many: In their MBA application essays, lots of BSers talk about how they want to “make a difference” in the world. (This came up in the original question posed by the BSer who prompted this series.)
Overachievers who truly “care about the world” make time for volunteering, regardless of how busy they are at work.
If someone is serious about getting into a top-top school, they won’t be spending so much time looking for excuses and workarounds to how to present themselves – they’ll have an abundance of riches in terms of stories and examples to use in their essays.
And there won’t be the obvious ridiculousness in evidence as encapsulated by this EssaySnark tumblr.
Go to it, BSer! The weekend is here. Maybe you can find something a little more productive to do with it this time? 😉
Just be careful about this:
App faux pas: listing many “just-in-time” (e.g.,, v recent) extra-curricular activities 2 make up 4 a history of very few. #bschool.
— Mae Jennifer Shores (@MJShores) March 17, 2014
“Just in time” volunteering. Good one, MJ!
Any volunteering is good – just please don’t do it solely as a ploy to get into business school.
You do want to, like, change the world, don’t you? 😉
You’d think we’d gone on long enough about this. After all, we began discussing extracurriculars on the MBA application, like, weeks ago now.
But there’s one more category of candidate that we should mention.
We said recently that an MBA applicant from the military need not have traditional volunteer activities on the resume in order to make it into business school. (There’s a lot more to our position on this than just that simple statement; please read that full post if you’re applying to the MBA from the military.)
The same no-volunteer-work-necessary thing is true for someone who currently works in the non-profit space.
If your day job today (pre-MBA) is helping some charity to do its mission in the world, well, probably that’s more than a typical full-time job in terms of hours (at least, if it’s a smaller organization, that’s likely to be true). And the fact that you’ve been driven to devote your life to the whatever-it-is cause that you’re championing… probably for less pay than you could make at a for-profit… this also says that you’re of the “service” mindset. And you’ve put in the time, just in doing your day job. You don’t have to worry about buffing up your profile with other outside-of-work charitable efforts.
But the thing is… Someone like that, who’s already working in non-profit, probably IS volunteering. We see it all the time. It’s just in their nature. If that’s you, then bravo. You’re likely to have more stuff to talk about in your apps than you know what to do with.
The challenges of a non-traditional applicant like that applying to bschool typically take other forms … like, that bear of a test called the GMAT. If you’re already doing service-y stuff in your career, then you’ve got that angle of your profile covered. Make sure you’re coming on strong in everything else.
Balance is what’s important. Balance looks different for each and every applicant. Step back and try to see your profile objectively, like the adcom will. Look at your resume from the eyes of a complete stranger. Where are the natural strengths? Where are the obvious weaknesses? Spend time on the latter – that’s what you have control of, in these weeks and months before the admissions season officially begins.
We’ve dedicated much more blahg time than we expected to this whole notion of volunteering and the MBA application. There’s one specific sector of Brave Supplicant whom we want to focus on today. If you’re just joining us for this discussion, please start with the first part of this series, where a (civilian) BSer posed a question about extracurriculars and apps.
If you’re in the military and thinking about bschool, chances are you’re worried about how all the pieces will fit together – and this issue about volunteer work and MBA admissions may have come up in your mind more than once.This rest of this post is accessible to approved military candidates only. [Read more…]
This notion has come up in our discussions of extracurriculars and MBA apps – here’s one such thread if you’re interested. The gist of the question we received was as expressed above, which essentially boils down to, “I don’t have time for no silly charity work.” In our previous responses to that BSer’s question, we…