When the schools say they do a “holistic review” then that means you need to look at your own application strategic, from a whole-person perspective. Every single asset in your application — the core stats (GMAT/GRE, GPA, TOEFL), the essays, especially the resume, and also importantly the letters of recommendation and even the oft-overlooked app…
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…
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.
Got a query submitted through our Ask for Help system yesterday that went like this:
Hope all is going well, no doubt you are flat out.
I recently revisited the Comprehensive Profile Review you did for me. I came across one comment where you noted that it would be good to highlight that I worked during university to pay for it.
Now I have written my essays and it doesn’t seem to fit there. It also doesn’t feel like something for an optional essay (could be wrong here?). Would it be considered an extra-curricular activity during college? Or am I just being ludicrous and trying to force something in where it doesn’t belong.
Flat out indeed.
Working during college gives the adcom some useful information and yes it can be good to mention it somewhere (certain profile types would be more important to mention it than others) – but as this BSer said, you don’t want to force it.
This doesn’t seem to us to qualify as an “extracurricular activity” but technically it is – given that “extracurricular” means “outside of the curriculum.” It would be a little atypical to include it in those fields meant for clubs and community participation but it’s not illegal to do so. Different schools also have different requests for how working during school (or otherwise) on a part-time basis is handled, so the first advice is to study the school’s app requirements carefully. This does NOT seem like appropriate material for an optional essay if it’s the only topic being covered, and if academics aren’t being mentioned anywhere in the main essays – which for most of you, they wouldn’t be – then this wouldn’t fit in there. But there are potentially other ways to handle it (yes plural) some depending on the school and we’ll just leave it at that. It’s also not The. Most. Important. Thing. so if it doesn’t fit in, no worries. Remember, the kitchen-sink strategy is not a strategy.
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…