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  • Malvika Patil

How to Showcase Volunteer & Community Work in Your MBA Application

Updated: Jun 10



Businesses are more socially and environmentally conscious than ever before. We’re not just guessing; 95% of S&P 500 companies were shown to have an ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy in 2021. ESG refers to an organization’s policies, performance, and structures with regard to its environmental and social impact. As modern consumers increasingly prefer companies that are conscious about their communities and social footprint, businesses are responding to this need. 


That goes for business schools, too. MBA programs expect candidates to be active and aware of social impact. Applicants who have social causes they are passionate about and who consistently work or volunteer with a social impact organization can build stronger applications than their peers. It’s a solid differentiating factor, and also gives you the opportunity to bring your personality and unique interests into your MBA applications. 


But some community work will reflect on your application more positively. Here’s what you should keep in mind when discussing volunteer work or community service in your MBA application.


Your volunteer/ community work should be:


1. Relevant to your career


Your volunteering work or community service should ideally align with your MBA narrative and post-MBA goals. For example, if you’re looking to transition into a Fintech, volunteering at a homeless organization doesn’t help to create a cohesive narrative.


So the key is to identify volunteering roles and organizations that match your passions or your career goals. Take our earlier fintech example. A more relevant community project would be to work with a financial literacy organization, where you can directly get involved in and advocate for increased access to financial services for underserved communities. 


As another great example, one of our clients who was looking to transition into management consulting wrote about his experience as an engagement manager at IC Impact Consulting where he learned and strengthened many of the skills required in his post-MBA role.


This has two benefits: it shows the AdCom that you care about your community and actively uplift others using your skills and platform, and that you already have many of the skills you will need in your post-MBA goals.


Ideally, your volunteering work connects to the business school’s location. If the school has heard of the organization, for example because it operates in their city, that volunteering work might resonate more with the admissions office. The best example of this is applicants who have done volunteer work in New York City tend to have disproportionately high success rates for MBA applications to the New York Schools, NYU Stern and Columbia, in our experience.


2. Skillful


Volunteering helps you develop new skills outside of your current role. For example, if you don’t have management responsibilities in your current firm, a volunteer position that requires you to manage, lead, or mentor others is an excellent way to develop and demonstrate your leadership skills. 


Community service or volunteering opportunities are also great ways to develop your transferable skills. You will likely work in a team, communicate regularly with stakeholders, and learn to handle challenging situations with empathy and understanding. These teamwork, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, and public speaking skills are valuable for MBA programs. 


You can also look for ways to give back to the community using your existing skills and knowledge, and work your way up to a leadership role. Community organizations and nonprofits typically have a merit-based hierarchy; the more involved you are, the higher your chances of obtaining senior leadership positions.



3. Outside of work


Your current firm may have Employee Resource Groups, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) opportunities, or impact-focused committees you could get involved with. These are excellent ways to gain leadership skills, demonstrate your commitment to DEI, and expand the scope of your involvement within the company.


Many companies offer ERGs and workplace community projects, and some applicants try to position these as “extracurriculars”. However, these are still technically part of your job so they’re less valuable as extracurriculars. They do not entirely replace extracurriculars outside work. Community service outside work counts for more, as it shows that you carve out time from your schedule to contribute to a cause you care about, are a self-starter, and can adapt to new environments and people.


That’s why some business schools explicitly ask about your interests in your free time, for example LBS: Tell us about your main interests and activities in your free time. (300 words max)


So, get involved meaningfully in your local communities and identify their needs. It may lead to additional achievements and interesting stories you can discuss in your essays and interview!


4. Network-building


Extracurriculars can be great organic networking opportunities. It’s likely that much of your current network is made up from professionals in your industry. Volunteering can help you meet and create relationships with diverse people from different backgrounds and industries. You won’t be attending mixers or formal networking events, but you will connect with people at a deeper level over a shared passion for a particular cause.


These connections may also introduce you to new professional opportunities, potential recommenders, and even fellow MBA students. So, try to meet and work with people from your community organization!


Volunteering work and community service is one aspect of your application that you can tackle strategically, even if you can’t change your grades, undergraduate university, or GMAT score. Be consistent and intentional with your efforts, because the AdCom will notice if you’re drifting!


 

To learn more about how to strengthen your extracurricular profile for your MBA application, book a free chat with one of our expert consultants today.

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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