Extracurriculars in MBA Applications: How to Show Involvement

Extracurriculars were likely an essential part of your undergraduate application, and you may be wondering how they fit into the MBA application process. Questions like “do AdComs look at extracurricular involvement?” and “how can I leverage extracurriculars in my application?” are pretty common.

This article will look at why extracurricular activities are important to your MBA application and how you can put them to best use.

Why Include Extracurricular Activities on Your Business School Application?

The first reason is to showcase your leadership experience and skills in ways that your job has perhaps not allowed you to do. While strong MBA candidates–with an average of five years work experience under their belts–can often point to leadership opportunities afforded them by their careers, some candidates find that they had more ready access to leadership experiences through school clubs, trips abroad, or side projects unrelated to their job history.

The second reason to include and highlight your extracurriculars is to show the MBA admissions committee a pattern of giving back to the community. Admissions departments at top business schools like to see that a candidate will be an engaged member of the MBA program and will value the success of their cohort. A history of extracurricular involvement will help to establish this.

Ideal MBA Extracurriculars

The best situation for an MBA candidate is to have been involved with an organization for a number of years and already have leadership experience within that group. This means that you can get right down to the business of talking about why your work with an organization is important to you.

For example, Menlo Coaching’s Rebecca Heath Anderson recently described working with a client who had been involved with Girls Who Code. In addition to being a reputable and important organization committed to narrowing the gender gap in engineering, the client believed in their mission and was able to speak clearly about why it mattered to her. 

The second part is as important as the first: an extracurricular activity that you care about and that fits into the story you are crafting in your MBA application is going to go a lot farther than one that seems superficially chosen to look good on your resume.

Demonstrable Results for the Admissions Committee

It is not going to look particularly impressive if you have been involved in extracurriculars without being able to show any results. Remember that one of the reasons you are including extracurricular involvement is to demonstrate your leadership capabilities. And while it is always worthwhile to talk about making a difference in someone’s life, be it through tutoring or a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, it is much more useful to your candidacy if you can talk about making a broad and wide-ranging impact. 

Again, Rebecca was keen to point out a client who had experience working with Minds Matter. Rather than simply serving as a tutor, they had served on a local board with a level of involvement more akin to a part-time job than a hobby. As a result, the client was able to demonstrate that their decisions affected many students in need of tutoring and that their leadership made a broad impact. 

What If I Don’t Have Any Extracurriculars?

If you are thinking about applying to an MBA but are worried about a lack of extracurricular involvement, you might consider finding a side project that you can complete before you begin your application. Ideally, this project should connect with a past experience so that you can demonstrate some continuity in your extracurricular interests.

You should start this process by reflecting on your past, looking for extracurricular experiences that you may have overlooked. Perhaps you discounted an extracurricular activity from your time as an undergraduate because it was too brief or you thought it was too unrelated to your career? Search your past and see if you can turn up an experience that can form the basis of a new extracurricular project.

Once you have identified a viable experience from your past, you can then work to connect it with your current profile by identifying a manageable side project that you can complete in the lead up to the MBA application. By revisiting the experience via a new project, you can work on creating a demonstrable example of your leadership, initiative, and investment in the community.

For example, Menlo Coaching co-founder David White worked with a client who had almost no MBA extracurriculars at the start of the application process. In an early interview, the client mentioned his career-oriented mentoring during college, in which he helped international students to secure great jobs. David encouraged him to get back in touch with his University contacts to start up a project, and the client developed a reusable online course that would allow him to support hundreds or thousands of students in their job searches. In doing so, the client was able to leverage his expertise to reach a large number of people and create an extracurricular activity with a big impact on a community.