How involved Do I Really Need to Be?

We get it---you’re busy.  You’ve always been busy.  Busy people are the ones going to good colleges and good b-schools, and busy people are the one’s getting the good jobs and running good companies.  But were you too busy to get involved outside the classroom in college?  Have you been too busy to get involved outside the workplace?  Does it really make a difference?  You bet it does.

The truth is, being fully engaged is a sign of a high performer.  As impressive as good grades and good standardized test scores are, it’s really not all that hard to pull off if it’s all you’re doing in your life.   This is one reason why schools want to know how deeply you were involved in college extracurriculars.  If you can perform at a high level academically while also carrying club and community responsibilities, they feel you have a better chance of handling the breakneck pace of business school. 

The second reason schools like to see extracurricular involvement is because they want you to be involved at b-school as well. 

Schools are not looking for students to sit in classrooms and take tests. 

They are looking for students who will take the baton from graduating second years or carry the torch for the outside organizations which can practically train you to lead--- not only to keep the school hitting on all cylinders, but also so students are prepared to be high performing participants in the post MBA workplace.   But it all starts with a person who raises her hand and gets involved. 

Of course it’s easy to demonstrate this trait in yourself if you can point to organizations where you have been a leader. 

It’s not enough to promise you will be involved or to talk about how you plan to make your mark in b-school. 

You must provide evidence to the adcoms that you already know how to lead and have taken on leadership opportunities and challenges as a student and employee.  It’s particularly impressive when your involvement indicates a trend or passion.  If you continue to do something in the “real world” that you did in college, it demonstrates a dedication and passionate interest which b-schools love to see. B-schools love passionate people.  Passionate people run through walls and take no prisoners (and sometimes become CEOs, which is a real win for any b-school, not to mention for the student who makes it to the c-suite).

But what if your job is simply too demanding to afford you time to do anything but work?  

Sorry, but that is not going to win you any points in b-school applications.  If you think a 60 or 70 hour work week is too demanding, you will really be stymied by an 80-hour-per-week business school schedule.  If you are really serious about business school, you simply must find the time to share your skills with organizations outside your day job. 

But how much is enough? 

While you don’t have to be involved in dozens of organizations, you would be wise to have a couple of things you do besides work that 1) makes an impact in your community (or in some subset of society) and 2) gets you excited.  If you can passionately articulate why you support an organization with your time and talent and how you make a difference by doing so, you will be much better positioned than someone who simply lists five or six things they do without any narrative or explanation.  In the next post, we’ll address the unfortunate dilemma of not being able to do either!

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