MBA Extracurriculars: Why They Matter — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
9 min readApr 28, 2023

As a student, getting into a prestigious MBA program isn’t just about your academic performance. You need a well-rounded application that showcases your skills, potential, and overall fit for the program. That’s where extracurricular activities come in. Many students underestimate the importance of MBA extracurriculars in their applications, assuming that good grades and test scores are all they need.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at why extracurriculars matter in MBA applications, and how they can give you the edge you need to get admitted.

Demonstrating Leadership and Initiative

One of the key characteristics MBA programs are looking for is leadership. Extracurricular activities can demonstrate your ability to lead, organize, and manage a team or group of people. For instance, if you volunteered at a non-profit organization and helped to fundraise, organize events, or manage a team of volunteers, you can highlight these experiences in your application. Similarly, if you started your own business or club, it can show your independence, motivation, and entrepreneurial potential. Even if you didn’t hold an official leadership position, your participation in a club, team, or group can also demonstrate your initiative, creative problem-solving, and teamwork skills.

Building Your Network

Another significant benefit of extracurricular activities is the opportunity to network with peers, alumni, and industry professionals. Attending conferences, professional organizations, or club events can help you build relationships with like-minded people and gain insights into your desired field. Networking can also be an excellent way to learn about job opportunities, internships, or research projects that can strengthen your application. MBA programs value students who have an extensive network and can leverage it to achieve their goals, so don’t underestimate the power of extracurriculars in building your network.

Demonstrating your Passion and Interests

Extracurricular activities can also showcase your passions, interests, and hobbies. If you’re passionate about a particular subject or community, participating in relevant clubs, organizations, or events can help you document your dedication to that field or cause. This can help you develop a unique story and persona that distinguishes you from other applicants. Moreover, sharing your interests and hobbies can demonstrate your personality, character, and cultural fit, which can make you more attractive to MBA programs. So, don’t be shy to showcase your passions and interests.

Mitigating Weaknesses in Your Profile

Extracurricular activities are not just about highlighting your strengths; they can also help to mitigate any weaknesses in your profile. If you have a low GPA or lack relevant work experience, participating in extracurriculars that address these areas could make you more competitive. This could include taking a course or volunteering in a related field, participating in a club or competition, or even starting your own project that addresses your weaknesses. MBA programs value students who can show continuous improvement, resilience, and a willingness to learn from their mistakes, so use extracurriculars to your advantage.

Demonstrating Cultural Competence and Diversity

Finally, extracurricular activities can demonstrate your cultural competence and diversity, essential traits MBA programs look for in applicants. Getting involved in clubs, organizations, or events that celebrate different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives can show your willingness to engage with diverse groups of people. This is particularly important if you’re applying to a program that values international exposure, cross-cultural communication, and global understanding. So, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and seek opportunities to enhance your cultural competence and diversity.

Developing Soft Skills

Extracurricular activities can also help you develop the soft skills that are essential for success in business. For instance, if you were a mentor to incoming freshmen or participated in a community service project, this shows that you have strong interpersonal skills and are capable of working collaboratively with others. These skills are highly valued by employers and can help you stand out in a competitive job market.

Giving Back

In addition to demonstrating your involvement in extracurricular activities, highlighting them in your MBA application can also showcase your commitment to community service. This is important to MBA admissions committees, especially at prestigious business schools, as they prefer candidates who will actively participate in the program and support their peers. Your previous record of extracurriculars can help establish this aspect of your candidacy.

What Are Ideal MBA Extracurriculars?

Having prior experience with an organization and leadership skills within it would be the ideal scenario for an MBA candidate. This allows for a straightforward discussion of the significance of your work with the organization. Additionally, choosing an extracurricular activity that aligns with your personal story and values will have greater impact on your MBA application than one chosen simply to enhance your resume.

Here are examples of extracurriculars that are highly valued by MBA admissions committees:

1. Volunteer work: Volunteering in your community or at a non-profit organization shows dedication, initiative, and the ability to work with a team. MBA programs look for applicants who show that they can give back and contribute positively to society.

2. Leadership roles: Serving as president of a local chapter of an organization or leading a club or student group can demonstrate strong leadership skills while also displaying your ability to think strategically and problem-solve under pressure.

3. International experience: Working abroad or taking part in international exchanges can prove invaluable when it comes time to apply for MBA programs, especially those that require students with global insight and perspective. This type of experience is not only highly valued by admissions committees, but it can open up a range of career opportunities.

4. Professional development: Taking part in industry-specific conferences and seminars shows that you’re knowledgeable about the field and familiar with recent trends and developments. It also demonstrates your commitment to lifelong learning-a trait highly valued by MBA programs.

5. Mentorship programs: Connecting with professionals in your desired field of study is an excellent way to gain experience and create relationships that could help you secure internships or employment post-graduation. Participating in mentorship programs can demonstrate maturity, accountability, and the drive to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom setting.

6. Entrepreneurial pursuits: Exploring business ideas on your own can be a great way to demonstrate an eagerness for learning and the ability to think outside of the box. MBA programs value students with entrepreneurial mindsets, as this trait is known to lead to success in business settings.

7. Non-traditional activities: Participating in activities that integrate multiple fields, such as film and finance or art and technology, can prove beneficial when applying for MBA programs. These types of activities allow you to show off your creativity, problem-solving skills, and resourcefulness.

8. Networking events: Attending local networking events or career fairs is an excellent way to make connections and learn about new industry trends while also getting noticed by admissions committees. Demonstrating good professional etiquette at these events shows that you are well-rounded in your interests and can interact with a broad range of professionals.

By actively participating in these extracurricular activities, you can prove to admissions committees that you have the potential to be a successful leader and contribute positively to your chosen field of study. These activities can also provide invaluable experience that is not typically acquired through traditional education channels, which is why they are so highly valued by top MBA programs.

MBA Extracurriculars Should Be Result-Driven

Including your extracurricular involvement in your application will not be very impressive if you cannot showcase any results. Keep in mind that one of the goals of sharing your extracurricular activities is to demonstrate your leadership abilities. Though it is meaningful to talk about helping someone in need, it will be more beneficial for your application if you can discuss how you made an extensive and far-reaching impact.

Can You Make Up for a Lack of MBA Extracurriculars?

If you’re concerned about not having enough extracurricular activities to include in your MBA application, one option is to work on a side project before you start your application. It would be best if this project relates to a past experience to show your consistency in extracurricular interests.

To begin this process, take some time to reflect on your past and search for extracurricular experiences that you may have previously dismissed. Maybe you didn’t think a certain activity was relevant to your career or you didn’t participate in it for very long. Explore your past and try to find an experience that you can use as the foundation for a new extracurricular project.

To link your past experience with your current MBA application, find a feasible side project that you can accomplish before applying. This project should connect with your previous experience and help demonstrate your leadership, initiative, and community involvement. By revisiting your past experience through this new project, you can showcase your skills and qualities effectively.

In short, getting involved in extracurriculars at the last minute is better than not doing it at all. Although your involvement might be recent, you can highlight how this experience has positively impacted your life and inspired you to consider expanding your perspective. Another option is to discuss how new extracurriculars have given you a new perspective on your long-term goals.

Participating in a short-term activity or project can also demonstrate your ability to commit. It can lead to personal growth and quick achievements. Therefore, don’t overlook the significance of a small extracurricular involvement.

It’s crucial to remember that you may end up on the waitlist, decide to postpone your application to the next year, or be declined and require reapplication. In any case, starting your extracurricular or volunteer work early will be advantageous. What you may have initially seen as a brief volunteer commitment during your initial application will later be seen as a remarkable long-term experience. At that point, your participation will have a greater impact on you and those around you.

Bottom Line

Taking part in extracurriculars can be the perfect way for MBA applicants to stand out, without having to raise a GPA or find employment at a better-known organization. The value of these activities cannot be overstated when it comes to gaining admission into the school of your dreams. But don’t forget that an effective CV and application are just as important, if not more so. Being proactive and putting in hard work, even outside the MBA arena, has its rewards. If you believe that extra-curricular activities should play a pivotal role in helping you get accepted into a business school, then don’t wait any longer. Start taking part now-it will transform your candidacy in ways beyond what you could ever expect! And if you need help with completing your entire MBA application package-including resumes, cover letters, and more-be sure to check out our MBA application services today.

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 28, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/