Why do business schools ask about your activities, and what do they expect to see? Here is advice about how to describe your extracurricular activities on your MBA applications.

  • Think Like an Admissions Officer

Admissions officers are trained to look for involved, active students. They admit candidates who are able to excel academically and professionally while also contributing to the community. They do understand that certain professions (like consulting and investment banking) are so demanding that it’s hard to find time to volunteer. However, it’s still possible (and important) to demonstrate that you are well rounded and have interests outside of work.

  • Highlight Leadership

Business schools like to see evidence of leadership, and of your ability to drive change and make things happen. If you were the organizer, founder or leader of an organization, now or in college, please make sure to underscore the exact nature of your role.

  • Emphasize Continuity

Have you played the violin since you were 5, competed in triathlons since college or mentored the same little sister for several years? Schools value sustained commitment. On the flip side, it’s pretty transparent when people join organizations right around the time that they start studying for the GMAT. While better than nothing, the admissions committee will understand that you may be participating primarily to bolster your application.

  • Don’t Exaggerate

If you attended one NY Cares event for 2 hours, it’s not a great idea to put it on your resume. When I was interviewing candidates for Tuck, I always asked about outside activities, and people tend to get flustered if they have overstated their involvement. I also had a colleague who penalized applicants for citing activities like “Blood Donation.” She felt that they were trying to inflate their participation, and then read the rest of their application with a very critical eye.

  • Sports and Hobbies Count

All this being said, you do not need to spend your free time volunteering. It’s important to let the school know if you participate in sports, acting, music, travel or collecting stamps. These are all great activities, and talking about your interests helps the committee understand what you are like as person.