Volunteer Work – Show your Civic Side

Volunteer experience tells a lot about you to the admissions officers and potential employers.  Having it on your resume says that you are willing to go above and beyond the minimum requirements, that you are sociable and have strong interpersonal skills, and that you enjoy helping others, qualities that make for a great MBA candidate.  As MBA programs become more and more competitive, it would be awfully difficult to get into a top-tier program without some substantial volunteer experience.

Where should I volunteer?

There are numerous volunteering opportunities available (you find some great ones here).  The narrowing down of choices will center around personal factors and preferences such as the skills you possess, the causes you care about, the time you can commit per week or month, etc.  One thing that I do highly recommend is getting involved in a cause that can fit well into your story.  For example, if you want to get into biotech, volunteering at a local museum of science makes more sense than, say, a boys and girls club.  If you’re interested in media, do pro bono photography for local businesses rather than weeding the neighborhood garden.  When it comes to volunteering, there isn’t a wrong cause to get involved in, but there are causes that employers and admissions officers will view as more relevant to cultivating the skills that will allow an individual to succeed in your chosen field.

Timing

This is very important.  As was the case with clubs and research, depth over breadth.  If you list seven different organizations that you “volunteer for” (maybe it was once or twice), it’ll stick out.  The same is true if you suddenly start volunteering a few months before the b-school apps are due.  Admissions teams know to look for this disingenuousness and will know that you are simply trying to pad your app.  I would recommend finding two organizations that you really like (some trial and error is OK) and volunteering with them.  Get involved as early as possible and stick with these organizations as long as you can (ideally until you go to graduate school).  Volunteer on free weekends and try to do at least one day every two weeks, just keep it consistent.  One Saturday every two weeks for three years looks so much better on an application than twice a week for the past two months.  The former is genuine and shows commitment.  The latter is shallow and easy to see through.

For reference: My interest was in education, so I volunteered for two local organizations, both of which I loved and volunteered with for years:

  • The Buffalo Museum of Science (involved teaching people about scientific concepts, fit well with education theme)
  • Habitat for Humanity of Buffalo (less obviously connected to education, but did involve interacting with people of very different backgrounds and tons of teamwork, skills that transfer well to the education field)

I did the Buffalo Museum of Science every weekend for a few hours and Habitat for Humanity every other weekend for a few more.  It really didn’t detract from my studies or personal time, and often made me feel great for the rest of the weekend.  Plus, even a little time consistently each week adds up to an impressive feat of commitment when extended over a few years.  If you can do the same and stick with it, you’ll be able to ace this portion of the application.

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