Why extracurricular activities can boost your MBA application

SOURCE: Cindy Ord / Getty Images / AFP
Extracurricular activities could improve your candidacy if you fall short in other areas.

By Shekinah Kannan 

Read all stories

If you have your heart set on applying for an MBA, it’s worth knowing that application figures in many top business schools have soared.

Imperial College Business School (UK), for instance, announced it was admitting fewer candidates last year, in spite of its 41% increase in applications. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (US) received 21% more applications in 2019-2020.

To gain a spot at a top-tier business school, candidates will need to stand out — and that means going above and beyond the standard approach to their MBA applications. Admissions officers want to know more than just why you would like an MBA or your reason for choosing their school. They want to know what you bring to the table and why you are a perfect fit for their institution. 


Why highlight extracurricular activities on your résumé?

Highlighting extracurricular activities on your résumé is usually important during your undergraduate applications, but these experiences can also be useful for your b-school application. 

These activities will not only help admissions officers understand your interests and skills, but it will also help them foresee how you will contribute as an active member of their community as well as the skills you’ve gained outside of the classroom. 

Highlighting your extracurricular activities is also useful for candidates without a fair amount of work experience. They can demonstrate your continuous involvement in community work or volunteering. It could also demonstrate your leadership skills and a sign that you could be a great business leader, or how you’ve made an impact on certain groups or causes.  

Experts also agree that extracurricular activities are useful for candidates whose GMAT or GPA fall below expectations.

Positioning extracurricular involvement in your MBA application

You’ll want to highlight activities that demonstrate your leadership skills, along with experiences that showcase the additional skills that you’ve gained, and how you’ve made an impact. 

Foreign languages, for instance, will demonstrate your communication skills and cultural awareness; student council work will highlight both your leadership, organisational or strategic skills and your ability to collaborate; community work will help you prove you passion for helping others; and athletics will show off a solid work ethic, traits in time management, or your overall dedication to excellence.  


Essay prompts are also opportunities to highlight your extracurricular involvement. Some 2021 essay prompts for high-ranking business schools include:

The Wharton SchoolTaking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?

Stanford Graduate School of BusinessWhat matters most to you, and why?

Harvard Business SchoolAs we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA programme?

While these prompts may not be explicitly asking you about your extracurricular involvement, they are structured in a way to enable you to do so if you feel like you should. 

These questions give the admissions team a chance to learn what makes you tick, where your passions lie, and how your experiences are influencing your plans for the future. Ultimately, they want candidates that are ahead of the curve, driven, capable of progressing quickly, and eager to remain agile in the ever changing world of business.