Timeout with Trav: No Time for Extracurricular Activities

Send your admissions questions to timeout@veritasprep.com!

Dear Trav,

My job requires me to work 80 hours a week so I have no time for extracurricular activities. How will that affect my candidacy?

With so many candidates coming from Investment Banking and other industries that are notorious for long working hours, you’re certainly not alone. It’s important to understand why top-tier MBA admissions committees (Adcoms) look for extracurricular activities to know how to address a lack of them in your application.

Get Past “Checking the Box”
Many MBA candidates approach their applications as a series of check-boxes that must be filled in to secure a spot in a top-tier program. However, Adcoms are not ruled by robotic algorithms with weights given to certain criteria such as GMAT score, undergraduate performance, years of work experience and extracurricular activities. The process is much more holistic than that!  Beyond looking for strong statistics, they’re looking for strong character traits.

Why Do They Care About Extracurriculars At All?
Extracurricular activities can show the Adcom a number of things about you:

  1. It shows that you care about something beyond yourself or getting ahead at any cost—you care about a community around you, whether that’s through mentoring inner city kids, building homes for the underprivileged, raising money for cancer, volunteering for your local church group, or what have you.
  2. More specifically, extracurricular involvement is a good indicator that you’ll get actively involved in the school community, both as a student and as an alum.
  3. An MBA is a broad degree whose goal is to develop future leaders. The Adcoms are looking for well-rounded individuals and not one-dimensional candidates. Your extracurriculars can help you show passion and interests outside of work. If you don’t have significant leadership experiences in your professional life, extracurricular positions can also show your leadership potential.
  4. Lastly, MBA programs have taken quite a bit of heat for churning out graduates who become embroiled in scandals, trigger global financial crises and otherwise prove to be more concerned about their own well-being than that of others. To show their benefit to society and to avoid damaging their brands, MBA programs have a distinct incentive to admit candidates—like yourself—who will be good citizens after graduating.

What If I Don’t Have Them?
So we understand why the Adcom is looking for extracurriculars, but what if you don’t have them? Are you completely SOL? Not to worry, if you’re in a demanding professional role where you’re chained to a desk for 80+ hours a week, the Adcom understands this!  Application readers are real human beings, and many of them may have been in a similar role to yours in the past. They get it. However, you’ll still need to find ways to show that you’re a three-dimensional candidate who cares about something more than just your next quarterly bonus.  How can you do it?

If you haven’t had the opportunity to get involved in extracurriculars during your career, are there activities that you can point to in your undergraduate life? Did you hold any leadership positions? What did you get involved with? Even if they weren’t official “extracurriculars,” did you get together with friends for sports, adventures, activities, etc. Do any of these activities show you more as a three-dimensional human being, rather than just a bucket of statistics?

Even though you haven’t had official “activities” during your professional life, what are some of your passions, hobbies, interests, pursuits, etc.?  For example, when I was at Kellogg, I went to school with a guy who was a former banker and a semi-professional photographer.  While this wasn’t necessarily an “extracurricular activity” like volunteering at a food bank or mentoring through the Boys & Girls Club, it showed a passion beyond work. Do you like to play any sports or have other interests?  Have you learned any interesting life lessons from these activities, such as teamwork, dedication, etc.?  These are all elements of your personality that you can weave into your MBA application in one way or another.

We have admissions consultants who are expert in helping bankers and other “traditional” candidates stand out from the crowd, even if their careers are demanding and their profile may seem a bit “cookie-cutter.”  Give us a call—we’d love to chat about your chances at the top-tier schools!

Talk soon!


If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.