How to Choose the Right Hobbies for Your Business School Application

Extracurricular-ActivitiesHow relevant are your hobbies and interests to your MBA applications? You may wonder how extracurricular activities in sports, arts, or other areas can impact the quality of your business school application, and you might think these are nothing more than trivial bits of additional information that are totally separate from your professional resume and relevant experiences. However, choosing the right hobbies and interests to highlight in your essay (or essays!) and using them appropriately can help you present yourself in a multi-dimensional way that strengthens your overall MBA candidate profile. Remember, MBA admissions committees are admitting people, not merely employees, so the things you do outside of work contribute to their overall image of you as an MBA candidate and how you will add to the business school community as a student. And as you’ll see in later paragraphs, extracurricular activities on your MBA application are a great way to demonstrate qualities (such as leadership) that might not come through as strongly simply from your resume.

To start off, consider which of your hobbies or interests would most effectively complement your current MBA resume. For example, someone working in the finance industry may find that all of their professional roles and accomplishments that they wish to highlight in their application took place in an individual capacity. To display teamwork, cooperation, and leadership skills, this applicant would be better off choosing to highlight their contributions to a club soccer team or a photography club rather than their exploits playing the piano or their surrealist paintings. In this way, strategically choosing which activities you discuss in your MBA essays can help display a more well-rounded applicant, thus greatly increasing your chances of a successful business school application.

Contrary to some popular misconceptions, you do not have to be the star player of every activity in which you are involved – showing humility and the ability to work well with others in a variety of roles is just as important as being a leader, especially if you are targeting schools that are known to encourage a collaborative environment. With this in mind, feel free to discuss hobbies and interests in which you have taken a subordinate role; your ability to function effectively in positions with a wide range of possibilities can only enhance your MBA candidacy. In many lights, the fact that you pursue interests as opportunities for self-improvement – as opposed to only focusing on activities that you’re already good at – can show grit, tenacity, and a growth mindset, all of which are traits that look good on MBA applications.

It may also be worth considering which of your hobbies and interests would be the most unexpected from someone with your educational and professional background. For example, an applicant who majored in accounting and works as an auditor may benefit from discussing their experiences as a part-time stand-up comedian (assuming, of course, that they don’t work exclusively with math-based humor and wordplay. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste!). This strategy provides multiple advantages. First, it makes your MBA application more compelling to the reader: do not underestimate the benefit of more easily retaining the interest of the admissions officers who are reading the application. Second, it shows you in a different dimension and helps set you apart from other business school applicants with similar backgrounds: if you’re in a pool with all the other accounting majors, having elements of your application that set you apart can only help. Finally, it is one more way to show how well-rounded you are: your education and career show that you are methodical, diligent, and responsible, and your hobby shows that you are funny, dynamic, and engaging.

Another thing to contemplate is which hobbies or interests that you pursued earlier in life may be able to help you demonstrate values and priorities that are consistent with the other elements of your MBA resume and application you have chosen to highlight. To illustrate dedication and resilience, you may craft an MBA application essay around the countless hours of practice that you undertook to master a solo for the lead role you played in a musical, or perhaps you can discuss how the same perseverance you developed in recovering from a soccer injury to make the all-state soccer team has served you well in your career and will serve you well in business school and beyond. With this technique, you can demonstrate how you have developed as a person and applicant while also showing the consistency of purpose that can be very beneficial to your chances of success.

Clearly, then, choosing to share a surprising or unusual hobby or interest can greatly enhance the overall quality of your MBA application and essays. By tactically selecting which activities to highlight in your business school application essays, you can shore up possible weaknesses in your education and background; display personal qualities that aren’t otherwise obvious; and paint a vivid portrait of you as a unique, compelling applicant that any MBA admissions committee would love to have attending their school. To sum up and help you get started brainstorming exactly how to decide which hobbies and interests will help you accomplish this goal, here are a few objectives to accomplish:

Be specific
All MBA applicants will list hobbies and interests, but most will not do so effectively. Business school admissions officers will review tons of applications from prospective students who like the usual suspects of “listening to music, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.” These activities do nothing to make you stand out as a unique applicant – if everyone does them and they don’t say anything special about the qualities that will help you thrive in business school and your career, they’re wasted word count in your MBA application essays. Go into detail! What was your most memorable trip? And more importantly, why was it so memorable and how did it shape your perspective? Do you have a formative family experience that you can use to help craft your narrative?

Make yourself stand out
Perhaps you do not think your hobbies and interests are all that unique, but with the right narrative, it is still possible to set yourself apart from applicants who mention similar activities. For example, you might choose to discuss how you got into running as an adult to get back in shape. Instead of discussing running as a generic hobby, go in depth about the struggles, benefits, and accomplishments you’ve experienced as a part of pursuing your hobby. Did you overcome an injury to set a personal best at the local half-marathon? That’s perfect! Any opportunity to use your hobbies as a way to show that you have tenacity, leadership, teamwork, or innovation qualities is a net positive, so look for ways to showcase those prized traits as part of your business school application strategy.

Consider what the hobby or interest says about you
Look, many of us love binging the new season of a favorite show on Netflix or posting perfectly-filtered photos on Instagram, but it’s very difficult to turn that into a positive for your MBA application. Stick to activities that allow you to highlight a specific positive quality or accomplishment. (And if you realize that those hobbies are few and far between, now is the time to get out there and join something!)

Choose specific activities for specific schools
If you’re absolutely sure about which MBA concentration you’ll be pursuing, and you’re applying to a set of schools with similar characteristics, you don’t have to worry about this. On the other hand, if your list of business schools contains some variety, think about which activities will accomplish the most in portraying you as a quality MBA applicant for each school individually.

Tell your story instead of listing facts
Whichever hobbies or interests you choose to highlight on your business school applications, think about them in terms of your overall narrative and application strategy. What story are you trying to tell the admissions officers reading this? Simply listing things you’ve done is unlikely to grab and hold their attention; instead, write from a storytelling perspective, and make sure the moral of the story is a net positive for your overall MBA application. Remember: your goal isn’t simply to answer the questions asked on the application form – it’s to “sell yourself” to the MBA admissions committee by telling a story that helps you demonstrate that you fit in with the qualities the school wants and stand out from your competition. A strategic narrative is your way to do exactly that on your business school application.

Simply put, it pays to be strategic when choosing which hobbies and “extracurriculars” you highlight on your business school applications. Hobbies on your MBA application should fit with your overall candidate strategy and the narrative you want admissions committees to hear. And also consider the narrative you know that MBA admissions committees want to hear from you: admissions offices value leadership, teamwork, innovation, and tangible steps taken toward your post-MBA goals, and your extracurricular activities are important opportunities to demonstrate those prized qualities on your business school applications. Choose those extracurricular selections strategically and you’ll find that you have the opportunity to add more hobbies and activities in your first semester of business school!

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.