How to Have Impressive Extracurriculars When You’re Busy

Keeping yourself involved in extracurricular activities while also gunning for that next promotion or trying to learn Python for your day job is no easy feat. That said, being an engaged community citizen and leader is critical for your MBA applications. We find that people are often caught in the position of feeling like they don’t have time to dive head first into a long term leadership commitment outside of work and their personal lives, but they also recognize that being a passive member of something isn’t all that impressive on an MBA application. Don’t worry – there is a work around.

Though impressive and ideal if possible, you don’t have to chair a junior board or co-found a non-profit to demonstrate your ability to be a community leader. We’ve compiled a few ideas below for you to consider that are a) flexible and b) high impact with strong leadership opportunity potential! 

Catchafire: The company Catchafire pairs you with a non-profit project need; and the work that you do is both very valuable for the organization as well as pure gold for your MBA applications. Consider this – before writing this article, I quickly searched which projects were available for finance people on Catchafire and found this:  a request for a one-hour phone conversation with the Laguna Canyon Foundation to discuss how to allocate indirect costs properly. If you’re a consultant or a banker, odds are that you can help a lot in just one hour! And then it goes on your resume and you can even talk about the experience in interviews. These things are often more than what you think they’re going to be as you realize just how much help you can provide in a relatively short period of time. For many people early in their careers it’s eye-opening to realize just how much you can help even with only a few years of experience!

When pursuing a project on Catchafire, you could look at it as one of several, small, one-off projects that you do when you have free time or an entree for you to provide more help to an organization remotely as you learn more about its needs and how you could help. Either way, it’s going to be a good leadership and community engagement story for your applications and you can feel good knowing that it’s also a really fantastic way to give back to your community and organizations that are doing great things around the country.

Taproot:  Another favorite, which is slightly more involved but also creates more leadership opportunity if you have the time, is the Taproot Foundation. Taproot also pairs volunteers with specific professional experience with non-profits in need of help. They offer a lot of remote projects as well as local, team-based projects where you can even sign-up to manage a team of other volunteers (eg. you set the schedule and practice project management!) Right now there’s a posting for a remote social media strategy plan for an organization in New York as well as a team-based SWOT Analysis project for a community education organization in California. I’ve had some clients from big brand companies who could create a social media strategy in their sleep! The nice thing about Taproot is that you can try a remote project and then, if you get some time, go for a team-based project another time. They will reach out to you with projects that seem to be in your wheelhouse.

Why are these two options better than going to alumni events? Go to those too, but by completing much-needed projects for non-profits in need, you can say that you are actually doing something and making a tangible impact; and that is key.  For alumni events or even fundraisers, unless you are organizing those events or playing a significant role in the planning or execution, it’s going to be hard to spin that you’re really being a leader or, an “engaged community citizen” to use adcom lingo. You can’t just be on the mailing list and attend a few socials or galas and call it an activity because most admissions officers will see through that (and HBS might even press you on it in the interview!) Sure, if that’s all you have, go for it and do what you can. But if you can get involved in something a little more in-depth, even if it’s just over the next few months, that will help in your overall branding as someone who is a leader and engaged community citizen.

These are just a few of many options but hopefully this gets you thinking about some of the possibilities out there. If you want to brainstorm ideas, reach out and request an initial consult with one of your consultants:

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