How Sports Can Make Your MBA Application Stand Out

Key Takeaways

  • Yes, sports stories can make for highly compelling and relevant MBA application content!
  • The level at which you competed or performed is far less important than what you learned about teamwork and leadership and how you have leveraged those learnings.
  • Significant personal reflection can uncover the parallels between the defining sports experiences in your life and how the skills you gained have manifested in your academic and professional lives.
  • Consider how you will apply the insights you have acquired from sports to your post-MBA goals and your leadership on campus.

Did you know that many of the highly valued qualities that make an athlete successful also make a business leader impactful? MBA admissions committees highly value applicants who demonstrate a collaborative spirit, competitive drive, and commitment to pursuing perfection in their MBA applications.

Yet, we find that many MBA applicants are hesitant to lean heavily into the sports experiences that defined their early years, developed their teamwork and leadership skills, and built their most significant relationships. In this article, we’ll explore why that would be a mistake.

“Sports” Can Be Broadly Defined

For purposes of MBA applications, we define sports quite broadly. Activities ranging from traditional team sports to more individual undertakings like swimming, marathon running, and yoga participation or instruction offer valuable learnings. Further, while many applicants have moved away from competitive sports by the time they are applying for an MBA, they are often still involved with recreational leagues, coaching, or mentoring.

We have observed repeatedly that essays rooted in a wide range of athletic topics make for very compelling reading. This is because admissions officers often find these types of essays easy to relate to. Further, for admissions officers reading hundreds of essays (or more!), these topics are often more invigorating than others about a consulting project or a financial investment.

Our team of seasoned MBA admissions consultants is excited to strategize with you about which of your sports stories will resonate best with the admissions committee!

It’s OK To Dig Back Into Your Past

For many applicants, their formative sports experiences were in college, high school, or even earlier. So, you might wonder whether those stories are too far back to be meaningful to an admissions committee. While most of your essay content should focus on college and after, painting a picture of the experiences that defined your competitive spirit and ignited your passion for achieving goals as a team or individual is often very valuable context and can constitute at least a portion of an essay.

Even if you never played a Varsity sport, involvement in sports may have facilitated helping you make friends in a new place, making you feel more comfortable stepping outside your comfort zone, or helping you overcome a serious injury. These are all incredibly valuable life lessons that built character and resilience.

PRO TIP: Serving as the Captain of a team, in and of itself, is not particularly valuable in the admissions process. It doesn’t prove leadership – though it does indicate how highly your peers valued you. But the mentoring you did as Captain or the changes you made to the status quo of your team that had a lasting impact? Those are worth discussing.

Discover Your Transferrable Skills

Once you’ve identified the sports experience that belongs in your MBA application, your job is to make it applicable. We have seen applicants convey an extensive list of transferable skills that contributed to their academic and professional successes. Just a few include:

  • Optimal time management
  • Clear communication
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Ability to focus through noise
  • Regulating emotions
  • Having patience and determination to overcome “bench” time
  • Learning how to be more selfless during a game

If you are intrigued by sports psychology, then you have likely spent a fair amount of time considering how to motivate others, improve their concentration, keep their emotions in check, and optimize their performance in the face of penalties and injuries. Business managers grapple with many of these same topics daily, so think about which ones you have mastered and how you have applied the learnings in your teams.

Connect Your Transferrable Skills To Your Future

Another perfect place to connect your transferrable skills from sports in your MBA applications is with your post-MBA goals. If you are planning on transitioning to a career in Consulting, for example, think about which experiences have helped you to develop your strategic thinking during a game or match. Even individual events such as tennis and golf are highly strategic in nature.

Alternatively, if you are planning on targeting Product Management, think through what you have learned about competitive analysis from your sports experiences and how you can apply those skills in your industry of choice. How have you analyzed past performance of your competitors, devised a game plan, and corrected course midway through a game or match?

PRO TIP: If sports are a major part of your story, consider expressing how you plan to put your sports experience directly into action on campus and beyond. Do you plan to lead a sports-related club on campus and mentor your peers? Do you plan to mentor youth sports in the broader community while pursuing your MBA?  

Find The Analogies

If you’ve read up to this point, you know there are endless parallels between sports and business! You just need to find the ones that work for your candidacy. One example we have seen leveraged successfully many times is the importance of knowing when to be on offense and when to be on defense. Deciding when to be a superstar on your own versus empower others to get involved is another parallel.

PRO TIP: Spend some time thinking about why you sought out the sport(s) you dedicated so much time to in the first place. For example, some folks like faster paces, others slower. Some like high scoring games, some lower. Some are attracted to individual sports where you work hard to better your own times (think running, skiing and swimming) versus others who are attracted primarily to team sports where you must rely heavily on others for success. How can you characterize your personal traits based on the athletics you have remained passionate about? And share it with the admissions committee!

Sports Can Be Key To A Successful MBA Application

Ultimately, if you consider yourself an active, competitive, and athletic person at heart, then finding compelling ways to incorporate your sports experience into your MBA applications is likely a winning strategy. Even though most of our clients were never professional athletes (or anywhere close to it), we have helped them paint a picture for the admissions committee of how their athletics shaped their skills, values, and approach to teamwork and leadership.

So, give serious consideration to which sports you were involved with, why you enjoyed them so much, and what learnings you have carried with you as a result that you are employing in your academic and professional pursuits. These important insights will make your applications more well-rounded, more personal, and more compelling!

Interested in discovering how your sports background can enhance your MBA applications? Let’s chat! Our initial consultation offers a relaxed space to explore how your sports experiences have shaped your skills and values and how to effectively incorporate them into your application.

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