Some applicants mistakenly regard community service as a prerequisite for getting into a top MBA program. And some who believe that it is a prerequisite will sign up for community activities without considering whether their chosen organization or cause is a reasonable fit for them. Although community service is generally a positive, given that it demonstrates altruism on the part of the participant and frequently indicates leadership as well—attributes that may not be revealed in the workplace—community service is not a panacea. As you contemplate your involvements, keep in mind that “hours served” are not as important as the spirit of your participation and the extent of your impact.
We encourage MBA candidates to carefully consider their community experiences in the same way that they would examine and evaluate their professional or entrepreneurial opportunities. Although people can sometimes make mistakes in their career paths, most gravitate toward areas where they can excel, justifiably to further their own interests. So, for example, if you do not enjoy one-to-one interactions, you likely would not consider a position in sales, because you could never thrive in such a position. In contrast, if working in sales were to bring out the best in you, you just might earn promotions, think of new sales techniques, train others, etc. Stories develop as a by-product of performance.
So, for example, if you have always enjoyed a particularly close relationship with your grandmother and want to share this kind of positive experience with others, you might decide to volunteer to spend time with seniors at a retirement home, where you would naturally be predisposed toward success. If you were quite passionate about your work there, you just might get others involved, expand the volunteer program at the home, take greater leadership in the program, and show other forms of initiative and enthusiasm. However, if you are not that passionate about the elderly, but you just happen to live near a retirement home, volunteering there just for convenience would likely be a mistake, because you would lack the spirit of commitment/adventure necessary to ensure that you have an impact—and therefore have a story worth telling the admissions committees.
Whether you are already committed to an activity or just considering becoming involved in one, carefully determine whether you have the spirit necessary to truly commit yourself to your chosen cause and make a difference. If all you can commit to is merely putting in the hours, you will only be wasting your time.