Some MBA applicants mistakenly view community service as simply a prerequisite for getting into a top program and sign up for volunteer opportunities without considering whether the organization or cause they are choosing is actually a reasonable fit for them. Community service is generally something positive to highlight in your application, given that it demonstrates altruism and frequently indicates leadership skills as well—attributes that may not be revealed in your work experience. However, it is not a panacea or a mere box to be checked. As you contemplate your involvements, be aware that “hours served” are not as important as the spirit of your participation and the extent of your impact.
We encourage all MBA candidates to carefully consider their community experiences in the same way they would examine and evaluate their professional or entrepreneurial opportunities. Although people can sometimes make mistakes in their career path, most gravitate toward areas where they can excel, justifiably to further their own interests. So, for example, if you do not enjoy one-on-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. Success stories develop as a by-product of performance.
This reasoning also applies to community service. 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 at a retirement home, spending time with seniors. If you became quite passionate about your work there, you might then get others involved, expand the volunteer program at the home, take greater leadership in the program, and demonstrate your initiative and enthusiasm in other ways. However, if you are not that passionate about spending time with the elderly, but you happen to live near a retirement home, volunteering there just for convenience would probably be a mistake. In such a situation, you would lack the spirit of commitment/adventure necessary to ensure that you make an impact—and therefore have a story worth telling the admissions committees.
Whether you are already committed to an activity or are just considering becoming involved in one, carefully determine whether you have the mind-set and personal interest necessary to truly commit yourself to your chosen cause and make a difference. If putting in hours is the only commitment you can make, you will just be wasting your time.