Recently, one of our consultants was chatting with a potential client who had applied to business school on his own the previous year but had not succeeded in being accepted. Together, they were exploring what he might do differently this time, and our consultant asked whether he had discussed any of his community service activities in his previous application.
The candidate hesitated a moment before confessing, “Well, I have some volunteer experience, but I can’t write about it in my application. It has to do with my church.”
In fact, this applicant had been involved with church activities for a decade—leading fundraising activities, facilitating group discussions, organizing social events, and participating in extensive community service. But he believed (and in fact, had been told by his previous admissions consultant) that because his efforts all fell under the umbrella of a religious organization, he should avoid sharing them with the admissions committee.
With respect to potential hot-button topics such as religion and politics, we have a simple rule of thumb for deciding whether or not to address them in your MBA application. If your intention is to convince your reader to agree with or accept your views, then you should not write about them. But if you are describing why the topic is meaningful to you, then including it gives the admissions committee insight into your personality and value system, helping them get to know you better as an individual and candidate.
Sharing activities you have done within a religious context is certainly fine, but what about discussing your religious beliefs? Are those taboo? We have read compelling emotional essays from applicants about how they lost the religious beliefs they were brought up with, and others from applicants who discovered and adopted religious practices and beliefs on their own. Again, our rule of thumb applies: as long as you are writing about your personal beliefs—not condemning anyone else’s or trying to push your personal beliefs onto others—the topic can truly be a powerful one.
(And as for the potential client in our opening anecdote, he did become a client, wrote about both his volunteer activities with the church and his religious beliefs and practices, and was ultimately accepted to multiple top-ten business schools!)