For a successful MBA application to a top business school, it’s important for you to have something unique in your profile. At the same time, be mindful of pursuing activities for the sake of filling up your essay.
If you are one among the over-represented Indian, IT, male population, joining an NGO might not really help you stand out, as lots of your peers will have NGO experience on their CVs. Pick something unique that will stick in the minds of the admission committee.
Once you figure out one or more activities that you like, first, pursue that for a significant duration so that you have richer experiences to share. In addition, understand the art of storytelling. With a little practice and guidance, you can master the art of presenting your story in an authentic and unforgettable way.
We have compiled a list of 23 activities that you can explore to strengthen your application.
#1 Research class profile at target schools
Review the incoming class profile of some of the schools you’re interested in. Also check out the student profiles featured on that school’s website.
Assess yourself realistically against these examples: if incoming students average 3 years of work experience, you know you need to build more professional experience before applying. Look at their level of community engagement, post-MBA career vision, international exposure, etc.
Once you have a clear picture of the gaps between where you are now and where you need to be in order to be competitive for the school in question, you can set yourself up with an action plan, ideally over two years. Start building leadership and community impact, try to get assigned to an international role, earn a promotion or two, manage and mentor others.
#2 Improve your public speaking skills
Work on your public speaking skills with different audience formats: one-on-one, to a small group (2-10), and to a large group (10+). Master the art of speaking in public. Volunteer to speak in front of groups, whenever you can. Join the Toastmasters club, if you can.
#3 Ace GMAT Verbal
When you take the GMAT, because of your background (assuming you are an Indian engineer), it is likely that you will perform very well in the GMAT math sections, but not so well in the GMAT verbal sections. You will stand out if you demonstrate your mastery of communication in English.
#4 Improve your command over the English language
Get a subscription to the newspaper, The New York Times, and read several articles every day without fail. The grammar and writing in the The New York Times articles are excellent, and over the next few years you will begin to absorb and use good English.
If you feel the need, take additional English courses to improve your language skills. Begin as early as possible and don’t wait until you have only a couple of months to take the GMAT exam.
#5 Improve writing skills
Work on your writing skills. You’d be surprised how many of your peers have awesome ideas but cannot explain them in writing. Don’t be one of them.
#6 Connect with alumni
Start connecting with the alumni chapters of the universities that you want to apply to. Take the time to find out about whether or not your potential university has this kind of event. Meeting alumni will give you a good sense of the school’s strengths and whether it is aligned with your interests and career goals. Asking alumni about their own admission process will give you some great insights into the attributes the school looks for in prospective students and how to go about ensuring you possess these attributes.
#7 Become the leader of a BIG project
It doesn’t matter where: volunteering, at work, the rotary club, etc. The idea is that you have some good project management experience (e.g. budgeting, scheduling, managing people, meeting goals, planning for a quarter/semester/year). MBA admission officers are always pleased with students who have sufficient project management experience under their belts.
#8 Travel to foreign countries
If you can, spend time in other countries. As someone who speaks more than one language, you automatically have the attention of the business school. Develop your global viewpoint and you will be all the more ready for international business.
#9 Volunteer in your community
Get involved in your community!
Volunteer to help others. Start a group to help others. You could conduct seminars and raise the awareness of school kids on issues like drug abuse, sexual abuse, adolescent health, online privacy and safety, etc.
This is an opportunity to show that you have a viewpoint beyond your professional work. You can demonstrate your commitment towards social responsibility, your ability to take initiative and your organizational and leadership skills.
#10 Demonstrate leadership in your career
Demonstrate your ability to lead by stepping forward whenever you can. Learn how to manage people, budgets, and / or projects. One of the major reasons people pursue an MBA is to land a management position at a great company. By showcasing some experience in leadership, you’ve already got your foot in the door.
#11 MIS: alternative to MBA
Given the limited opportunities for non-IT career opportunities as well as the difficulty in landing a leadership role, you may consider studying MIS.
MIS is the middle ground between engineering and management. MIS is also cheaper and easier. Moreover, your prior work-experience remains relevant to career opportunities after you complete your degree.
This is not the case with an MBA. If you were a software programmer before you completed your MBA and get a marketing role post-MBA, your years spent as a software engineer are of little use.
#12 Pursue your favorite sports
If you’ve had to give up your favorite sport to crack some entrance test or focus on your career, well, it’s time to pick up where you left off. Join people in your neighborhood or workplace, or playing something you used to enjoy!
#13 Learn a new language
Learning a new language will help you stand out, as business schools are increasingly focusing on diversity in their classrooms. With an app like DuoLingo, you can acquire a working knowledge of a new language – Spanish, French or German – while you are traveling or waiting in a queue.
#14 Launch a startup
Today, launching a new venture is really easy – you can start with a free WordPress blog. This will give you invaluable experience in marketing, sales, service delivery and customer support – basically most of the things that you are going to learn in your MBA.
#15 Work for a startup
Joining a startup will give you immense opportunities to learn about different aspects of businesses including marketing, sales, service delivery and customer support. If you have worked for a startup, you could demonstrate your ability to take risks, work in an uncertain environment, and leadership.
Even if you are unable to join a startup full-time, figure out a way to join a startup as an intern / on a part-time basis. You will have so much more to write about in your essays or talk about during your interviews.
#16 Reconnect with your Alma Mater
You can re-engage with your Alma Mater – school / college / university – in a variety of ways including guest lectures, fundraisers, by organizing local alumni chapters, mentoring current students and connecting with other alumni.
#17 Attend conferences related to your career
By referring to newspapers or Facebook events, or by simply Googling, you can find out about conferences and events related to your job. Attend at least some of them. You will not only gain knowledge, but can network with professionals in your industry, while also learning about trends and opportunities. You will also gain a broader perspective that you can write about in your essays and talk about in your interviews.
#18 Get involved with your society’s general body
Become a member of the Resident Welfare Association for your housing society. You can take up the role to conduct monthly meetings, organize social events for elders or cultural events for kids or run a charity campaign for those people who are socially disadvantaged from the neighborhood. There is no limit to the amount of good you could do for your community..
#19 Take part in cross-functional activities at work
Participate in cross-functional and cross-organizational events at your work. You would have an opportunity to plan, coordinate and delegate work without any formal structure.
For example, participating in the recruitment process. You can help define selection criteria, participate in the selection interview and work closely with HR and other cross-functional teams.
Similarly, you can participate in training new employees and conduct training sessions in your areas of expertise. You can mentor new employees and help them with their on-boarding process.
#20 Volunteer overseas
Enroll for an overseas volunteer program through organizations such as Global Vision International and Project Abroad.
Overseas volunteering is not very common and would definitely help you stand out.
#21 Be active online
You can create how-to videos on YouTube for your topics of interest and areas of expertise. By posting such explanatory videos and gaining followers on your YouTube channel, you can easily demonstrate your skills in that particular area.
Some of the other things you can do to showcase your topics of interest and areas of expertise are:
- Answer questions on Quora
- Maintain a blog
- Share on Facebook
- Post on LinkedIn
#22 Contribute to Newspapers and Magazines
Find out online publications as well as newspapers and magazines that write about your areas of interests. Approach them for guest writing. Most online publications have a “write for us” section where you can submit your article.
By publishing in a renowned newspaper or magazine, you can demonstrate your knowledge as well as acceptance as an authority in an area.
#23 Visit business school campus
Visit the school you want to get into through freshman visits or group visit programs. You will be able to interact with students and the admission committee. You would get a better picture of what the school is looking for in a candidate. You will also learn about the school’s strengths and career prospects of an MBA from that particular school.