You can improve your odds of admission to business school with extracurricular activities — especially volunteering, says Stacy Blackman
Extracurricular activities, such as volunteering, can help boost your MBA admission odds.
“Extracurricular activities are not a primary factor when reviewing applications but they can matter — and especially help — when factors like GMAT, GPA, etc. fall below expectations,” Phil Miller, assistant dean for MBA and M.S. programs at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Carlson School of Management, tells U.S. News.
But on top of giving applicants an edge in admissions, experts say that volunteering can provide major professional benefits as well. Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed how volunteering activities can boost both career growth and MBA admissions odds.
One of the major benefits of volunteering, Blackman says, is the ability to gain in-demand skills that you may not be getting exposure to in your career.
“Many volunteering roles will help you hone those always-desirable soft skills,” Blackman writes. “Think of areas such as communication, public speaking, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. You can also look for opportunities where you’ll make an impact with your existing skills.”
On top of developing key skills, volunteering experience can also provide exposure to relevant career experience — laying the foundation for a next career step.
“The key is identifying positions and organizations that align with your desired career,” Blackman writes. “That way, you can show potential employers that you have transferable skills despite limited or no formal professional history in the role. At the same time, it gives you valuable feedback on whether you enjoy the work and want to explore further.”
Another potential benefit to volunteering, Blackman says, is the unique network that it may provide.
“Unlike those typically awkward formal networking events, the volunteering environment is usually open and friendly,” Blackman writes. “It’s a place to forge meaningful connections with people who have shared interests without pressure or expectations.”
Those connections can provide both personal and professional benefits.
“Of course, your primary reason for volunteering is still to share your skills and give back to your community,” Blackman writes. “But why not also reap some professional advantages along the way?”
The GMAT Prep Crunch
3 Strategies To Balancing GMAT Prep With Full-Time Work
The GMAT plays an integral role in MBA admissions.
At a top B-school, such as The Wharton School, the average GMAT score stands at 733. Landing a score that high isn’t an easy feat and it’s even tougher when you’re balancing a full-time job. Scott Woodbury-Stewart, founder & CEO of Target Test Prep, recently discussed a few helpful strategies to prepping for the GMAT while working a day job.
When it comes to GMAT prep, Woodbury-Stewart says, having a strong commitment is key.
“Preparing for the GMAT will be one of the most significant professional investments you’ll make in yourself,” Woodbury-Stewart writes. “The knowledge and skills you develop via GMAT prep will serve you for years to come, not to mention the not-so-subtle fact that earning an MBA from a top school will advance your life personally and professionally (and monetarily).”
Step one to succeeding in the GMAT is being committed to the GMAT.
“Here’s the reality: there is time only for the things we make time for, GMAT prep included,” Woodbury-Stewart writes. “With a demanding job, it’s important to make time for your personal growth and development. Otherwise, you may find that your days become occupied with the demands of your job, with stagnation resulting.”
HAVE A STUDY STRATEGY
Experts say that successful GMAT prep relies heavily on having a realistic strategy that allows for balance where needed.
“If you’re unrealistic about how long preparing for the GMAT will take, you’ll commit yourself to an unrealistic GMAT study schedule,” Woodbury-Stewart writes. “Most people preparing for the GMAT are working 50+ hours per week in fairly demanding jobs. Once you’ve factored in the necessities — eating, sleeping, exercise, errands, and some downtime — you’ll quickly see that you don’t have copious amounts of time left for GMAT prep. Therefore, it’s important to be realistic about how long you’ll need to prepare for the GMAT.”
Once you figure out how long you’ll need for GMAT prep, the next step is to decide how you’ll go about preparing.
“Some applicants can manage with self-study but we find that a class, or even better, a private tutor, helps to keep students on track and reinforce the study schedule,” Stacy Blackman, president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, tells U.S. News.
FIND A TIME THAT WORKS FOR YOU
Staying committed to your study strategy is essential to GMAT success. But balancing a full-time job with prep can prove difficult. Thus, experts say, it’s important to find dedicated study time that fits into your schedule.
“One smart GMAT prep strategy is to go to bed early on weeknights and wake up early on weekday mornings,” Woodbury-Stewart writes. “When you wake up, get some coffee, and then spend two uninterrupted hours studying before work. One great benefit to studying early in the morning is that your brain and body will be well-rested and ready to absorb new information. In addition to being fresh for studying, there is something very satisfying about beginning the day by doing something for yourself, something that will help you grow and that will have a positive impact on your future.”
MBA Versus MS Degree: How To Choose The Right Program
Both the MBA and business MS degrees can provide a solid foundation for a successful corporate career.
But how do the two degrees differ and when should you pursue one over the other? Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at U.S. News, recently spoke to experts on what each degree provides and how applicants can look to their career goals to decide which program is right.
MS PROVIDES SPECIALIZED STUDY
If you’re looking for a dedicated course of study, experts say, an MS degree program may be right for you.
“Those specialized masters are built to give you the depth of knowledge, where an MBA is really meant to give you that breadth of knowledge,” Rebecca Mallen-Churchill, director of graduate recruitment at Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business, tells Fortune.
Having a specialized course of study can be a huge differentiator when you’re entering a specific industry. But if you’re intent on earning an MS degree, experts say, you better be sure about what industry you want to pursue.
“An MS in some ways kind of pigeonholes you into a certain area, and granted, you can do that across many industries, but you’re really kind of deciding that that’s what you want to do,” Charles Catania III, chief communications officer for Modulus Global, a financial technology company, tells U.S. News.
KNOW YOUR CAREER GOALS
Making the decision between an MBA vs. an MS degree is tough, but it really comes down to what your career goals are.
“When considering this decision, I would always recommend that individuals ponder their career ambitions and factor in the industry they are considering,” Jeffrey Buck, dean and vice president of Purdue University Global’s School of Business and Information Technology, tells U.S. News. “My best advice is to investigate positions within the desired industry and consider the requirements that are listed in job postings, and also look at the credentials of individuals who hold positions which the student aspires.”
If your goals are aligned to an industry that requires specialized knowledge, an MS degree may be the better choice.
“While many MBAs do offer the ability to specialize, the number of courses one can take in any given concentration in a two-year MBA program is never equivalent to that of a specialized master’s degree in that same subject,” Esmeralda Cardenal, an MBA and graduate admissions consultant at the Accepted admissions consulting firm, tells US News.
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