There are some perfectly respectable responses floating around on what to do so here are a few things to avoid.
#1. Creating a new non-profit to be your “volunteer” work.
I see this every year in usually very “bro” candidates. They create a non-profit 12–18 months before all of them plan to apply for business school. The really lazy idiots do this about 6–9 months before applying.
There are PLENTY of very reputable non-profits and other ways to contribute to society. I want to reiterate what Stacy Blackman said re: volunteering. “build a leadership relationship with one or two community service organizations.”
I’d say pick one unless you’ve been at this for a few years. One is plenty. But go DEEP. Just showing up for meetings or raising a few bucks – unless you manage to grow the fundraise by 200% in a year or some other crazy great metric – isn’t enough. You need to show that you have dedicated heart, body, mind to the organization.
#2. Overselling your contribution (to anything) in your essays.
You are a sum of experiences. Similarly, your work is also a sum of contributions. It is far too easy to look back at projects you’ve been a part of thinking that you were the one who “made” that project successful. Be careful with that. Even if your contribution was really key, at this stage, you probably haven’t driven anything. (If you have, it can be hard to be taken seriously. Just fyi.)
You don’t need false humility, but be careful overstating.
#3. False humility in the supplemental essay.
For example, if your GMAT lands on 720, that’s fine. You don’t need to explain it. I’ve seen some ridiculous extra essays explaining things that were okay – not great, but okay – such as the 720 on the GMAT.
Rule of thumb to use when deciding if you need to explain something in your profile within the supplemental essay (some schools are cutting these entirely because applicants have abused them) is only explain if you are at least one full standard deviation below the norm. Since some schools have tight data clusters around the median, 2 std deviations may be more appropriate.
Basically, don’t use it just because they offer you extra space. Whining about a 720 is enough to get an eye roll. You’ll seem like a twit with poor judgment. That does not a future titan of industry make!
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