If there’s one thing you should take away from reading our previous blog posts on extracurriculars, it’s that the quality of your activities should trump quantity. But what exactly defines a “quality” extracurricular? And what steps can you take to turn a low-commitment extracurricular into a stunning addition to your resume? Check out our guide to cinching leadership roles in your extracurriculars that will take your application to the next level.
If you’re looking to get more help with your college applications at every step of the process, take a look at our College Applications Guidance Program. We’ll pair you with your own personal Admissions Specialist who will walk you through a comprehensive, step-by-step process that will help you succeed in the admissions process.
In this blog post, we’ll talk specifically about how to improve your application by advancing to leadership positions in activities in which you’re already involved to some degree. For example, if you’re part of your school’s debate team, but don’t always make it to the practices or competitions, your participation likely won’t make a very valuable addition to your application. However, a leadership role on the team can make a big difference. It shows dedication, commitment, talent, and those indefinable leadership skills that colleges always claim they’re seeking in applicants.
If you have a few extracurricular activities in which you’re involved, but not particularly dedicated, your application won’t be the best it can be. Read on for tips on how to turn these activities into impressive leadership roles that will catch the attention of admissions committees.
Extracurriculars and Leadership Role Tips
This seems like a no-brainer, but can be a little tricky to execute. In order to really be successful in an extracurricular activity, you need to make it a priority. If you’re not fully committed to an activity, it’ll be first on the chopping block when your schedule fills up.
With your science project due Thursday and big soccer game on Saturday, for example, it looks like you’ll need to skip Science Olympiad this week. That’s all well and good if you’re just looking for a participation award, but if you want to excel or add a leadership position to your application, you need to put the activity on the same level as your other commitments, your social life, and even academics in some cases.
Of course, you should only prioritize activities within reason; we’re not advising you to abandon all your homework assignments and social engagements to dedicate yourself to writing the best expository speech in Earth’s history for your speech team. However, if you want to succeed, the activity has to be more than an after-school time filler.
If you want to demonstrate to your coach, team captain, or club advisor that you’re really interested in a leadership role, you need to do more than just show up. Going above and beyond by organizing meetings, extra practices, or new projects can show you have the passion and capability to be an effective leader.
Though it can feel awkward to set up an extra practice or propose a fundraising project if you’re not already in a leadership role, chances are those in charge will see your initiative as a sign of promise, not as an imposition.
Thanks for reading and welcome to the seventh post in GMAT Club’s Essay Review Initiative brought to you by Critical Square. Every week or so throughout the summer we’re going to review, comment, and tear apart a real essay from last year. The streets will run red (with ink)! So grab a cup of coffee and read on – this is a great way to see how our admissions consultants, and effectively, an admissions committee looks at your essays. What we like, what we don’t like, and how to avoid mistakes that can sink your application.
<PS - we'd like to apologize for our brief hiatus these past few weeks - we were busy helping our clients submit some awesome applications!>
If you missed the first reviewed essay on “Career Goals”, you can catch up [here]!
If you missed the second reviewed essay on “A Time You Took a Risk”, you can catch up [here]!
If you missed the third reviewed essay on “Tell Us About Yourself”, you can catch up [here]!
If you missed the fourth reviewed essay on “Duke’s 25 Things About You”, you can catch up [here]!
If you missed the fifth reviewed essay on “Why an MBA, why now?”, you can catch up [here]!
If you missed the sixth reviewed essay on “Why an MBA, why now?”, you can catch up [here]!
So, without further ado, our seventh essay!
The essay prompt:
Our seventh essay prompt is based on a pretty standard one – tell us about a time when you were a leader / you accomplished something you’re proud of, etc. In other words, a behavioral one. A lot of schools use this kind of a prompt and will probably continue to do so for a long time. This prompt is difficult. You have to pick the right example, position it the right way, and then pick your words with care.
Today’s essay actually starts in a pretty good place when it comes to the writing – it’s a domestic applicant – but it misses the mark in a very, very big way.
So let’s dive into this week’s essay!
Thirty senior executives from the top financial institutions in the country stared expectantly. This was a tall order for a young analyst, but with my Vice President out sick and the team scrambling to find a replacement, I knew I had to step up and present [Company’s] product strategy to our client advisory board.
As far as introductions go, we like this one. It jumps right in and takes the gloves off! Can’t you just picture the situation? All these folks staring at you, a young analyst? Can’t you just imagine how daunting that must have been? We give it an A for hook. What would have made it an A+? If the applicant had given a bit more context on why they were chosen. Were they there in invisible roles before hand? If the VP was out sick, there must have been other options – why did they choose him?
Through my experiences at [COMPANY] I had built a reputation as a dependable go-to behind the scenes and I knew the opportunity for client exposure would come with time. But, only 16 hours after learning of my VP’s ails, it had come much sooner and more abruptly than I could ever have anticipated.
We’re not sure we know what the applicant is trying to convey here. To a certain extent, framing the introduction appropriately will move the fact that they’re a “go to” resource to a proxy role. But the word count on this essay is 400 and this might not add a lot of value. There are certain things that should stay – e.g. the 16 hours to prepare. But talking about how knowing client exposure would come eventually is a bit meaningless. Also, the two thoughts don’t quite mesh well together.
Now, standing before these industry leaders with such little preparation I was petrified that my loosely collected thoughts would melt away under the spotlight.
This particular verbiage might be better suited for the introduction paragraph.
I timidly cleared my throat and, taking a coworker’s advice, I opened with a lighthearted joke. Then, after a short pause, something remarkable happened – they laughed.
We really like this – it’s a genuine sentiment and it evokes an appropriate reader response. I think this would be more powerful as the first sentence of this paragraph. After the terror of the first paragraph, we fall into this.
The tension dissolved, my mind cleared, and I launched into an impassioned story about the future of [Company] while skillfully soliciting advisory board feedback on our plans and gleaning insight on one particularly intriguing product concept. The session was focused, collaborative, and surprisingly fun!
Great writing here – we’d tweak verbiage here but great start!
After my presentation, I immediately sensed that this was a turning point in my career.
Statements like this create a pressure for the writer to back this up. If you don’t, it leaves a claim unsubstantiated which is dangerous. If you write things like this, do so with a careful eye!
I was independently lauded for my presentation by four internal executives and my session was the most highly rated presentation of the entire meeting, receiving a perfect 5 of 5 from board members.
These kind of sentences are really ill-advised. This kind of “bragging” sits better in the resume (and this particular accomplishment was in this applicant’s resume). In an essay like this, it can rub the reader the wrong way. We would remove it as is. However, something ALONG these lines might serve as a good ending sentence. But a bit less “patting myself on the back” to it.
More importantly than the reviews, I had discovered a passion for my job, an unexpected desire to work with clients, and best of all, the confidence to make the most of it all.
This sentence says all of the opposite things an applicant would want to convey – they should have ALREADY been passionate, ALREADY wanted to work with clients, and ALREADY have some level of confidence. Not to mention, they mentioned they knew client work would come eventually. This makes it seem like they were dreading it. We would remove this altogether.
The board feedback allowed me to recommend dramatic design changes that have since been incorporated into the product concept. Thanks in large part to the market feedback I gathered, the product is on target to be one [Company’s] most successful product launches in history.
In our opinion, this comes a bit late in the essay. We would incorporate it into the 2nd paragraph and use the trimmed down “pat on the back” as the conclusion. From a structuring perspective, this is the “what came of my accomplishment” which, as we’ll point out later, the right place for is a bit earlier. You definitely want to communicate what came of the work and what people thought of it.
Additionally, for this particular applicant, there was a lot of stuff that came about after this event due to both their performance as well as their initiative. That should be included. But in a short way – that isn’t the point of this essay. But why not mention it?
Shortly after the meeting I was selected to take the helm for all three of [Company’s] client advisory boards, a tremendous opportunity. Then, just months after taking my expanded responsibilities, I was promoted. In addition to the boards, I am now tasked with numerous projects that require both a deep understanding of corporate strategy and an ability to communicate effectively with clients. Presenting to the advisory board was a telling example of how you must take a risk in order to succeed, and it is a lesson that has stuck with me far beyond that one speech.
As the essay stands currently, the above is the conclusion. First off, we’re not huge fans of the inclusion of the promotion. It doesn’t really serve a purpose and it is included in the resume anyway. But more than that – you know what’s missing? Completely and utterly missing?
The answer to the 2nd question.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
Swing and a miss.
A FEW PARTING THOUGHTS:
First off, answer the question. The question prompt clearly asks what the applicant learned from this experience. In a 400 word essay, at least 100 (we’d prefer 150) words should be dedicated to answering that question. It should touch upon the strengths and development needs this experience highlighted. It should showcase how the applicant applied these going forward. A short example, if you have the space, can really drive this home. Pick two (maybe three) themes and really hone in on them. Don’t just create a laundry list.
That said, this essay does a lot of things right too. The applicant writes in a compelling way and tells a story that sucks the reader in. They write in a genuine way that engages the reader while still communicating the strong actions they took and the results that were generated.
Overall, as far as first drafts go, this is a solid start!
- The folks Critical Square
If you think your essay or resume could use a review or two, check out our Essay Editing and Resume Review services. Not sure where to start? Sign up for a free consultation instead!
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