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Covid-19 Volunteer Opportunities: Tips for Prospective MBAs

The Covid-19 Crisis presents a special opportunity to be of service with your expertise – especially for MBA hopefuls who are light on extracurriculars.

I was incredibly gratified to receive a message on LinkedIn from a prospective MBA applicant named Harley. Inspired by the call to action in my recent article for Poets&Quants, Extracurriculars In Quarantine: Building Your MBA Leadership Profile, Harley mobilized to create an impressive initiative, which offers an excellent way for other rising business leaders to get involved during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I read your March 30th article… and it sparked something in me,” wrote Harley. “After having already browsed around and finding only activities that required a long-wait or specialty I did not have, your article got me to start thinking like a leader. Two days later I began forming, a free tutoring service for children whose education has been impacted by the shutdowns. Two weeks ago, I began recruiting and we are now almost 30 strong.”

Pandemic Professors is a stellar example of a relevant, timely, and collaborative response to an urgent need facing families and communities – especially the most vulnerable – amid widespread school closures. It has a clear mission, compelling intro video, and offers an easy and essential matchmaking service between prospective learners and volunteers. If Harley is ultimately successful in delivering on its promise, Pandemic Professors will be emblematic of what’s possible when you apply your expertise to serve a higher purpose.

And business schools are paying attention. Six months from now, the question of how what you did with your time in quarantine and you responded during Covid-19 will be front of mind to the MBA Admissions Committee who reviews your candidacy. It’s a theme that emerged across the Admissions Director panels last month at the virtual CentreCourt MBA Festival, co-hosted by my Fortuna colleague, Matt Symonds.

“I think any big disruption, like the financial crisis or like the Covid crisis, creates opportunities for people to really show how they lead and how they lead with heart,” remarked Pete Johnson, Berkeley Haas Admissions Director, in this panel with fellow heads of MBA Admissions at Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson and UW Foster. “It doesn’t mean necessarily that in your professional life you’re going to have the opportunity to suddenly lead the big team. It might be something you’re doing outside of work altogether. And I hope to see a lot of really interesting essays next year about how people have used the opportunities that have presented themselves.”

My Fortuna colleague, Brittany Maschal, believes Covid presents a special opportunity for what otherwise would be seen as a last-ditch effort – and one that is too late to be meaningful – especially for MBA hopefuls without extracurricular involvement. Getting involved now can fill a gap in your application that would otherwise be harder to fill.

“I have a few candidates with no extracurriculars other than company/internal work, who are now taking this time to reconnect with their alma maters and get involved in their virtual efforts as a volunteer,” says Brittany. “Colleges need extra support right now with admissions and recruitment efforts given the changes to that landscape, so it is an easy gap to fill.”

Brittany also points candidates to organizations seeking volunteers such as Learn To Be, UPchieve, and MyFreeTutor.

“I’ve been really impressed by what MBA students around the world have been doing to try to contribute to the ongoing crisis and to try to address it,” said Chad Losee, Harvard Business School Admissions Director, in another Admissions Director panel with Fortuna’s Matt Symonds. Losee celebrated a cross-program initiative started by current MBAs at HBS, Kellogg, Michigan Ross and others, called MBAs Fight COVID-19, which matches MBAs with nonprofits, small businesses, municipalities, and other organizations in crisis. Says Losee, “I remain convinced that it is going to be business school students among others that are coming up with solutions beyond our political leaders.”

As I wrote in my earlier article, the next best idea may just be the one that you come up with during a mindful pause from your work. But it’s also possible that your most important opportunity to make a positive impact may start very close in, and that doesn’t make it less worthy of your time and dedication.

Kirsten Moss, head of Admissions at Stanford GSB, cautioned prospective MBAs to allow themselves to be driven by “their inner motivation – not from what they think we would want to hear.” In the admissions director panel with Haas’s Pete Johnson, Moss offered a reflection.

“I was just talking to one of our recently admitted students who is now in charge of her younger brother because her parents have immunity issues. She is taking a leadership role in her family getting meals on the table and helping him with his homework. This work, helping your family or community during COVID, makes an impact that’s important,” said Moss. “Candidates can show leadership in many different ways.”

Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder & Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former head of Admissions at Wharton. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation.

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