Guest Post By Judith Silverman Hodara, Fortuna Admissions and former Head of Admissions at The Wharton School
As you approach your undergraduate degree, do you imagine business school in your future? If so, the most important thing you can start doing now is to cultivate your leadership potential.
The MBA admissions office wants to understand how you’ve initiated a collaboration, led a team project, created positive impact, mentored others, or gone beyond yourself. These kinds of experiences create a compelling picture of your leadership potential, as business schools champion the logic that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. You’ll need to show them what you hope to offer your MBA community, its alumni network of global leaders, and the world.
This is not about tallying one-off experiences like volunteering at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving or donating money to a nonprofit once a year. It’s about cultivating a solid track record of commitment to the causes, projects, issues or affiliations you care deeply about. Getting there requires meaningful self-reflection about who you are, what matters to you, and what you want to achieve.
College is the perfect laboratory to explore these questions. Far beyond rigorous academics and building intellectual muscle, most undergrad programs are designed to expose you to a wide range of new experiences, from cultural and political engagement to athletics, academic clubs, and university committees. It’s a place to try things you’ve never imagined doing before, exposing yourself to new people and experiences, and following your interests to get more deeply involved.
So what does that look like? Growing your leadership skills begins with finding and pursuing things you enjoy. Perhaps attending a community meeting sparks your passion for political strategy. Or a love of hiking wild places leads you to a critical conservation effort. Is it playing rugby, serving on an academic committee, or staging theater productions?
For example, one woman I recently worked with, after seeing the lack of diversity among existing university publications, started a campus literary journal to give voice to underrepresented students. The project connected to what she ended up pursuing academically, and it’s something she continued online after graduation. Maybe it doesn’t seem business-related at first glance, but hers is an excellent example of leadership potential—incubating a new idea, bringing people together, and addressing a gap in her community that created a lasting impact.
As Wharton’s former head of admissions and an MBA admissions coach at Fortuna, I’ve had too many conversations with anxious applicants who are 25 or 26 and scrambling for ways to show that they have other things going on in their lives besides work. Their laudable commitment to growing their professional skills or serving their clients and organizations has all but eclipsed their personal passions, hobbies, or extracurricular commitments. Being able to reflect back to experiences and interests that began in college is vital. Ideally, your extracurricular commitments will continue to thrive outside the office, even if they are not a daily—or even weekly—engagement. It’s the continuity of your commitment that counts.
Which is why now is the time to start building clear, concrete examples of your leadership.
Really, business school should be called leadership school. The most important qualities for catalyzing meaningful change across the industries that shape our everyday lives have to do with inspiring innovation, galvanizing support, motivating others, and collaborating in service of a greater—often audacious—goal. Sure, you need analytical acumen and creative instincts too. But the MBA is about so much more. Business school isn’t just about creating decision-makers—it’s about creating leaders and global citizens.