How Colleges Look at Community Service and Volunteering

Community service certainly makes your college applications more competitive. The majority of admissions officers at U.S. colleges agreed that community service has a positive impact on a student’s acceptance to their college or university. While others are of the opinion that community service was a tie-breaker between equally qualified students. Colleges look for the values that community service cultivates and the impact of your work over the quantity of service you have done.

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Why is Community Service and Volunteering Important in the College Admissions Process?

US colleges historically look beyond grades and test scores. They look for young impactful intellectuals, who demonstrate leadership, initiative, creativity, and the intent to make an impact in the world they live in. Colleges look at extracurriculars including community work with a different lens as a part of the holistic admissions process. Read what top colleges look for in applicants.

Every College likes to have students who are good citizens and want to do well. Leadership and community service show how you have made a difference and how you plan to be a good community citizen. Many students try doing this for a few weeks only. But that will not help impress the admission teams at top colleges. You should show them your commitment through years of work and by meaningful participation and results.

Community Service is important to colleges because it proves that the student shall be active on campus outside class, shall contribute to the university’s mission, and share the school’s values. Volunteering in your community also shows a level of civic awareness and empathy for others, and it reflects issues that you’re passionate about. Together, this helps form a complete and positive picture of who you are as an individual. Read more on Why do Top Universities look for Community Involvement?

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Community Engagement is the Key

Universities want students who will immerse themselves in the community at and around the school, contribute as a student, and continue to engage as an active alumnus. Your level of engagement with the communities you are currently part of — family, neighborhood or school, as well as contributions to others across societal boundaries — are a testament to how likely are you to be an asset to your future university.

– Kunal Mehra, Country Manager, Crimson Education, India [Quoted on The Hindu]

How do Colleges Evaluate the Community Service during Admissions Process?

Hours Involved

What colleges consider important when it comes to community service, include the number of hours of service and accordingly evaluate your community service experiences.

If your high school does not have a community service requirement for graduation, the exact amount of time you spend doing community service is unimportant. Investing just a few hours during your course of four years wouldn’t suggest that you’re especially civic-minded. Actually, you should complete at least 50-200 hours of community service during your high school career.

However, bear in mind that you do not need to go over the board and exhaust yourself. Also, remember that colleges do not look at the quantity of community service you complete, but at the quality of the work, you do.

How you chose your Area of Work

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The areas you can work on to improve your college admission chances could be No Poverty to Zero Hunger to Rights and Partnerships.

Pick an area that you feel strongly about. Maybe you do not feel inclined to volunteer at a local old age home or food shelter that is fine. If you have a passion for running – you can use this to make a genuine and authentic impact in your community and develop the skills admissions officers are looking for such as dedication, empathy, leadership, and commitment.

You can organize a series of charity runs to raise money for encouraging adolescent girls to participate in sports. To develop projects like this, talk to a mentor such as a school counselor, consult an independent college admission counselor, or plan with a family member. Take their help to identify steps for working on them.

The good news is admissions officers do not look for a particular type of activity in regard to community service as volunteering solely to impress colleges takes away from the essence of service and does more harm than good.

The Community or Social Impact

Community service can be incredibly meaningful for young people during the college process and further. However, many students engage in community service just to highlight their résumés, gain references and recommendations, or have an easy topic for their college essays.

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If you choose to participate in community service, it should not just be for your college applications but because you care about your community and the work you do. Meaningful community service strengthens your college applications.

Relatable Data Points

The colleges are looking for a pattern in your activities to get a feeling about the person you are. So, make sure that you choose the right projects and address them in the right ways. Find service opportunities that support your interests.

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When applying to colleges, you create your candidate profile – an application theme that showcases your academic, extracurricular, and personal interests. Your community service experiences should align with this profile.

Examples

  • If you have a passion for education and you want to become a teacher, you may tutor your peers, or you could work with a company that provides educational resources to underserved communities.
  • In case you want to become a healthcare professional, you might volunteer at the Red Cross or your local hospital.
  • If you’re interested in environmental science, you could organize local gardening initiatives or participate in community park cleanups.

Your interest is all that matters and the possibilities are endless! Read Top 10 Community Service Ideas for High School Students.

How to Leverage Community Service for College Applications?

Make an active effort to contribute to your community. If the service opportunities available in your community do not appeal to you, you can still give back. In that case, consider creating your own club, organization, or initiative.

Admissions Officers love when students take their extracurriculars into their own hands and create their own opportunities. And this doesn’t have to be too official—grab some friends, brainstorm some ideas, and get to work.

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Remember, of course, that no matter what you do, you should be passionate about your contributions to your community. You should also be able to clearly explain why you chose to pursue this specific service project.

If you are passionate about community service and contributing to social good, you can participate in many smaller projects than commit to larger, more specific initiatives. When you write about your community service experience in your applications, be sure to highlight your specific contributions.

College Application Tips and Advice

While community service can strengthen an application, be careful that it doesn’t seem like you are doing it just to impress colleges.

If you choose to participate in a short-term service opportunity, think about what you liked about that experience and how you might continue doing similar work. See if there are other ways you can become involved in the organization, even if you can’t return to the front lines.

Additionally, if you choose to go on a service trip to another country, do so with respect and self-awareness. The whole point behind community service is to serve the community, and the whole point of your college essays is to show how your experiences have made you the person that you are.  

Admissions Officers go through such essays regularly where students write about their gratitude after helping others in need. When writing an essay about service, focus on how it has impacted your life and future.

Ask Yourself:

Did a project inspire you to continue doing similar work on your own?

Did an initiative reveal to you your desired academic and professional path?

Or did you make an active effort to recruit your family and friends because you felt so passionate about the cause?

In the eyes of admissions officers, the motive is an important aspect of an applicant’s community service record. Having a long history of volunteer work matters, too. As do the type, amount, and results. And beyond benefiting the community, there’s a dollar value and intangible reward for the volunteer.

Official Admissions Blog of the University of South Florida

Our community is comprised of people who take care of each other and lift each other up, who inspire each other to work and dream beyond their potential. Remember that there are many ways to make the world better—we’re not looking for applicants to have cured all infectious disease in the world by the time they’re 15. Tutoring a single kid in math changes the world.

Official MIT Admissions

Conclusion

Passive actions such as donations do not add to your candidate profile. Like any extracurricular, you should be actively involved in your community service experiences. Hence community service can improve your college applications provided you are smart about it.

Ultimately, Admissions Officers are looking to see that your extracurriculars support your candidate profile. They should make sense in relation to the interests that you have and the values that you hold.

They do not don’t expect every applicant to have already changed the world. But they do expect and hope that you care for others. They want to know who you are beyond your grades and understand what you are passionate about — a cause that you are committed to that betters your community or school, builds skills, and deepens your understanding of diversity and ethics.

Do research to find out what service opportunities are available to you, both in your school and in the community. Make sure that no matter what you decide to do, you are making a demonstrated effort to positively and actively impact your cause.

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Jaya Ghosh
A former legal eagle (Advocate), an avid reader, a passionate traveler, and an administrative professional with almost 20 years of experience both in the academic and NGO sectors.
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