Does Community Service Matter in College Admissions?
College admissions officers, school guidance counselors and college advisors are often asked: “Does community service matter?” Talk to different people and you will get different answers.
My answer : it depends. There’s no single definition of community service. It depends on the individual and how s/he wants to use their talents to benefit others.
What else does it depend on?
- Is community service an obligation, or is it voluntary? If it has had a meaningful impact on a student’s life to the point of choosing a calling or academic program, there’s good reason for a college-bound student to cover it in essays, conversations with admissions officers or interviews. It does not matter if community service was obligatory or voluntary if it has meaning. But if it was something that a student showed up to do because s/he was told to be there, it will have little meaning to an admissions officer.
- What did you do and how often? Whether community service is obligatory or voluntary, college admissions officers like to see commitment as well as enthusiasm. They would like to know if a student’s community service is something that they would like to continue in college. If no, then it does not pay to volunteer information about it on an essay or in an interview, unless asked. College-bound students should discuss their greatest passions and how they plan to follow through on them in college. That makes their applications stronger.
- How does community service relate to what you want to do in the future? There are different ways to serve. You can teach others, help them, or lead them. Virtually everyone in any field will need to do at least two of these three things in their life; many of us who have worked have done all three, though not all the way back to high school. If an engineering student, for example, volunteered to teach middle schoolers how to build small robots or build model cars, that’s a positive sign that s/he could become a successful engineer.
Volunteerism has always been prevalent in most communities. There are many ways that high school students can volunteer, in and outside or school, whether it be to help people in need or prepare for a future. Good college admissions officers know that there are many ways to perform community service, and that it does not always need to be on a list of each student’s achievements and qualifications for admission. They also know how to distinguish the honest and sincere from the pack.
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