Some students view community service as a chore, with many local high schools requiring 40 hours of community service as a prerequisite for graduation. Instead, students should see it as an opportunity – to help those less fortunate, to become involved in a cause, to develop skills and build relationships, and to check out interests that could be related to their future college major or career.
Scholarship and community service expert Nancy Paul explains how volunteering can fulfill all of these opportunities, and notes that deep involvement in a local non-profit can be just as compelling to college admissions officers as involvement in a school-based extra-curricular activity.
When college application time comes around, admissions officers are looking to see who the “real you” is – and what you have done to help develop that real you in the past four years. This Forbes article vaguely discourages community service, but it’s only partially right.
I recently attended a joint information session with representatives from Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania. Several of the admissions officers confirmed what I already knew to be true: randomly volunteering here or there for an organization or cause with no connection to your interests and no continuity (ie. serving food once at a homeless shelter, and never going back) will do nothing to contribute to your personal development, and doesn’t make you look interesting to colleges. Deep involvement, on the other hand, in an issue or organization will build your resume while building character. Using community service to “jazz up” your college applications, as the Forbes article puts it, is entirely unimpressive and won’t get you anywhere.
Summer is the perfect time for students to explore community service activities. There’s time to make the “wrong” decision. Try volunteering at a hospital, an animal shelter, a museum, or a convalescent home – and if you hate it, that’s ok! There’s time to look for new options. Now is a good time to explore what you like and don’t like. But don’t give up after just one two-hour shift – it’s not enough time to learn how an organization works, who they help, and if their mission inspires you. The more time you spend there, the more responsibility they will give you. And the more responsibilities you have, the better you will look to colleges and the more likely you will be to find a fabulous potential college essay topic!
Advising students about their community service is one way that independent college counselors guide their clients through the college search process. But just like other extra-curricular activities, three years are better than just one. So, 9th and 10th graders and parents – don’t delay! Get started on your community service plans now. It will be worth it two years from now. For more information, please feel free to get in touch.