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Why is Community Service so Important for College Admissions?

Updated: Jun 8



Why do Top Universities look for Community Involvement?

Attending college is accorded great importance. Obtaining a degree especially from prestigious universities yields immense benefits such as exposure to different worldviews, access to excellent curriculum and better job opportunities. This has led to the college admissions process becoming an extremely competitive process.

Additionally, according to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 there will be a huge demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and decision-making. Today’s world needs future leaders who are socially conscious, responsive, and responsible.

In this post, we will try to find out if community work is really important for college admissions, or is it overhyped? Can community service be a critical part of your application and give you the much-needed edge? Here’s what we have found:


What do Admissions Officers think of Community Involvement?


As reported by Forbes, in a recent survey of 264 admissions officers at US colleges, 58% of admissions officers agreed that community service has a positive impact on a student’s acceptance. More importantly, 53% stated that community service was a tiebreaker between equally qualified students. Additionally, 61% of admissions leaders at private four-year universities reported community service as a tiebreaker.


What does this Mean?


Should we all jump on the bandwagon and find hundreds of places to volunteer? No! As it is equally important to reflect on why admissions personnel value community service.


What are Colleges Actually Looking For?

In reality, colleges are seeking the values in people that community service cultivates and the potential impact of your work over the quantity of service you have done.

In a 2016 report published by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, a coalition of college admissions officers joined together to create and endorse recommendations related to community service and ethical engagement. Their report emphasized attributes such as being passionate about the cause you are invested in, showing long-term commitment, and values that service generates such as an understanding of diversity and emotional and ethical awareness.


Why is Community Work so important for College Admissions?



Every College likes to have students who are “good citizens” and want to do good. Leadership and community service is your avenue to show them how you have made a difference and how you plan to be a good community citizen. Many students try to check this off on the list by doing a few weeks' work. But that is not good enough to impress the admission teams at the top colleges. You should show them your commitment through involvement over years or by meaningful participation and results.


Related Post: What do Top Colleges Look For in International Applicants?


Ivy League admissions blogs share that colleges can tell when students are doing community service solely to impress admissions and this does not go over well. When admissions place value on community service they are looking to see if you have picked an issue that matters to you and made a difference in the same.


Volunteering in your community also demonstrates a level of civic awareness and empathy for others, and it can reflect issues that you’re passionate about.


According to the Forbes survey, community service is important to colleges because it indicates that the student:

· Is likely to be active on campus outside of class.

· Is likely to contribute to the university’s mission.

· Shares the school’s values.


Increased Emphasis on Community Work for College Admissions 2021 - 2022



Earlier several colleges have already made the tests optional due to Coronavirus. Recently, the University of California took it a step further. On May 21, 2020, the University of California announced that it will stop using the SAT and ACT in college admissions.


The California system (which includes marquee schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, and 8 other schools) is highly influential in the American higher education system. It hosts 300,000 students and 6 of its campuses are in the top 10 in the US. So, it’s very likely that other universities might also follow the suit.

Without test scores, it’s likely to have a relative rise in the importance of other parts of an application including community involvement.


Historically, colleges have looked at extracurriculars as a way to better understand students beyond their letter grades, but these have also been curtailed because of coronavirus.


Hence, students need to think out-of-box in order and spend time helping their communities address coronavirus. Colleges are bound to consider these kinds of volunteer work even more seriously.

In every crisis, there’s an opportunity and I think for students who are willing to be creative and think outside the box, there are so many opportunities now to impact their community while they’re in quarantine - Jeremy Alder, Founder and Managing Editor, College Consensus, as quoted on CNBC Make It.

Creators, innovators, inventors, and pioneers will always be valued in the admissions process, but now they will be valued more than ever.” - Sara Harberson, Founder, Application Nation.


What are the Themes/Areas You Can Work on to Improve Your College Admission Chances?



The United Nations has a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals ranging from 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 completely all right!


Maybe your passion is 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.


For instance, you could organize a series of charity runs to raise money for encouraging adolescent girls to participate in sports. One of our Young Changemakers was able to collect 50 pairs of shoes during COVID-19.


To develop projects like this, talk to someone you consider a mentor such as a school counsellor, independent college admission counsellor or family member and take their help in identifying steps for working on the same.


It is excellent news that admissions officers are not looking for a particular type of activity when it comes to community service as volunteering solely to impress colleges takes away from the essence of service and does more harm than good.



Featured Image Credit: Freepik

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