When I was working in the admissions office at Columbia University, I would often get the question, “Is community service required or recommended for admission?”  It was always a tough one to answer because we didn’t want students scrambling to log hours of community service with last-minute bake sales and car washes, and while we didn’t have an official volunteer requirement, an application with significant community involvement definitely spoke volumes about a person’s character and commitment.

Recently DoSomething.org surveyed 25 highly ranked colleges and universities, and here’s what they had to say about the value of community service in a college application:

Passion and consistency valued most–When asked, “Which would you value more: four years volunteering at a local community center or one month helping orphans in Somalia?” 100% surveyed chose four years at a community shelter. This response indicates passion and consistency hold much higher value than a smaller, even more intensive program.

Time spent worth more than money raised–When asked, “Which would you value more: raising $100,000 for the homeless or spending a summer working at a homeless shelter?” 68% surveyed valued time spent over money raised. While raising such funds is admirable and impressive, time spent indicates the universality of volunteerism. Anyone can find a homeless shelter where they can volunteer, but not everyone has the ability to ask for money. Admissions officers “get it.” They are looking for evidence of actual service, not the ability to connect with wealthy people.

Community service ranks rourth amongst valued criteria–When asked to rank GPA, SATs, legacy, reference letters, extra curricular activities, and community service, 37.5% surveyed ranked community service fourth. While GPA and SATs are obviously the most valued criteria, community service ranks higher than legacy and reference letters. Quite simply, hard academic numbers remain the most standard and significant factors of getting into a top college, but community services are noted and valued experiences.

Organizational affiliations don’t matter–When asked, “Does being a member of a service organization like the Boy Scouts have more or less weight than an unaffiliated student volunteering?” 84% surveyed gave no weight to such affiliations. One admissions officer noted, “Service is service, that’s always a good thing.”

Tell your story well–When asked to list the three words admissions officers most like to see when students describe their community service, the most recurring words were commitment,” “passionate,” and “dedication.” When asked to list the three words admissions officers least like to see, most recurring were “required,” “mandatory,” and “tedious.” Therefore, when describing community service, it should include positive and encouraging descriptors, rather than words of obligation.

Have you found a meaningful way to give back to the community? What volunteer activities have you enjoyed the most?


One Response to “Make Your Time Count!”
  1. am with the officer “service is service”. doing some good stuff to community is always good. Anyway its for our country.

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