Admissions officers are looking more and more closely at extracurricular activities and leadership skills when evaluating college applicants. So, high school community service can be critical. But before you start accumulating hours for all sorts of miscellaneous things, know that college admissions staff are not just looking for a high number of hours. Community service needs to be the right kind of work and you need to be doing it for the right reasons.
Colleges put a premium on teen community service. They also like students who approach this work with passion and authenticity. Basically, this means a college wants to see that community service ties in with your passion, whether that interest is in sports, medicine, religion, or music. For example, a student who is sports-oriented could coach or start a team for underprivileged children.
Not surprisingly, the more selective a college or university, the more outstanding the volunteer work must be to make an impression. While there is no bad form of volunteer activity, some volunteer work gets more points than others. Here's how activities rank:
There is a great difference between organizing a can drive or just collecting cans. Collecting cans - or books, school supplies, clothes - would be considered low level. Typical volunteer jobs such as peer counselors, camp counselors, elementary tutors, and monthly soup-kitchen servers also generally register as low, unless you lead an effort or make a significant difference. Working to help poor residents in a foreign country for a short period of time also registers as low.
[Need some ideas to get you started? Here are 50 fun and creative community service ideas.]
Students who take a leadership role in community service can reach the medium-high level. For example, work with an organization that helps others by collecting donated items and then organize a donation drive to collect some of the most needed items. Or, be an officer in a club at school.
These are unusual service endeavors or those that required uncommon initiative. For instance, an Advanced Placement Spanish student or native Spanish speaker launches an evening English class for Spanish-speaking parents in the community. Or a Future Business Leader of America leader develops an educational app that improves student performance. Or a chess club president teaches the game to disadvantaged children and earns national recognition for the pilot program. If you can get recognition for service that extends beyond the school or local area, it always plays well with admission committees.
AND ONE MORE THING
You need to make sure admissions officers see your community-service activities so make sure they are listed in your application or attached to it as part of your high school resume. If you choose to write about community service in the college essay, make sure to mention what you learned from the experience. Reflect on the activity and discuss its impact and why it was important as a personal goal and to the community.