Common College Admissions Questions: Community Service

Role of Applicant Community Service in College Admissions

It seems like you cannot talk to one high school student who has not completed some amount of community service and the number of hours keep rising. How important is an applicant’s involvement in community service to your admission decision? How does it rate compared to involvement in student activities and organizations? What does community service say to you and your staff about an applicant? And with so many students now doing community service, does it given any applicant an edge?

Community service, like other outside activities, plays a role in the admissions process because the type and length of involvement gives a window into the personality and interests of the applicant. Most colleges like to see long-term involvement in just a few activities, with leadership roles in at least one of them — and don’t forget to keep track of your all your contributions.

Here are the answers to this question from each member of our panel:

Tracy Manier, St. Edward’s University

You are right! It is very common for today’s college applicants to indicate that they have completed at least some community service hours. Many private high schools actually require that students complete a certain number of service hours in order to graduate.

St. Edward’s University values community service, as it is an integral part of our university’s mission and is something that our students often continue to be engaged in during their college years. It is recommended that applicants demonstrate some level of involvement in community service. However, it is more important that applicants understand that their personal resume is viewed in totality and not judged on any singular component. For instance, although it is desirable for applicants to have community service hours on their resume, other types of personal or extra-curricular involvements can be just as important.

In selecting students to comprise our freshman class, we are not only interested in those students who are “well-rounded,” meaning that they have been involved in a variety of activities. We are also looking for students who are “well-lopsided,” students who exhibit expertise or profound interest in a more narrow scope. For example, if a student loves politics and has been very involved in their school’s student council but not much else, that can be viewed positively, especially if the student has taken a leadership role in the student council or been highly active in the organization.

Also, it is sometimes the case that a student is unable to be involved in extra-curricular activities or service work, due to financial constraints. Some students have to work part-time in order to contribute to their families’ economic capacity. A lack of community service or other involvements would not put such a student at a disadvantage in the admission process, if this circumstance is communicated in the application.

Every entry in a student’s personal resume reveals that student’s personal interests, and motivations. A student, who documents long standing involvement in a student organization, a community service opportunity, or a place of employment, exhibits his or her genuine dedication to the particular interest. It is preferred that a student maintains regular involvement in an activity or organization and eventually assumes a leadership role, rather than for a student to sporadically participate in a multitude of activities over the years.

St. Edward’s University believes that participation in the community is both a right and a responsibility of each person. A demonstrated, genuine commitment to community service indicates to our admission staff that the applicant understands their responsibility to the world community and would complement the mission of St. Edward’s University.

Karen Copetas, Western Washington University

Sustained involvement in any activity is something that we take note of during our application review. We particularly like to see students with community service experience, because it demonstrates values that we like to see in our student population — social responsibility, community consciousness, and altruism. In the application process, it is not so much the community service itself that gives students an edge, it is how students talk about their experience in their personal essay that distinguishes them from other applicants.

I would not say that we value community service over other kinds of student involvement. Overall, it is most important that students find something that captures their interest, and inspires them to commit their time and energy to it.

Jay Murray, Marist College

Community service involvement is looked at by the selection committee but it is not crucial to the decision. When we review students, we look at the transcript, the test scores, personal essay, recommendations, and then activities and community service. Involvement in community service is important but it holds significantly less weight in the decision than grades and test scores. However, it hurts a student not to have any community involvement, since they will pale in comparison to other applicants. What is more important is the quality of the community involvement. We like to see a student involved in one or two things for a long time and takes a leadership role, as opposed to the student who fills their resume with too many activities. The continual involvement in one activity is better than involvement in multiple one-year activities.

Daniel C. Walls, Emory University

Many prospective students have been involved with community service. However, there is no “approved list” of time commitments outside of class. For some students, their passion may be athletics, performing arts, or leadership, while others have part-time jobs that take up substantial time outside of school. There are many high schools that require community service hours in order to graduate. Admission committees are interested in what students are passionate about and what takes up their time outside of class. Students should be honest and avoid resume building or trying to anticipate what an admission committee wants to hear.

Karen Guastelle, Sacred Heart University

At Sacred Heart University we have an office of Service Learning so we certainly consider it an important quality! However, most important is the academic profile of the student. Many of our candidates list on their applications and resumes their hours of community service and it is something that we take seriously, however, we do also look at their involvement in other student life or athletic activities and what their commitment and passions are. We also find that some students do not have the opportunity to be involved in community service because they have to work or take care of younger siblings after school and we consider these activities as important as volunteer work and encourage them to let us know about this responsibility. Many high schools now require community service for athletics and other clubs so it is built in as part of their “activity curriculum”, therefore, we look to see if it is voluntary community service or a requirement of something else. When we review an applicant that has completed a great deal of community service on their own, it will help them if the rest of the application is strong, however, it will not make up for poor grades or poor test scores. I believe that it can give applicants and edge in the process when a student has made a solid contribution to an organization, and can share it with the committee in a compelling way through an essay or an individual interview where we can then “see” the students passion for the community service and the contribution they made. I often recommend students keep a journal of their experience so that they can have something to refer back to when utilizing the experience for college applications and essays.

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