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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Community Service Helps You, Too

Uploaded: Jul 22, 2014
(Written by John Raftrey)

There are many altruistic, ethical and religious reasons to help your fellow man. This blog post is based entirely on a student's enlightened self-interest to get into college.

This advice is for students applying to colleges that look for community service. There are hundreds of colleges that don't ask such as the CSU's, University of Nevada, Reno, or Arizona State.

Admissions officers know what zip code you're from, and may even know your family income. They expect students from Silicon Valley zip codes to give back to society.
This is directly from the UC's explanation of how they read applications:
"? experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student's promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus."

Highly selective Williams College is looking for community involvement as well:
"? we seek students who will serve as leaders not only in the classroom, but in the community at large to that end, we also consider candidates' non-academic involvements and achievements at school and in their communities."

Significant community service is not nickel and diming your way to meet a 100 hours graduation requirement. Significant means a sustained activity over time.
This means you have to spend some time figuring what skills you have to contribute to the community. It means you should find something that will affect you and might even give you an essay topic.

I see four ways to make sure you get community service into your application

Family as Community: If you are a member of a family who relies on your support to keep the home running, emphasize your duties/involvement. For example, many students need to rush home to care for a younger sibling/s or an elder family member, or to work after school and weekends to contribute to the family income. This counts as community service because you made a sacrifice for somebody else.

Pay for Play: One admission counselor joke is that Guatemala must have a great school system because everyone who applies has built a school in Guatemala. Going to a third world country may be truly altruistic, but because this type of experience for so many students is basically one and done, admission officers look at them with a jaundiced eye. If you really did something special on one of these trips, you really have to make it clear it wasn't a fancy field trip.

Volunteer: Not everyone has the inspiration to start their own community service project. But everyone does have the perspiration to help an organization that is already up and running. Some students are introverted or shy but can find a way to add real value behind the scenes. Pick an organization freshman year that you want to help and stick with it at least once a month for at least three years. If you harvest fruit for a community organization, get your fellow students involved (shows leadership) and do it regularly throughout the school year and over summer vacation. Chances are you will have found a way to make a big difference during those years and you might even get an essay topic!

Invent your own: Not everyone can launch a start-up and not everyone can spot and execute a new project that helps someone. But this is the kind of community service that gets rewarded. Expand on something you already know something about. Some examples are talking to a neighborhood boy who is stressed out due to his cancer treatments, and putting together a yoga, meditation and mindfulness kit. Then, get a major hospital to distribute it to all their pediatric patients. Or, take the "pay to play" experience and extend it in time. If you work at a third world school for a week, develop a relationship with a teacher and volunteer to put together a series of lesson plans on something you know about, such as speech and debate. Then grade the speeches throughout the year on YouTube.
Both of these are real examples from extremely busy students with lots of AP's.

That's enough preaching for one blog. We would love to hear great examples of creative community service. Please post your suggestions below.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Jul 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

Some good advice, but I would say that some of these things can start before high school if you are the kind of family that has been doing community service through volunteering at schools, churches, or similar.

Amongst our peers, we have seen high school students volunteer at our own church helping the younger children either in nursery, sunday school, or summer bible camps. The city has junior councilors for many summer camp programs. AYSO and Little League often have teen assistant coaches helping coach the younger teams. Many elementary schools volunteer work days, pancake breakfasts, book fairs, often include older siblings helping out.

In other words, if you have been involved as a participant in an activity you enjoy in the past, that organization will probably welcome you as a volunteer when you are older.

If you need to volunteer for a school class, check with the school that they will be OK volunteering with a religious activity for their community service hours, but don't let that stop you doing it and showing it on your college application even if it isn't allowed for school credit.

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