We’re often asked about how to turn a community service experience into an amazing common app essay. The answer is that you probably shouldn’t.
It’s a common misconception that you need community service hours to get into college. Even though your high school might require service hours, very few colleges actually mandate that incoming students log even a single one. In this post, we will talk about a few schools that do look for kids with a background in service.
We have been conditioned to believe that there is a very specific checklist of requirements to get into a great college. First comes the mandatory minimums of excellent grades and scores, followed by knockout essays. On the second tier lie the extra-curriculars, the recommendations and of course, the impressive hours of community service you’re supposed to somehow cram in instead of sleeping. But one thing on the list is not like the others; colleges require you to submit test scores, grades, essays, recommendations and a resume, but what a lot of kids don’t realize is that contrary to popular belief, community service can really be extra.
With students flocking to the Common App to get a head start before supplements are released on August 1st, many are encountering the “Activities” section for the very first time. It’s a weird section—a series of slots that ask you to describe what you do, but don’t give you enough space to say anything beyond the bare minimum. Then you have to say how much time you spend doing each activity, and how long you’ve been doing it for. Then you have to rank them.
When you ask a high school student what they need to do to get into their dream college, they tend to rattle off the same old list:
Great test scores
An award or two
A handful of leadership positions
A mountain of community service hours
There are a lot of problems with short-term service trips, or voluntourism as it’s often called. There are social problems, there are economic problems, there are cultural problems, and there are problem problems, but none of those are the problems we’re going to talk about here. Analyzing the socio-political side effects of importing unskilled teens into impoverished countries with the (mis)intention of saving the day isn’t our specialty...or it isn’t here, at least. Our specialty is getting great kids into stellar colleges, and so we’re going to focus on why sending your kid on a service trip isn’t going to help make that happen.
As you might know, we have a lot of thoughts about community service and the college process. We even wrote about why you shouldn’t write an essay about community service. We’re certainly not going back on our word, but we wanted to delve into a caveat of that opinion. We want to share our advice for the benefit of students who truly believe that they have a specific community service experience worth sharing. It’s not unheard of, but there are a few factors to consider before you decide. First, make sure that you’re well-versed in what to avoid in your community service essay. Namely, most community service essays make you come off as privileged and unaware, as well as basic and cliché. We don’t want that. More often than not, we would strongly advise against writing about community service. Before you take this advice, please contact us so we can tell you if it’s a good idea.
Summer is upon us. Ok, it’s not, but the time to think about and solidify your summer plans is certainly upon us.
We strongly advise against anything that could be considered what we like to call “resume building.” We are anti-resume building, and by resume building, we mean engaging in activities for the sole purpose of listing it on your resume because you think it will “look good.” Spoiler alert: admissions officers can tell when a resume has been padded by “look good” items and you attempting to hide your lackluster interest under a thing you did with a catchy cause or at an exclusive institution.
We get these questions a lot from parents and students alike: should I be doing community service? If so, how much? How does it look on my application? Unfortunately, there’s not just one answer because it depends on a lot of things, but our inclination without having more information is to say: “no.” Here’s why: