Is Community Service Needed on My College Application?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman doing a community service.

Is Community Service Needed on My College Application?

For students who have the goal of applying to, and getting into, some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States, they need to take their extracurricular activities very seriously throughout their high school education.

Extracurriculars basically refer to anything a student does outside of the classroom that they commit their time and energy to, such as clubs, groups, teams and more. One of the most popular types of extracurriculars that high schools take part in is community service.

But is community service important on college applications?

The truth is that admissions officers at many of the most elite schools in the country are looking for students who commit deeply to 3 to 5 extracurricular activities through their high school education. It is thought to be more beneficial to commit deeply to a few things rather than spread yourself too thin over many different extracurriculars. However, within those few that you choose, you should definitely consider taking part in some form of community service.

Group of students smiling for a camera.

At AdmissionSight, we make it a top priority to help the students that we work with during their high school years plan and map out the kinds of courses that they take and the kinds of extracurriculars that they commit to with the goal of helping them create a truly elite application profile. With that in mind, it is important to remember that no two students are alike, and no high school student should take part in anything just because they think it’s what admissions officers at Ivy League schools and other top 10 schools are looking for. The best way to ensure success, both in and out of the classroom, is to pursue your natural interests and passions!

That is absolutely possible to do with community service, it is just important to know about community service examples so that you can fit your interests with your choice.

But we’ll get into those community service examples in a little bit. To start off, we want to answer some of the most important questions regarding community service such as “Is community service important on college applications?” or “What kind of community service can help my application stand out?”

So, if you are curious about the answers to those questions and more, then you have come to the right place! Let’s get started on breaking all this down together.

Community service – the basics

Before we get into what kind of community service can help my application stand out, we wanted to first break down some of the basic information and statistics regarding community service and high school students. First of all, let’s get a basic definition of community service from the books. Community service is defined by “voluntary work intended to help people in a particular area.” An important aspect of community service is also that the workers are not being paid and are instead committing their personal time to trying to improve various circumstances for a specific cause, community or group of people.

When it comes to community service and undergraduate applications, a recent survey done by IESD for x2VOI which surveyed a total of 264 admissions officers at United States colleges, 58.0 percent of the admissions officers agreed that community service has a positive impact on a student’s ability to get accepted to their college or university.

Students hoarding clothes to be donated.

Perhaps even more meaningful than that, 53.0 percent of those surveyed admissions officers stated that community service has served as a tie-breaker between two equally qualified applicants. That essentially means that if a spot at a school comes down to two students that have similarly impressive academic records, test scores, personal essays and more, community service being on one student’s application profile but not the others could very well end up being the final deciding factor.

Why is community service important on college applications?

According to the aforementioned survey, as well as what our admissions consultants at AdmissionSight know and believe, there are three important reasons why community service is considered such an important component of any high school student’s college applications. Those reasons include the following:

  • Community service indicates that a student is likely to remain active and engaged on campus outside of class
  • Community service indicates that a student is likely to contribute to the college or university’s mission
  • Community service indicates that a student shares the school’s values

On top of that, taking part in community service in general demonstrates that a high school student possesses a certain level of civic awareness, a sense of civic duty as well as a level of empathy for others who are likely less fortunate. It can also shine light on things that a student is passionate about outside of the classroom. All of these things together help admissions officers at colleges and universities form a more complete and multi-dimensional picture of who an applicant is as a person, not just who they are as a student.

So, do colleges care about community service? The answer to that question tends to be a pretty clear yes. But how much community service is enough community service for a high school student to take part in? Well, that’s coming up next.

How many hours of community service does a high school student need?

The answer to this question is really going to depend on a lot of different variables regarding who you are as a student and how you want to spend your time outside of the classroom. It is important to keep in mind that at certain high schools, students are required to take part in community service of one kind or another in order to graduate. If that is the case then you will essentially have community service covered for your college applications!

For students who have to take it upon themselves to take part in community service, it may be a bit harder to figure out what is enough and what is not enough time spent on it. Of course, just a few hours of community service over the course of your entire high school education is not going to pique the interest of admissions officers. Generally, it is believed that somewhere between 50 to 200 hours’ worth of community service in your entire high school education will be on par with what admissions officers are looking for.

Group of students attending a community service smiling for the camera.

Remember, this is just a general approximation, and there is no need to exhaust yourself simply to hit that kind of threshold. 50 hours over four years is quite doable and really can be done with just a few full days of volunteer work if that is how you want to cut it down. On top of that, it is crucial to remember that admissions officers are almost never looking for quantity but are instead typically looking for quality of work. This goes for essentially every aspect of your application.

The quality of the volunteer work and the positive impacts you make are going to be paid attention to far more than the sheer amount of time you spent volunteering.

What kind of community service can help my application stand out?

When it comes to community service, and all forms of extracurricular activities, college admissions officers want to see students participating in authentic and meaningful forms of community service that allow them to deepen their relationship with their community, their sense of gratitude for their own lives, their responsibility towards the future and those less fortunate as well as expand their appreciation for diversity of culture, experiences and more.

For students who are asking the question, “Is community service important on college applications?” and are interested in applying to top undergraduate programs like Harvard, Princeton or Yale, a great resource available to them comes from a report that was published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Group of students creating a poster for community service.

This report worked alongside college admissions officers to develop and support specific recommendations for students related to community service and ethical engagement.

In the report, there were four key recommendations for students to consider when deciding what kind of community service to take part in. Those recommendations are as follows:

  • Students should take part in community service that is authentically chosen by them. This means that the volunteer work that you take part in should be related to something that you are genuinely interested in or passionate about.
  • In the ideal scenario, students should engage in at least one year of sustained service or community engagement. Community engagement specifically refers to working in groups on problems that face your community or another community. This could be anything from working in a group to clean up a local natural piece of land, or working in a group to help underserved students put on a school play, or anything in between. The key component here is that you are working as part of a larger group with the goals of achieving something as a group. Though the report does make clear that individual service is also valuable, community engagement is looked upon more favorably due to the fact that it helps students develop problem-solving skills, improves group awareness, and offers an understanding of and investment in the common good. It is also important to mention that sustained engagement in one group or community service pursuit is looked upon more favorably than working on many different projects to collect hours.
  • Students should make a priority to take part in community service projects that enable them to deepen their understanding of diversity. A crucial thing to keep in mind here is that the report makes a clear distinction between the patronizing act of “doing for” students or individuals of different backgrounds and rather “doing with” people of other backgrounds and cultures. The important thing here is to collaborate with diverse groups in order to tackle community issues together.
  • Finally, the report explains that there is no need to, nor no benefit from “gaming” community service by seeking high-profile or exotic service opportunities in foreign countries. The emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by community service experiences are far more important.

From all of these fantastic points, it should be clear to you that it really is not about how much service you – or any other students – do. Instead, it is about the quality in which you pursue the service as well as what you accomplish while volunteering.

Remember, the very best community service involvement is going to be in relation to something that you are already passionate about. Find something that allows you to further deepen your interests and skills while also giving back to those within your community.

How to write about your community service on college applications?

So, now that you know the answer to the question, “Is community service important on college applications?” you may be curious about how students can actually utilize their community service within their college applications.

On your college applications, you will list your community service along with your other extracurricular activities. The essay and/or personal statement provides another opportunity to share your community service experiences with admissions officers. So, how can you write about your community service hours in a compelling way?

Two students talking in a room full of glass.

First off, we want to let you know that the essay about a student’s experience doing community service is quite common, and many end up reading very similarly to one another even if the actual experiences themselves are quite different. So, if you feel truly compelled to write about your community service, you would be wise to try to find a truly unique way to cover the experience and what it meant to you.

For example, you are not going to want to talk generally about your community service. Instead, focus on one specific interaction or experience that you learned something from. If you do end up wanting to cover an experience that you gained from your community service, these are some really important rules and tips to keep in mind:

  • Be reflective and insightful when you are discussing what you learned and how you personally grew from the experience.
  • Be fully honest and specific about the experience. Do whatever you can to avoid cliché when it comes to what you gained from your community service. Make it as specific to you and your experience as possible.
  • Focus on something small and apply it to a larger lesson. Don’t talk about your community service as a whole, but rather focus on one goal you accomplished, one personal interaction you had or one hurdle you overcame either individually or as a group.
  • Remember, you have a lot of things that you can choose to write about when it comes to your personal essays in your applications. Community service is really just one of them, and if you want to write about your community service, you should keep in mind the question, “What kind of community service can help my application stand out?” The answer is community service that displays your real passions, sustained commitments, community engagement as well as your diversity, ethical and emotional awareness. If you believe you have a genuine story related to one or more of these, your community service could be a great topic for a personal essay. If you do not, you may want to consider other topics to cover in your essays.

Community service examples

To finish up what we hope has been a really helpful breakdown for you, we wanted to list some of the most popular forms of community service that we have seen high school students pursue as an extracurricular activity.

Remember, you should be looking for forms of community service that fit your interests and passions first and foremost, and there are many more options out there than just the ones we are going to list. This is simply to help you get the ball rolling!

  • Volunteer at a teen crisis center
  • Volunteer with an animal rescue
  • Plan and host a charity event
  • Work with the elderly and “adopt” a grandparent
  • Volunteer for an environmental research and biological data foundation
  • Build with Habitat for Humanity
  • Organize a blood or plasma drive
  • Clean up your town
  • Share your skills in an after-school program
  • Hold a supply drive
  • Bring awareness to a cause in your community
  • Mentor the less fortunate
  • Raise charity through 5k races
  • Organize a reading hour for underserved children

Choose your community service with AdmissionSight

If you entered this blog post with the question, “Is community service important on college applications?” we sincerely hope that you have had it answered for you! However, just because you now know how and why community service can help you get into top schools does not necessarily mean that you know which community service options to choose. If you’re curious about additional community service options or want to learn more about how to find the right volunteer opportunity to fit with your interests and passions, contact AdmissionSight today to schedule a free consultation.



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