Community Service: Quality v. Quantity

As admissions experts, we are often asked, “How many hours of community service is enough?” It’s crucial to understand that community service is not about the quantity of hours spent, but rather the quality of those hours you’ve devoted. Some high schools require students to participate in a certain amount of service. In some cases it is required in order to graduate! Therefore your 100 hours may be seen as more or less impressive than another student’s 100 hours, depending on your high school’s requirements and the resources available to you.

Admissions committees pay attention to what you have done with your service time and how you have used the opportunity to better yourself and make an impact in your community. Your enthusiasm for certain subjects or activities should extend to all aspects of your life, therefore providing a full picture of who you are to admissions officers. Through your application, admissions officers should be able to recognize your unique personality as reflected in your community service, extracurricular activities, essays, and course selections. We’ve got some tips to help you go beyond the obvious opportunities, such as those at a local soup kitchen or community center.

If you are a freshman or sophomore, you may not know which activities interest you the most yet. Now is a great time to test the waters! Explore the different options available to you and don’t be afraid to get creative and think up your own opportunities. Many organizations are appreciative of assistance and you may be able to create a project that is entirely your own. As time goes by, it’s possible you’ll want to continue on with these organizations, or you might find that your interests lie elsewhere. Remember, you don’t have to join every community organization that is available to you. In addition to potentially stressing you out, this can illustrate a lack of focus and self-awareness.

We encourage students to find an organization or activity that excites them. If your school requires a certain number of service hours, it’s easy to go above and beyond if you look forward to your volunteering. When you are excited about the impact of your efforts, it becomes a part of who you are! The key is to demonstrate that you are helping out for the sake of doing good and making a difference, not just to fulfill a requirement.

As you progress to your junior and senior year, you should have a refined list of extracurricular and service activities. It’s important to show how your interests extend beyond the walls of your school. For example, if you love to dance, volunteer to teach dance classes at a center for at-risk teens. Or, start your own community service drive; organize a group of friends to go around your town and collect winter clothes or canned goods to donate to the local soup kitchen. Does science spark your interest? Use your spring break to help with the beach cleanup in the Gulf or volunteer at the local health clinic. As time goes by, offer to take on additional responsibilities and leadership roles within the volunteer organization. Your service work may even lead to an extra letter of recommendation! Don’t forget to let your teachers and school counselor know what you are doing outside of class. By knowing more about you, they too can write better and more thorough recommendations.

Admissions officers look for “angular” students, or specialists. It is their job to create well-rounded student bodies out of individual applicants. Staying true to your interests is key, both to demonstrate your strong sense of self as well as ambition. If admissions readers see the depth of your interests both in and out of the classroom, they will better understand who you are as a person and the impact you will make on their campus.

The take-away: when it comes to community service, quality over quantity reigns true.

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