College applicants have always sought ways to make positive impressions on admission committees. Outstanding grades, high SAT or ACT scores, outstanding athleticism (if blessed with the talent) and holding leadership positions in high school are all excellent ways to do so.
However, more and more colleges and universities are looking for evidence of social skills — volunteering, leadership, political involvement or community service — in addition to scholastic skills. From the institution’s perspective, its goal has expanded to include not just graduating a student educated in their desired subject, but to shaping a well-rounded graduate who contributes to society. A history of volunteerism on a student’s application is one indication that they already consider themselves a citizen of a community.
Benefits of Volunteering and Community Service
There are also enormous benefits to performing regular volunteer work or community service aside from impressing a college admissions counselor. Personal benefits come with exposure to new people and new situations, a type of cultural exposure impossible to replicate in the classroom. Empathy, appreciation and generosity are new personal attributes that volunteers often unconsciously adopt during their service. The community also benefits from the volunteer service, whether it is as small as a single nursing home or as large as the country. Each act of community service, every hour spent with one’s attention directed toward someone else is like another stitch in the fabric of a community: it strengthens bonds, is inclusive and minimizes the concept of “them.”
The Benefits of Volunteering Abroad
For many years, different religious organizations have offered their younger members the opportunity to volunteer abroad. Membership in that particular church, however, is usually a requirement for such an excursion. Many private organizations have developed to fill the needs of high school students who are seeking exposure to another culture, a volunteer experience to fill in on a college application and an enjoyable adventure. Typically based during the summer months when most US schools are not in session, these organizations offer trips all over the world and often include a specialization in volunteer service, such as medical care or renewable resources. Trips last as little as 10 days or as long as six weeks, depending upon the organization and its mission. They may require parental assistance or significant work on the part of the student to save money for the trip.
Bring It Back Home
When you participate in these volunteer activities, keep in mind that college admission committees are looking for evidence of real community service work. Your two-week “service adventure” to Costa Rica can be easily dismissed as a vacation if you are unable to demonstrate what you did there, as well as that you have continued volunteers activities upon your arrival home.
Volunteering is more than an opportunity to make a positive impression on college admissions departments; it’s also a way to explore the world, learn from new cultures and perform enriching public service. Volunteering is a great way to gain as much as you give.