For college admissions, students shouldn’t consider community service an easy option
There are two types of people who do not complete community service in high school. First, they are either too focused on themselves or ignorant of what it takes to create a competitive and well-rounded extracurricular profile for college admissions.
Second, some students are so ambitious for college that they pursue what they see as the latest competitive strategy. In the process, they deny their own authenticity and, believing themselves to be strategic in dismissing community service as a fashionable activity, construct an extracurricular profile that reflects no part of their true identity.
In the second case, what appear to be good intentions – ignoring community service for the mere fact of doing it and developing a new, sharp resume – misses the mark in the same way. These students reveal that they only think in terms of means and ends and gravitate toward extracurriculars that are simply uninteresting.
By approaching service in this way, these students mistakenly view community service and volunteer initiatives as a tool for college admission and not as a pathway to personal growth. Simply helping others get in or gain scholarship funds shouldn’t be the goal.
It is important to see and accept service also for yourself, not just for others. But education consultants would recommend that students see it first as an avenue for personal growth, not a necessary component of a successful college application.
Ethos of volunteering
Community service is not so much a predefined activity but rather a spirit. Philosophically speaking, it is the orientation of the self towards a goal or a vision that extends beyond the mere self. Colleges seek those who will advance the progress of the world in everything they do, which starts with a mind but requires perspective.
The spirit and perspective of striving for college at the cost of identity, all for what appears to be a competitive endeavor, is not a quality that colleges and universities look for in prospective students. These institutions use the holistic admissions process to determine individuals whose authenticity is desired on campus.
Admissions counselors quickly identify those who are not genuine in their applications and subsequently reject them. And even if successful in admission, these students will end up being cheated and without a positive notion of identity.
The paradox of approaching the service authentically and not just for college admissions is that it will absolutely help you through college. It’s all in the story. The story of the service opportunity or community initiative or volunteer experience should be organic. Maybe a student stumbles across it at school, or through a family contact, or through an advertisement or communication.
A student may approach or found an organization for the benefit of a community or initiative that has intrinsic value to the student. In any event, inauthentic community service is what is cliché: what has already been done or what is supposed to be done.
Parachuting into a community to “serve” when the student has no prior connection to that community; offering money or resources without thinking too much behind the gesture. And contributing to the lives of the less fortunate in an insensitive or exploitative way are all indications of superficial service that certainly does not significantly enrich the student.
A secondary component of this authenticity is duration. Students who complete an activity once are not viewed as favorably as those who continue the activity after the first time. True dedication is, in some ways, a sacrifice: of time, energy and resources.
A single day of charity work is commendable to some extent, but not a great contribution. Offering a matinee every Saturday for years demonstrates a stronger commitment to a cause. College admissions are much more impressed with the latter.
In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there is a limited service-oriented apparatus, but some students have taken advantage of existing organizational opportunities. A student served at a stray dog shelter and paper drives, after noticing the two were underserved yet pervasive in his community.
Another expanded the reach of an existing collective at her school, striving to expand the mission and reach previously underserved communities. A third rallied other students from her school to contribute to a campaign that had in the past directly supported her younger brother.
Sometimes the initiative does not yet exist and enterprising students take ownership of it. A student conducted an energy audit of homes in his neighborhood using guidelines he learned during an internship, then created plans for the homes to conserve energy and reduce energy bills.
Another raised money for students in crisis in her home region, which had recently been badly hit by political unrest. A third used his technical skills to automate certain tasks of an organization and contribute to the mission by digitizing resources.
Appreciate this effort
It is perfectly acceptable to know that your service activity deserves admission to the university. It is also acceptable to do favors for yourself. The main reason, however, is to value the effort and yourself enough to commit to something you love and can offer some of your uniqueness to.
In the end, those who serve only for college admissions do not allow themselves to benefit. Whether formalizing summer plans or planning for the school year, students would be advised by educational consultants to be both productive and self-reliant.
After all, shouldn’t life’s most rewarding experiences make everyone better?