Making Community Service More Meaningful

College admissions counselors across the country have joined forces to create a new report titled Turning the Tide. The report brings into question many of the current norms that exist throughout the college process, starting with the moment kids enter high school when they begin deciding which classes to take, which clubs to join, which service projects to take part in. And of course, all of these decisions are motivated by the same, largely unanswerable, yet still all-important question: will this help my application?

In attempting to reform the college application process, the report isolates three areas in which admissions officers across the country seek change:

  1. Socioeconomic equality among all applicants

  2. A decrease in unnecessary academic stress for many students nationwide

  3. More authentic community service endeavors

While all three of these areas are of vital importance to shifting the way students apply to schools, perhaps the area most easily affected by the applicants themselves is the third shift listed: how can students make their community service experiences more meaningful? Luckily, the report lays out what admissions offices view as a more authentic community service experience. 


This first section of the report’s suggestions emphasizes that students must be engaged in community service in some long-term capacity. Seeing long lists of 1-day food drives, homeless shelters, and cancer walks does not impress admissions officers. They are looking for community service that an applicant has been involved with throughout their high school experience, perhaps earlier, and will hopefully plan on continuing even after the college process is over. 
The second part of this section, however, emphasizes that the service must be meaningful. Anyone could go volunteer somewhere, but officers want applicants to paint a picture for them. Why did you get involved in this area specifically? What does it mean to you? What has compelled you to continue with this service for so long? They want to see a personal connection between the applicant and the service they are providing. 


This section goes into the types of community service that are perhaps more impactful not only on an application, but more importantly in real life. The community service that officers like to see involves an applicant who is working on a team or with a community to combat a problem that affects an entire community. Ideally, the applicant can also show the tangible impact of the work that they are doing. Not to say that all community service does not have a meaningful impact, but officers want to applicants getting involved with teams of people who are trying to combat problems bigger than themselves.


Officers want applicants getting involved with people outside of their own circles and communities. They want applicants to interact with people of different backgrounds than themselves. This way applicants are not only impacting lives beyond their own communities, but they are expanding their worldview at the same time to understand the hardships of those outside of the bubbles in which they live.


Essentially, the community service shouldn’t only be impacting the people for which the service is being provided. There should be some kind of shift in the applicant as well. Colleges don’t like to see community service for the sake of community service. Aside from it simply being a good practice to give your time to others in need, officers want to see students who have been impacted by the service they have provided. Perhaps they can brings their experiences to campus and introduce a new club to campus, or maybe just a new way of approaching a problem. Who knows. In any case, if the applicant feels personally affected by the work they’ve done, that is perhaps the best demonstration of the value of such community service, the best demonstration that the time you have supposedly put into this service was really, actually, genuinely AUTHENTIC.