Elements of the Application – Community Service

Extracurriculars – Community Service

Now let me get something clear. There is quite a big difference between Community Service and Extracurriculars. Community Service gets you NOWHERE. The Summer Reading Program at the local library? You worked with old people or the poor? Wow. That’s amazing. You are doing things that take so much skill and talent. Now, I’m not saying that these humanitarian feats are bad in any way. Yes, people should help each other. But spending a couple hours at a soup kitchen or wasting the whole summer away at the library really isn’t worth it for college applications. OH WAIT OH WAIT! What if I can write about a life-changing experience helping the poor? Yes! I love cliche essays. This is probably one of the most misguided parts of the college application that most people talk about. Many say you need 1000000+ hours of community service, when in actuality you only need a decent amount (maybe 100-300 hours over four years). I mean, community service shows you’re a nice person, but as we all know, niceness does not equate with success – which is what colleges want above all else.

Personally, over the course of four years, I spent very little time on community service. But the one project that I was involved with was a unique experience (involving the designing and execution of a massive community mural coupled with the art instruction of underprivileged elementary school students), in which I was literally the only high school student involved (and the importance of which I blew up in my essay). The total project commitment was only for half a summer and ~50 hours. While I also spent some time working in the library, I feel as though that experience was insignificant in comparison. The point is, you don’t constantly need MORE hours… find some work that means something to you, sounds important/unique, and that ties in well with the interests you have specified in the rest of your application.

There is a point, however, when community service transitions into something bigger.
Say you work at an elderly home for 300+ hours and you get to know and build strong relationships with some of the people nearby. You now devote more time to helping the elderly through some project – whether it’s an internship with an Alzheimer’s researcher, etc. This shows a lifelong commitment and interest in the humanitarian cause. So unless you’re ready to put down this kind of effort, don’t even bother wasting your time volunteering. Your volunteer work should be a sincere, intellectual extension of your interests, rather than a “number-crunching” device – which your SAT/APs/GPA already fill.

Next up is clubs, clubs, and more clubs.