Colleges expect to see some number of community service hours. It really doesn’t matter how many hours exactly. They will also know how many hours of service is required for graduation from your high school. So if your high school requires 50 hours of community service and you have exactly 50 hours, they will know it. Keep that in mind.
What is more important than the number of hours to college admissions is the impact you are making on your community, what you have done, why you are doing it, and what you are getting out of it (how participating in this service activity has affected you.) You should be able to answer these questions. Community service that showcases the best vision of who you are will include commitment, passion, and leadership.
Commitment to one organization or type of service. Most admissions officers would rather see something long term over the course of time rather than a quick one-week volunteering in another country. That’s not to discourage other country volunteering, far from it. All volunteering should be because you want to do it and have a passion or reason for doing it, not that it will ‘look good’ on an application. Believe me, admissions officers know when a student is simply ‘resume packing.’ Long term commitment to a community service project or organization shows the college what you can accomplish over the long term. They would rather see that, rather than a long list of volunteer activities with just a few hours in each. This commitment is also an indicator of college success. Think about it from their perspective. If you can commit to focusing on something during high school you are more likely to commit and focus in college. It’s best if they can see that commitment from the early years of high school. What’s most important is that they can see that you’ve made a difference in your community and in your own growth and maturity.
Passion in a community service activity relates to something you care about or have more than a passing interest in. If you have a passion or interest for something look for ways you can serve others there. It’s a way for you to learn more about it, and a great way to show you care. Be able to talk about why you care about this topic.
You can show Leadership by managing others and being in charge of an activity or by motivating others.
As with any activity, community service included, colleges want to see how you’ve made the activity better than when you found it. Simply being a member who only shows up occasionally has never been enough. And it shouldn’t be. In life, even the bench warmer should aspire to get in the game and participate. It doesn’t mean you have to be the president of the club or lead the organizations 5k fundraiser. There are plenty of leadership roles that don’t have a title.
You should be able to articulate how your volunteer work has made a difference, both to others and to yourself. How can you know what difference you are making? The answer won’t likely become evident immediately but over time it may become obvious. As yourself, who is better off because of your work, and why.
For example, you may think volunteer teaching Ballroom dance to high school students has no impact other than simply being a fun activity. But Ballroom dance teaches self-respect, trust, and respect of others. It brings together students from different walks of life who would never have spoken to each other to become friends united by their love of the sport.
Understand why the work you’ve done is important and how you’ve made an impact.
And what experience have You gained? Not just leadership, but how have you matured or developed, perhaps in your understanding of those you are helping as a result of your community service.
Most teens would not think about going out of their way to find community service opportunities without it being a high school graduation requirement. But remember the real purpose is to develop you into a caring contributing member of society.
What community service opportunities are already available in your area? What need do you see not being met that you can organize and fill?
And parents: There's no need to wait until your child is in high school to instill a love of service.
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