Do College Admissions Boards Really Care?
Published: April 30, 2015
By: Mandee Heller Adler
Although grades and test scores are what colleges look at first, volunteer work is important because it shows a college that a student is compassionate, involved, and well-rounded. Community service is also said to be growing importance among admissions officers. A 2011 survey conducted by DoSomething.org ranked it number four in importance of factors considered for admission, above reference letters, interviews, and legacy.
To really impress admissions officers, students need to show dedication to a cause. Rising to a position of leadership is important. Wanting a significant role in an organization shows that the student cares and that their colleagues trust them enough to either elect them or promote them to such a position.
Tips and Tactics for Volunteering
- Start as a freshman or sophomore. The more time a student dedicates to community service, the better it looks on college applications.
- Find activities within the volunteer work to demonstrate organizational, leadership, and teamwork skills. Find community service opportunities that build on these skills.
- Find something that aligns with a potential chosen major. Colleges like to see volunteer work that aligns with a student’s major. This will also make the work both more enjoyable and interesting. And if a student does not find it to be enjoyable and interesting, it may be a sign that a student may want to look at other majors.
- Ask around for excellent volunteering opportunities. Counselors, family members, and community leaders may have good ideas for a student on what they can do for their neighborhood.
- Commit to a few activities over time. Colleges are looking for quality, not quantity. Sticking with a few causes demonstrates commitment and interest.
- Consider starting your own charity or volunteer project.
- Do not just seek to join an already established volunteering project, be proactive to identify a need, and fulfill it.
Showcase Community Service Projects in the Best Way Possible
Students need to make sure they position their volunteer activities to their greatest advantage.
- Show WHY a particular issue was chosen, WHAT goals were trying to be achieved and describe HOW those goals were achieved.
- Have a long list of causes? Consider dedicating one essay to explaining how all those issues actually fit together under one larger theme like “poverty” or “human rights.”
- Get personal and focus on how the student changed as a result of their experience(s), rather than just outlining what was done, how many hours, etc. For example, did a student experience a change in world view as a result of their community service?
- Use specific language that can be more effective: Words like “commitment,” “leadership,” “initiative,” and “passion” should be used instead of “required,” “mandatory” and “brief.” Also good words: “engaged,” “meaningful” and “transform.”
The right match of volunteer work can help a student meet new friends, get involved in the community, learn new skills, explore careers, expand their network, and give them an advantage on their college application.
Mandee Heller Adler is the founder and CEO of International College Counselors, one of the world’s largest college admission counseling companies, and author of From Public School to the Ivy League: How to get into a top school without top dollar resources. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with honors and two degrees before receiving an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.