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Articles / Applying to College / Admissions Impact of Community-Service Hours?

Oct. 2, 2008

Admissions Impact of Community-Service Hours?

Question How important are service hours in the eyes of an admissions officer? I have over 650 service hours, and I was wondering if that would help tilt the odds in my favor.

Colleges are interested in students who use their time outside of school in a productive way, and helping others is usually high on that list of worthwhile endeavors. However, admission officials--especially at the highly selective schools--are most interested in undertakings that are atypical or in students who seem to be truly passionate about a community service cause rather than in the number of hours a student has accrued. In the past decade or so, community service seems to have evolved into such an application imperative that racking up service hours has become a key component in the college admissions "arms race." Thus admission officials do whatever they can (and with varying degrees of success) to peer beyond the hours listed and see what the student has really accomplished and why. Admittedly, a lot of admission folks see so much service on applications that they've become rather jaded and may not do all that they could--and should--be doing to distinguish between the applicants who are truly committed to their volunteer work and those who are just going through the motions because it "looks good."


So, as you complete your applications, try to give admission officials a clear picture of what you've been doing during your many service hours, but don't count on your efforts to set you apart from the crowd because--it most cases--they won't.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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