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Articles / Applying to College / Is Lack of Community Service an Ivy Deal-Breaker?

Dec. 29, 2012

Is Lack of Community Service an Ivy Deal-Breaker?

Question: I live in the United Arab Emirate. I go to international schools and I am an A student but I don't do community service because we have none. Do I have a chance of getting into an Ivy?

While admission officials are always interested in attracting applicants who are not only strong students but also good community members, community service is not an admissions imperative, regardless of where you live or what the grapevine tells you.


College officials realize that, while some students take on volunteer activities because they truly want to help others, many students do so because it’s a requirement at their school or because they think it “looks good” on college applications … or both. So, not surprisingly, while admission committees can be wowed by applicants who have made an atypical commitment to a worthwhile cause, they are not going to base an admission verdict on the number of hours that a candidate has devoted to a hospital or homeless shelter.

In fact, “The Dean” has become increasingly irked by teenagers (and even adults) who seem to believe that volunteer hours = considerate person. In my old age, I’ve gotten rather cynical about that. Even here on College Confidential, I cringe when I see students boasting about their community service commitments in one post and then being unkind to other members in subsequent ones. So I’d like to believe that admission folks, too, don’t automatically equate “good deed” with “good guy.”

Finally, keep in mind that “community service” need not be an organized endeavor, so there is no such thing as having none available to you. If you babysit for a sick neighbor who needs a break, if you go grocery shopping for an elderly family friend, if you spend a Saturday picking up rubbish around your school or at a public park, this is all “community service,” even if it’s not an ongoing activity or part of a formal program.

So, I hope you are doing kind deeds for others, whether or not they end up on your applications. But rest assured that, if you aren’t admitted to your top-choice colleges, it won’t be because of the lack of community service on your record.

(posted 12/29/2012)

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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