Why Community Service Matters On College Apps

Trying to impress the admissions board of the college or university of your choice? Actively serving your community is one way to do it and, in some instances, may actually be the asterisk that makes your name stand out among other candidates. A recent survey of 264 college admissions officials was conducted by research firm Interactive Educational Systems Design Inc. on behalf of x2VOL, a community service tracking platform for grade school students and high schoolers. The Survey Research and Analysis on the Role of Student Community Service in Higher Education Admissions report shows that while GPA, standardized test scores, and crafting a great college essay are all important, 58% of surveyed admissions officials concur that community service experience has a positive impact on an applicant’s acceptance. Further, 53% said community service can actually be a tie-breaker when students are up against other applicants with similar credentials and qualifications.

WHAT COMMUNITY SERVICE SAYS ABOUT YOU

The whys behind community service being a differentiator on college applications may not be what you think. According to this survey, service work can differentiate a candidate not simply because it shows students care about others or demonstrates their leadership capabilities — although, undoubtedly, these are honorable traits to have. Rather, it’s an indicator of being socially engaged. More specifically, survey participants said the top reason is that it’s an indication students will be active in social life outside of the classroom.

Other top reasons that service proved to be significant? It shows applicants are likely to contribute to an institution’s mission if they become a student and, third, because service involvement indicates that applicants share the same values as the institutions they are seeking to get into.

SIXTY-TWO PERCENT OF ADMISSIONS PROS SAY THEY’D VALUE A RECORD OF COMMUNITY SERVICE ACTIVITIES WITH THOUGHTFUL REFLECTIONS  

In other words, for admissions pros, it’s all about the fit.

Michele Pitman, CEO and founder of intelliVOL, which is the creator of the tracking platform x2VOL, says she launched the service because she believes the future of admissions is colleges requiring a record of applicants’ community involvement just as they do transcripts to verify GPA and SAT scores. “More and more colleges are looking for ways to get a clearer picture of a student’s fit at their school,” she says.

Per the responses to other questions asked in the recent survey, Pitman’s hunch may be on target. When asked if they prefer an authenticated record of student’s service activities, participants gave mixed responses, however, 62% said they would value such a record along with reflections from applicants about their service experience.

Finally, the survey results show some differences between private and public colleges and universities when it comes to the value of community service work. Admissions staff from private four-year institutions were more likely to have positive opinions about student community service and its relationship to admissions compared to admissions staff from public four-year schools. More than 60% of respondents from private institutions agreed with three of the survey’s four rating statements about the value of service. The indication here being that private schools may be more likely to be driven by a mission and core values, causing them to have more interest in students’ community involvement.

MIXED RESPONSES FROM UNDERGRADUATE BIZ PROGRAMS

For undergraduate business programs, the value placed on community service for admissions seems mixed.

At the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where one of the school’s core values centers on community, students’ involvement in community initiatives isn’t explicitly asked during admissions interviews nor is it prompted on the admissions essay, but officials say they are listening for it. “At the MBA level, we debated whether we should ask about these things directly,” says Lisa Beisser, the senior associate director of Admissions for the business school’s undergraduate program. “We don’t really want to feed answers to them and if we ask, then everyone is going to create a response. To which students is this important enough to who they are that it comes out unprompted? That’s the direction we’ve decided to take for undergrad. We’re listening to see which students have done their research to know this is one of our core values and will take the initiative to speak about it.”

Even still, some say community service doesn’t impact higher ed admissions.

Associate Dean Lynn Muller, who heads up undergraduate admissions for the Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business says, “While we highly encourage community service, it doesn’t weigh into the admissions process.”

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