Many high schools put a strong emphasis on community service and encourage their students to participate in campus-wide events to serve those in need. However, the purpose of community service is to understand how we, as high schoolers, can do our part and make our community better. Many students, especially in Asian countries, think they must do impressive large-scale projects–traveling to different cities and countries–so they can add these experiences to their college application and impress admissions officers. Sorry to break the news, but let me tell you why this could potentially jeopardize your chance of getting into your dream schools.
According to Merriam-Webster, “community” is defined as either a) the people with common interests living in a particular area, or b) a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together. The keyword here is “together,” meaning you should start from helping your own community, those who share the same interests or qualities at the same place.
That being said, the last thing you should do is flying all the way to a rural village in Vietnam just to build houses for a week and leave. This experience could appear impressive on paper, but what admissions officers see is that you only
Long Term Effort
Using the village example again, another bad thing about it is that you only committed a short period of time to this project. You flew over, built houses, helped the locals, and that’s it. What next? Have you actually started planning you next trip back—as opposed to writing “I wish I’ll come back again” in your essay? What colleges see is that your effort is unsustainable because you’re giving the villagers a fish rather than teaching them how to fish.
A better community service experience would be helping an organization in your local community over the a long period. It’s okay if your contribution is as simple as volunteering at events because what colleges care about is your ability to contribute throughout a long period. For instance, I joined a club where we would head down to an elementary school twice a week to tutor students for an hour. It’s certainly not as impressive as building a house, but I did it for 3 years, that’s more than 200 hours total!
Community Service vs. Volunteering
This is a clarification because a lot of people confuse these two terms. First of all, community service doesn’t have to be volunteering; it can be paid services as long as the community is benefitted through your assistance. Community service means helping others that may need your help, so if you are capable of doing that, it counts.
On the other hand, volunteering can be community service but doesn’t have to be. Volunteering can be broadly defined as spending something you have (i.e. time and attention) without receiving money or other forms of compensation in return.
Ultimately, the type of community service doesn’t matter. Colleges are about you and your characters. When you fill out you college app, try to answer the following questions: What have you learned from these community service experiences? What specific incidents shaped your values and personality? How will you continue to influence others with things you’ve learned?