Making Community Service Meaningful
by Dr. Trama - Monday, April 9th, 2012 College Preparation & Planning

A friend from Maryland sent me this article about community service in public high schools. Unlike other states, Maryland requires that high school students complete 75 hours of community service, or service-learning experiences, to graduate. As most colleges have sent out their admissions decisions, it’s far too late for Maryland seniors to do community service for college consideration. At the same time, it made me reflect on why colleges value community service, and how your son or daughter can use it to improve his resume.

Activities that fall under the label “community service” can be quite broad, but there are a few things you can do to leverage your experience:

Make Community Service about Your Community

Community service is about much more than just service, or even sacrifice. Community service is about strengthen the place you live. Every community, no matter how deprived or privileged, has both something to offer and something to give. If your child needs ideas about how he or she can help your community, encourage him or her to ask teachers, religious leaders, or even friends and family.

One thing to avoid is the community service trip outside the U.S, especially if it is not organized with a local group. There’s nothing wrong with working in a homeless shelter in Ireland, or giving out vaccines in Fiji. The problem is that many colleges view these trips as doing nothing to strengthen your local community, and they may assume these are just an excuse to vacation. It’s best to avoid this kind of trip altogether.

Focus on Something You Enjoy

I get several students every year who feel community service should be about sacrifice. That’s a noble thought, but think about it this way: if you are doing something you do not enjoy, will you give it your best effort?

Finding an activity the student enjoys is the best way to ensure they find it meaningful and can communicate that meaning to colleges. Does your son or daughter like being around the elderly? Play Bingo with them. Is he or she passionate about conservation? Prevent soil erosion at a local stream.

Describe what Lasting Impact You Had

Colleges love to see results, and describing results of your service will make you a more attractive candidate. This may scare some students who may not understand what colleges mean by impact. Some students may feel they have to start a charity or rebuild a school to have any impact. The truth is that impact can be defined in a number of ways. For instance, if a student volunteers handing out cookies at a Red Cross blood drive, he will have a major impact just by making someone smile, and making the experience all the more pleasurable. If your child has trouble describing what his impact was, ask the immediate supervisor. Chances are that supervisor will provide insight into your child’s impact.

Far from being a mere requirement for college, community service can be both meaningful and fun. What’s important to remember is that colleges are looking for meaning in any service. Staying within your community, enjoying the service, and providing an idea of results is a winning strategy for leveraging your college experience.

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