Community Service and Elite College Admissions

How much are elite schools really focusing on community service and volunteering?

Can you get into a great college without having done community service? Ivy Admissions counselor Bev Taylor takes a look.

Why is it that parents and students think that community service is a factor in admissions? Why is it that students feel that it's necessary to add up their community service hours?

Colleges are looking to form well-rounded classes of talented students. What they're most certainly not looking for is well-rounded students with no particular exceptional talent or passion area. If admissions counselors expected everyone who applies to their college to have community service, then they wouldn't have a well-rounded and diverse class of talented students. Instead, they would have a class of students who are only community service minded.

Certainly the bassoon player who devotes 30 hours a week to playing the bassoon doesn't have time to devote to community service. And neither does the swimmer who goes a :51 for the 100 yard back because it takes a whole lot of work and a whole lot of talent to swim a 51 second 100 backstroke. After all, that's four laps of backstroke in well under a minute! To do this, this student likely doesn't have time to devote to a host of community service organizations. And this student doesn't need to devote time to community service organizations to gain admission into a highly selective college. He just doesn't!

Here's something that Jeff Brenzel, the Dean of Admissions at Yale, once said: "We neither privilege nor ignore community service. The thing we are looking for outside the classroom is not a series of checkboxes on a resume; we're looking instead for a high level of engagement or leadership in whatever it is that the student cares about most."

Read what Mr. Brenzel so wisely stated again. At Yale, like at all of the highly selective colleges, they're looking not for a series of checkboxes on a resume but rather a high level of commitment and leadership in an activity the student is passionate about. In fact, Mr. Brenzel goes on to say, "For some students, community service is at the forefront of their extracurriculars, in which case we pay a lot of attention to what they have accomplished in that area. For other students, some other passion or interest holds primary sway, and we evaluate the engagement in that area."

So, no, community service is by no means a prerequisite to gaining admission to a highly selective college. And if anyone tells you otherwise -- as they so often do -- they're wrong and you should ignore them accordingly. You have my permission.**

This article was originally published on The Ivy Coach Blog.

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