How Get into Your Dream College

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Nancy Paul

By May 1, which is National Deposit Day, students will have officially committed to which college they will attend in the fall.

Graduating high school seniors (and their parents) are breathing a sigh of relief right now as the college decision-making process is over.

Families of high school juniors, meanwhile, are keenly aware that college applications are just around the corner. They are busy strategizing about what they can still do to become more desirable to colleges and scholarship judges. This includes scheduling test preparation to raise SAT and ACT scores, planning college visits, meeting with college counselors, and researching options for meaningful activities to enhance the student’s resume.

Community service can add impact to college admissions and enable a student to qualify for more merit scholarships – money for college awarded for achievement.  Thankfully, there are an endless variety of volunteer projects to suit a wide range of interests and ages.  With less homework and fewer commitments, students can often devote more time to volunteering during the summer.  This means making a bigger contribution and enjoying the feeling of improving our world in a more significant way.

Community service is a worthwhile activity for all ages.

“Giving back” provides a sense of belonging, purpose, and accomplishment.  In addition, community service has an increased amount of value for college-bound teens.

Students who demonstrate a deep involvement in a few community service projects over an extended period of time can dramatically impact the number of college acceptance letters and merit scholarships that they receive. Admissions officers and scholarship judges reward sincere, consistent, long-term community service. They know that students who begin to volunteer during their senior year are usually only giving of themselves to get something in return. This can backfire!

What is the best community service project?

It is the one the student is passionate about. A genuine interest in the chosen activity keeps students motivated to stay involved, creates a sense of purpose, develops leadership skills, and can help pinpoint college majors and career goals. Ideally, the student will begin volunteering as a high school freshman, or even sooner.

Passion not only keeps students engaged, but it also provides the best topics for college admissions and scholarship essays, sparks intellectual curiosity, and allows a student to stand out. There are certainly many other worthwhile activities where a student’s commitment can lead to more acceptance letters and merit aid, such as music, dance, sports, art, research, scouting, and debate. Again, the key is to be passionate and continue searching until the student finds something they truly want to invest their time and energy into.

Ultimately, colleges want to know how a student will contribute to their community once on campus. Community service demonstrates a student’s willingness to help others and reveals one’s interests, values, and leadership skills. A student’s volunteer involvements and other activities are particularly important to colleges that take a holistic approach to admissions, which means that a student is evaluated as a “whole package,” rather than strictly on GPA and standardized test scores.

Additionally, many merit scholarships are based on community service.

In fact, there are many more private merit scholarships offered for community service than there are for academic accomplishments.  Some colleges also offer merit aid for community service, especially if the student’s volunteer activities are in their intended field of study.

Furthermore, students can often weave their community service achievements into essays that do not directly ask about volunteering. For example, questions revolving around an important life lesson, a favorite activity, or leadership skills are all well-suited to a discussion about the student’s community service accomplishments.

Everyone can succeed at community service and enjoy the many benefits of helping make our world a better place. Some hard-working students simply will not excel on the SAT, ACT or AP Chemistry, for example, no matter how many hours they prepare or how much their parents invest in tutoring.  Community service can make a student with lower scores more desirable to colleges.

It is never too early to start volunteering.

Parents who volunteer with their young children serve as role models for the importance of helping others. Some of my favorite memories involve picking weeds at a school with my daughters, collecting handkerchiefs for the elderly when I was ten, and serving Thanksgiving dinner to autistic children with my grandmother.

Parents, volunteering with your young children can give them a head start on college and on life as they experience the wonders of helping others and enjoy quality family time all at once.