Preparing for College

Admissions Impact of Community-Service Hours?

Question How important are service hours in the eyes of an admissions officer? I have over 650 service hours, and I was wondering if that would help tilt the odds in my favor.

Colleges are interested in students who use their time outside of school in a productive way, and helping others is usually high on that list of worthwhile endeavors. However, admission officials--especially at the highly selective schools--are most interested in undertakings that are atypical or in students who seem to be truly passionate about a community service cause rather than in the number of hours a student has accrued. In the past decade or so, community service seems to have evolved into such an application imperative that racking up service hours has become a key component in the college admissions "arms race." Thus admission officials do whatever they can (and with varying degrees of success) to peer beyond the hours listed and see what the student has really accomplished and why. Admittedly, a lot of admission folks see so much service on applications that they've become rather jaded and may not do all that they could--and should--be doing to distinguish between the applicants who are truly committed to their volunteer work and those who are just going through the motions because it "looks good."


So, as you complete your applications, try to give admission officials a clear picture of what you've been doing during your many service hours, but don't count on your efforts to set you apart from the crowd because--it most cases--they won't.