Preparing for College

How to Start a Community Service Project

Question: I understand that college application people like service projects, especially ones that students start themselves. I live in the Southeast, in a small town, so there aren't many opportunities. How do I start a service project on my own?

Admission officials are always pleased to see that students have given time to others, but, frankly, "community service" has become such an application imperative that it doesn't carry the clout that it used to. Thus, I advise students to take on projects that genuinely engage them and not merely those that they feel might "look good" on paper. If nothing comes to mind, your time might be better spent working at the Waffle House or Piggly Wiggly (which looks good on applications, too!)


Starting a project by yourself just takes a bit of imagination. It could involve other teens, participants from a range of age groups, or it could be something you do entirely on your own. What do you enjoy? What are your talents? I recently asked this question of a high school junior girl, and she said that she has fun making playlists for her friends on their computers so that they can download the songs on their iPods, burn CD's, or simply listen to their favorite music at home, right on the computer. So I thought of my mother, who is 83. She has a computer and keeps in touch with her friends via e-mail, but--beyond that--her tech skills are almost nonexistent. She likes music, but many of the CD's she owns include only a couple songs that she especially loves.

So, I suggested that this student might want to start a Playlist Project. She could offer to make playlists for area seniors or shut-ins, enabling those with computers to easily access all of their favorite music. She could even burn CD's for them, as well.

Never mind the playlists, even teaching senior citizens how to get around a computer would be a huge favor, too. Many, like my mother, have only the most rudimentary knowledge and would appreciate learning how to do a Google search or to spend their kids' inheritance on eBay. :-)

So that's the kind of easy-to-initiate, think-outside-the box project that might work for you. Even in your small town, there are bound to be opportunities to help others, if you are creative and keep your eyes open. You don't have to think big. Perhaps start doing something on your own, like the computer project mentioned above, and then--if it takes off--you can recruit friends or schoolmates to join in.

Anything you do to give your time to others should be a plus on your college applications, but, when admission officials spot real initiative there, as well as volunteer pursuits that have ties to other interests or experience listed elsewhere in the application, it often prompts them to shove that application a little closer to the "In" pile.