Preparing for College

Is Lack of Community Service an Ivy Deal-Breaker?

Question: I live in the United Arab Emirate. I go to international schools and I am an A student but I don't do community service because we have none. Do I have a chance of getting into an Ivy?

While admission officials are always interested in attracting applicants who are not only strong students but also good community members, community service is not an admissions imperative, regardless of where you live or what the grapevine tells you.

College officials realize that, while some students take on volunteer activities because they truly want to help others, many students do so because it’s a requirement at their school or because they think it “looks good” on college applications … or both. So, not surprisingly, while admission committees can be wowed by applicants who have made an atypical commitment to a worthwhile cause, they are not going to base an admission verdict on the number of hours that a candidate has devoted to a hospital or homeless shelter.

In fact, “The Dean” has become increasingly irked by teenagers (and even adults) who seem to believe that volunteer hours = considerate person. In my old age, I’ve gotten rather cynical about that. Even here on College Confidential, I cringe when I see students boasting about their community service commitments in one post and then being unkind to other members in subsequent ones. So I’d like to believe that admission folks, too, don’t automatically equate “good deed” with “good guy.”

Finally, keep in mind that “community service” need not be an organized endeavor, so there is no such thing as having none available to you. If you babysit for a sick neighbor who needs a break, if you go grocery shopping for an elderly family friend, if you spend a Saturday picking up rubbish around your school or at a public park, this is all “community service,” even if it’s not an ongoing activity or part of a formal program.

So, I hope you are doing kind deeds for others, whether or not they end up on your applications. But rest assured that, if you aren’t admitted to your top-choice colleges, it won’t be because of the lack of community service on your record.

(posted 12/29/2012)