It’s spring, and many of you are turning your attention to fall applications. For those of you not burdened with test prep and boosting GPAs, take time to examine your community service. At most top programs, community service is virtually a requirement.
First let’s discuss what "community service" is and isn’t. I define it as:
"Active participation in and assumption of responsibility for your community."
That is an intentionally broad definition that includes taking an active role in sports teams, professional organizations, alumni groups, churches, literacy programs, political campaigns, environmental causes, fund raising for immigrant assistance groups … whatever you define as your community. Community service almost always does and should reflect your values and priorities.
The operative phrases in the definition are "active" and "responsibility." Writing checks is not enough. And helping your elderly neighbor occasionally makes you a nice person, but doesn’t mean you are taking responsibility for your community. Community service requires commitment.
So why is community service important?
- It provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate attributes that young applicants frequently can’t reveal in the classroom or in their jobs: leadership, initiative, interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle responsibility. It expresses your willingness to contribute.
- To adcoms a history of activism and participation suggests you will be an active student and alum. That’s the kind of impression you want to make.
- It indicates breadth and well-roundedness.
At the most competitive schools, community service and extra-curricular activities frequently make the difference between who is accepted and rejected among otherwise competitive applicants. If you have been involved in community service, great. Keep up the good work. If you haven’t, find an activity, cause, or organization that you would like to contribute to. And then be consistently and actively involved so that you will have a commitment to write about other than school and work. You may even find that you enjoy it.