College Admission Officers Are Smarter Than You Think

September 08, 2016

Is there a trend among young people to enhance their college applications with last minute service work by jetting off to a third world country to help a village or build a road? If so, what do college admissions think of this application tactic?

In the article To get to Harvard, Go to Haiti? written by Frank Bruni, in an op-ed article of the New York Times, he found the answer to be yes. “The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rainforest.” said Angel Perez, head of admissions at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Colleges and universities want involved, caring, individuals who regularly engage in service to others. They invest in leaders who have spent time doing what they are passionate about, and that passion reflects throughout their life, as opposed to a week or two. Stephen Farmer, head of undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stated, “My concern is that students feel compelled to do these things – forced – rather than feeling that they’re answering some inner call.”

College admissions want to see engaged students, not a last minute event they feel obligated to do to get into a good college. Volunteering and giving back to your community should be a way of life. People who volunteer tend to step outside of their comfort zones which can lead them to a previously undiscovered passion. Here at Lion’s Heart, Teen Volunteers and Leaders, many of our members have found their calling by the volunteer work they do. They subsequently have gone on to graduate from college in a field they are drawn to.

We interviewed some of our current Lion’s Heart teen members and asked them why they love volunteering. One member said, “I love working with the animals at the shelters so much, that I think I want to become a veterinarian.” Another wants to become a pediatric nurse after spending the majority of volunteer hours working with sick kids in the hospital. Most members typically start volunteering for a lot of different reasons and eventually find a cause or two that they find most rewarding and spend most of their volunteer time on those which looks great to college admissions counselors.

In an article written by Jeff Wagenheim in Harvard Ed Magazine, Credits for Kindness, Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D., senior lecturer at the Harvard Ed School and co-author of the Turning the Tide report said, “I think admissions departments are a lot more alert than people think to packaged applications and packaged community service,” he says. “They’re quite good at telling what’s authentic and what’s inauthentic. That’s really the heart of the matter, in a way.”

Don’t get me wrong, volunteering with your church or a group on a mission trip is a really good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. So, when you are applying to college, be sure to include local community service to show your long term commitment to giving back.

Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.

Sources: NYTimes, Harvard GSE

What are your thoughts on the uptake in high school students taking cultural and community service trips in the years leading up to the college application? 

About The Author

Lion's Heart, Guest Blogger
Lion’s Heart, Guest Blogger

Lion’s Heart is a national 501(c)3 non-profit community service organization for teen volunteering in 6th through 12th grade. Lion’s Heart organizes members into groups so they can volunteer for various non-profit and philanthropic organizations in their communities while developing leadership, empathy, and life skills. We connect Members to local non-profits and give them the tools to build their own Volunteer Digital Portfolio for future college, employment, scholarship and internship applications. Each chapter of teens elects their own officers and runs their own meetings which gives members the power to choose how they want to serve society. 

Browse Successful Application Files

Northwestern ‘18

Accepted to Northwestern, Emory, WashU, UMich

Hey everyone, I'm a current Northwestern student (Class of 2018, although I may finish up a little early) and I absolutely love it! Admissions really is a tough time, so try to keep your head up and don't be afraid to take chances.
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I am a hard-working, motivated student, athlete, and performer who enjoys having fun on the side.
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Hi there! I went to an American school in Hong Kong from K-12 and will be starting my freshman year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall. If you're interested in theater and come from overseas, I would be of particular help to you!

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