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Done right, community service offer students an opportunity to get into colleges - and be better versions of themselves. Image Credit: AP

There are two types of people who do not complete community service in high school. First, they are either too self-focused or unaware of what it takes to build a competitive, well-rounded extra-curricular profile for college admissions.

Second, some students are so ambitious for university they pursue what they view as the latest competitive strategy. In the process, they deny their own authenticity and, believing themselves strategic by writing-off community service as a buzzword activity, build an extracurricular profile that does not reflect any part of their genuine identity.

In the second case, what seems like good intentions—ignoring community service for the sake of just doing it and developing a fresh, precise college resume—misses the mark in the same way. These students reveal that they only think in terms of means-and-ends and orient themselves towards extracurriculars that are simply uninspiring.

Through approaching service this way, these students deceive themselves by viewing community service and volunteering initiatives as a tool for college admissions and not as a pathway towards unlocking personal fulfillment. Helping others just to get in or earn scholarship funds should not be the goal.

It is important to view and accept service as also for yourself, not only others. But education consultants would recommend that students first see it primarily as an avenue for personal growth, and not as a necessary component of a successful university application.

Ethos of volunteering

Community service is not so much a predefined activity but is rather a spirit. Philosophically-speaking, it is the orientation of oneself towards a goal or vision that extends beyond the mere self. Colleges seek those who will advance the progress of the world in whatever they do, which begins with a spirit but requires perspective.

The spirit and perspective of striving for college at the cost of one’s identity, all for what seems to be a competitive venture, is not a quality that colleges and universities seek out in prospective students. These institutions utilize the holistic admissions process to determine those individuals whose authenticity is desired on campus.

Admissions’ counselors are quick to identify those who are inauthentic in their applications, and subsequently reject them. And even if successful in admissions, these students will eventually find themselves cheated and without a positive notion of identity.

Authentic service

The paradox of approaching service authentically and not just for college admissions is that it will absolutely help you with college. It’s all about the story. The narrative of the service opportunity or community initiative or volunteering experience should be organic. Maybe a student stumbles into this at school, or through a family contact, or via an advertisement or communication.

Possibly a student reaches out to an organization or founds one in the interest of a community or an initiative that has intrinsic value to the student. In any event, inauthentic community service is that which is a cliché: what has already been done or what is assumed to be done.

Parachuting into a community to “serve” when the student has no prior connection to that community; offering money or resources without much thought behind the gesture. And contributing to the lives of the less fortunate in a manner that is insensitive or exploitative are all indications of shallow service that certainly do not enrich the student in any meaningful way.

A secondary component of this authenticity is duration. Students who complete some activity once are not looked upon as favorably as those who continue with the activity after the first time. True dedication is, in some respects, a sacrifice: of time, energy, and resources.

A single day doing charitable work is laudable to some degree, but is no great contribution. Offering a morning every Saturday for years demonstrates a more robust commitment to a cause. College admissions are far more impressed with the latter.

Effective volunteering

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there is a limited service-oriented apparatus, but some students have taken advantage of existing organizational opportunities. One student served at a shelter for stray dogs and in paper collection drives, having noticed both were underserved and yet pervasive in his community.

Another expanded the reach of an existing collective at her school, striving to grow the mission and reach previously-underserved communities. A third marshalled other students at her school to contribute to a campaign that had in the past supported her younger sibling directly.

Sometimes the initiative does not yet exist, and so enterprising students make their own. One student conducted an energy audit of the houses in his neighborhood using guidelines he learned from an internship and then created plans for the houses to conserve energy and reduce energy bills.

Another raised funds for students in crisis in her home region, which had recently been severely impacted by political unrest. A third used his tech skills to automate certain tasks for an organization and contribute to the mission by digitizing resources.

Value that effort

It is perfectly acceptable to know that your service activity bears merit for college admission. It is, likewise, okay to do service for yourself. The primary reason, however, is to value the effort and yourself enough to engage in something you enjoy and to which you may offer some of your uniqueness.

Ultimately, those who do service for college admissions alone are not actually allowing themselves to benefit from it. Whether formalizing summer plans or scheduling during the academic year, students would be advised by education consultants to be both productive and self-advancing.

After all, shouldn’t the most rewarding experiences things in life make everyone better?