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Community service is important to colleges because it proves a student will be active on campus outside of class, contribute to the university’s mission, and share the school’s values, painting a positive picture of a young adult who will be a productive member of a university community. Students who are active in the community show they care about things outside of their personal sphere.

But Just How Important IS Community Service to Colleges, Really?

A 2018 Businesswire survey of college admissions officers found that community service can be a deciding factor when colleges are considering applicants. This means that if two applicants each have near-perfect academic records, the one more engaged in community service will have an advantage.

“Authenticity and resilience are prized traits for applicants.” explains Dr. Aviva Legatt, author of Get Real and Get In; How To Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self.  “Colleges want to see applicants with the internal drive and resilience to lead something bigger than themselves. Stories of adaptability, ingenuity, and community-mindedness will undoubtedly impress.”

In fact, college application prompts often require students to write about their community service:


“At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community.”


“Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.”

UC system

“What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?”

University of California System

Writing about volunteer activities often reveals a lot about an applicant’s personality, providing admissions readers with a more panoramic view of a student. It’s a great way to show compassion, depth, leadership, and creativity.

What Kind of Community Service Does a College Look For?

Here’s one example.

Kyla was a student at a public Bay Area high school with aspirations of becoming a doctor. In 9th grade, she started a school club that collected donations of medical equipment like shower chairs, bed pans, and crutches, and delivered the items to free medical clinics in nearby underserved communities. This work was not glamorous. Kyla worked very hard forming community relations, gathering equipment, and keeping the other students in the club motivated and productive. By the time she applied to college, admissions officers viewed her as a systematic and effective person, and accepted her to both Stanford and Columbia.

Meaningful community service is the key. It is important that students choose a service project that demonstrates their interests — for example, a student who is passionate about literacy might want to get involved with an afterschool program or organize a reading hour.

Some other great suggestions include:

  1. Volunteer with an animal rescue. Students can learn about animal welfare and advocacy.
  2. Interested in conservation or climate change? Research and collect environmental and biological data. 
  3. Work with the Red Cross to help organize a blood drive and save lives.
  4. For the politically inclined, promote a cause by taking action.
  5. Raise money for an organization by doing something that you love.
  6. STEM students might find ways to teach technology to senior citizens.
  7. For students interested in architecture or engineering, create a community garden.
  8. Create an awareness campaign to inform others about an important issue
  9. Organize a clean up (beach, park, school)
  10. Host a charity event

How Can Blue Stars Help?

The team at Blue Stars can guide students through the process of identifying causes that best reflect their passions and help them find beneficial ways to get involved. Blue Stars counselors will also help students highlight their community service work in applications and essays.

Here is what one Blue Stars client has to say:

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“I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with the counselors at Blue Stars throughout my high school career. They supported me through it all: summer program applications, volunteer opportunities, internships, art portfolio assembly, to name just a few. And when it came to college admissions, working with Blue Stars was an absolute pleasure. Every essay was handcrafted piece by piece, a result of meaningful discussions and rounds of constructive criticism.”

Liliana, Blue Stars alum

Works Cited: Dr, Legatt, Aviva. Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self, Paperback, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021

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About the Author: Amy Morgenstern

Dr. Amy Morgenstern, affectionately known as Dr. M, is the founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an MFA in contemporary art. A former professor of philosophy, honors program associate director, and assistant to the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Dr. M brings a wealth of academic and multicultural experience to her practice.

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