It’s no secret that community service is an important aspect in any student’s overall application. Realising this, most schools have made volunteer work compulsory from grade 8 through 12, resulting in an unfortunate homogeneity within the applicant pool for universities. Therefore, to really stand out and highlight one’s own accomplishments in the field, students are now being encouraged to search for alternative avenues by which to do some unique yet meaningful community service. While admission officials certainly will not think ill of any form of volunteerism, they do try to discern a candidate’s level of commitment. For instance, a student who has worked at the same NGO every week for three years will garner more nods of approval than one who has spent only a couple of months there, though both efforts are admirable.
School organised community service opportunities are popular for their convenience of location, time, and personal cost. But on the flip side, universities tend to consider them as being forced upon the student in a manner that usually results in a less rewarding and involved experience. To add more value, students should look at involvement that extends beyond their school and local area. These initiatives not only show their commitment to a specific cause, but also highlight certain skill sets – such as leadership or lateral thinking – through a hands-on approach to their work.
Successful independent community service projects in the past have included a football camp that raised money for the underprivileged through sponsors and entry fees for participants; an economic experiment to gauge the importance of transportation in personal financial development by which certain families were given bicycles and therefore access to neighbouring markets; and a variety of local charity drives to support the displaced in times of flood or communal unrest. These are just a few examples of unusual service endeavours that required uncommon initiative.
A significant community service experience is excellent not just for the personal growth and development of the sensitivities of a young student, but also in providing material for reflective essays or interviews down the line. Not surprisingly, the more selective a college, the more outstanding a volunteer project must be to make a mark with admission officials. It is therefore imperative for aspiring students to plan these projects well in time, and ensure their efficient execution, even if they are working on their own.
(Rohan Ganeriwala is the Co founder of Collegify, a college consulting firm for study abroad)