Colleges love to see applicants take part in community service, but many families and students are left perplexed as to just what that entails. Today we take on the most frequently asked questions we get about giving back.

“What counts as community service?”

When I was working in highly selective admissions, our definition of service was much broader than what your high school may count as service hours toward your National Honor Society requirements, for example. Student government, volunteering for a political campaign, working with other varsity athletes to raise awareness about concussions—these are all contributions to your school and community that may not be seen as traditional service, but show your willingness to put effort into making the world around you a better place.

“Am I doing enough?”

I think I get asked by students on a weekly basis about whether or not their level of community service is sufficient. There are two things that might be helpful for you to know about this. First, admission officers understand that there are profiles for students that make it difficult to include sustained service work.  Students who are also athletes, dancers, researchers, or thespians have big time commitments that make it really difficult to do much service work in addition. That’s OK. Fit it in some contributions where you can and make them where you think it’s important. It may be a few weekend commitments or only around the holidays; it may be sporadic weekends at your church, temple, or synagogue. Just do what you can, and do what you care about.

“How many hours of service do I need?”

There is no magic number of service hours colleges expect to see. You may be closely tracking your hours for NHS or your high school’s own service requirement, but colleges are generally less concerned about the sheer quantity of time you spent than they are about the quality of that time and the impact you had.

“Do I need to include documentation of my hours with my college apps?”

Most apps will require you to list your activities, work experience, and service—and to indicate roughly how many hours per week, per year you dedicated to those commitments. Be as accurate as you can, but there is no additional documentation you need to provide. The college application is a formal document that requires you to attest to its accuracy via signature. In other words, admission officers trust you to be honest.


Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College. Visit our website to learn more about Kennon Dick.