One of the most challenging roles of a college advisor is to help parents discern what is expected and accepted in the area of “community service.” Despite countless articles, college website information and discussions at college information sessions, we can sound as though we are stifling students' admissions chances by urging caution in this area. It is refreshing to see an article like this from the New York Times that explains the essence of this issue. There may well be a difference between the student who tirelessly devotes every summer to a third world community and one who participates in a program for a few days or weeks in search of a good essay topic.
Unfortunately, it is getting harder to use the community service card even for those who are truly passionate about their experiences and involvement. But this article does raise a brilliant question: Why not get involved in a cause closer to home via organizations that also greatly need a hand? Students learning from real work experience, even a minimum wage job, will not only gain great resume material but, more important, a better understanding of the real world. The article also cautions students who start foundations just for their name association, rather than supporting that same effort in an established organization. In the end, students who experience and contribute to true life experiences with passion, beyond just what's expected in their classes, homes, and from helicopter parent instruction, have a greater chance of being viable candidates to admissions offers and better able to understand the world post college.