Gain an Edge with Community Service

Since the seventh grade, you've probably been hearing about the importance of extracurricular activities on your college application. While they're not as important as your grade point average or SAT scores, interests outside of school can work in your favor. Imagine if you and another applicant are "tied" for acceptance to the last available spot. You both have great grades and impressive SATs. As far as extracurricular activities go, however, you didn't do anything until junior year, when you joined the Penmanship Club. In comparison, the other student has held an after-school job all four years, has been in the Outdoor Club since sophomore year, and now - as president of that club — has initiated a community-wide effort to clean up the local river. Who do you think will get the acceptance letter?

Extracurriculars show that your interests extend beyond video games or the mall and create a clearer picture of who you are for admissions staff who don't know you. But don't join a club or play a sport unless it's something you want to do. Life in high school is hard enough. Joining the wrestling team just because you need to fill in space on your college app isn't going to make your life any easier. Consider activities that will be enjoyable and that will help you grow as an individual.

Starting early, starting late

Freshman and sophomore years are the time to get started in an activity or sport. Choose something you'll enjoy and stick with it. You'll demonstrate your willingness to make a commitment to a group or team over an extended period of time.

Even if you're a junior or senior, it's time to get busy. Don't just join a bunch of clubs and attend meetings once in a while. Instead, choose one or two clubs where you can take a significant leadership role and make a difference in your community.

No matter what year you begin an activity, have fun with it. Pursue a passion. push your limits, and take some initiative.

Choosing activities

Participating in school activities is fun and helps you grow as a person. Why not share your talents and time with a larger community? Opportunities for community service are everywhere. Plus, it won't hurt your college applications or resume to show that you have done something outside of school.

To get started, figure out your interests. What do you like to do? Are you interested in working with kids? How about the elderly? Interested in nature conservation? Fighting poverty? Helping out with health issues? Cracking down on crime? Defending the right to skateboard?

Just for fun, take a look at some well-known service organizations:

If you prefer helping on a more local basis, think about some of the places that you might have passed on your way to school, or organizations advertised in the newspaper or on the radio. How about:

  • Your local United Way: Call, visit, and volunteer for one of the projects that it supports.

  • The YMCA, YWCA, and the Boys and Girls Club: Kids, camps, coaching, kickball, lots of smiles and sports.

  • Senior care facilities: The best bingo playing and history lessons around town.

  • Your local schools: Reading, writing, arithmetic, tears, hugs, and a healthy look at the ultra-glamorous life of a teacher.

  • Local parks and recreation districts: Where there is always something going on.

  • Your community services center: Crisis lines, childcare, health issues, anything and everything related to human beings.

Give these places a call or send them an e-mail. If they have informational meetings, go to one. You'll meet other people interested in volunteering — and make a difference in your community.