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Colleges Put Emphasis on Volunteering and Service

Colleges Put Emphasis on Volunteering and Service


Last year, more than 170 colleges from Harvard to Kalamazoo College pledged to consider service as a larger part of their application.

“Too often, today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good,” said Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “As a rite of passage, college admissions plays a powerful role in shaping student attitudes and behaviors.

“Admissions deans are stepping up collectively to underscore the importance of meaningful engagement in communities and greater equity for economically diverse students.” 

The idea behind the Turn the Tide movement stemmed from research that shows students prioritize their own success and happiness above helping others. Plus, there are increasing concerns of how much pressure students feel to be the perfect applicant.

The initiative encourages students to complete a year of service or community engagement. It’s not enough to go on a service trip to a foreign country, either. The movement emphasizes that applicants should have immersed themselves in the community they served and increased their emotional and ethical understanding of people outside their bubble.

Admissions committees also notice if students are providing for their family, such as raising a younger sibling or working to contribute to a family’s income. In addition to demonstrating a student’s ability to help and care for others, these activities give a boost to low-income students. It can also explain why students pass on joining extracurriculars to cook dinner for siblings or help around the house.

Harvard is “assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class,” according to its admissions website. The university, like many others, is redefining achievement to “level the playing field for economically diverse students.”

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