service and resume padding

We know from Lew Friedland and Shauna Morimoto’s work (pdf) that many high school students believe they should volunteer in order to increase their chances of being admitted to college. Friedland and Morimoto note that this is even true of students who are not likely to apply to competitive colleges. The perceived need to volunteer for college admissions may partly explain the big increase in the volunteering rate.

Someone asked me today how many colleges actually consider applicants’ service records. I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but I suspect that it’s mainly the smaller, more selective, private colleges that pay any attention at all. A report from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling includes a survey in which colleges rated the importance of various factors in determining undergraduate admissions decisions. Only 8 percent gave “considerable importance” to the whole category of “work/extracurricularactivities,” of which service would be a subcategory. This compares to 73.9 percent that mentioned grades and 59.3 that mentioned standardized tests (p.30). The report adds: “Smaller colleges are more likely than larger colleges to consider an interview and counselor or teacher recommendations. They are also slightly more likely than larger colleges to consider a student’s essay and their work/extracurricular activities as important factors.” It appears (from table 32) that the most selective colleges pay the most attention to work and extracurriculars.

I find it interesting that the survey did not ask about volunteer service as a separate category. Service doesn’t seem very prominent on the agenda of college admissions people. Apparently, most high school students have no need to volunteer in order to improve their odds in the college-admissions game. If they volunteer, it should be to change society, to learn, and to help others.