Whether in an interview or an essay, all college applicants should be prepared to talk about the ways they have worked to improve their schools and communities. No college wants to admit a passive recipient of community, they would all much prefer to admit an active and engaged citizen who understands that community requires contribution. Use this essay to define a community (see the community essay for more examples of this) and then talk specifically about how you helped to make that community better. You have a lot of latitude here to define your terms and to define the boundaries of your engagement. Don’t pass up any opportunity to share your active citizenship. These essays will vary in length but are often a “mid-size” supplement of 250-350 words.

Example Community Service Questions:

  • U of California: What have you done to make your school or community a better place?
  • MIT: At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. 
  • Princeton: Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.

LET'S BREAK DOWN THE ESSENTIAL POINTS YOU NEED TO HIT WHEN RESPONDING TO THIS SUPPLEMENT:

This is an important question! If you have an option to select an essay question among several prompts, choose to write this essay! Why? Colleges want to know that you have made your community a better place. This makes you a compelling applicant. Why else? Because you have done something that can answer this question – even if to you, right now, it looks small in comparison to solving global challenges.

“Community” can be defined however you choose! Be sure to use a few words of this essay to outline the boundaries of the community you identify.

Positive impact can also be very broadly defined. Perhaps your contributions to classroom discussions in your history class helped to open the door to create a more active atmosphere in the room. That could be defined as a positive impact on your community, but you need to frame it! Why should we care about this? Why did a more active atmosphere contribute to more learning? You get to define the why here, so do so!

THINGS TO AVOID:

Avoid writing about things that sound fancy or important but actually have little impact. Instead, choose to write about something small and meaningful for you and show the admissions committee why you cared.

ADDITIONAL TIPS AND TRICKS:

​​Get a blank sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and create these columns:
  • Column 1: Identify the problem. Describe the challenge you were (or are currently) facing. The problem could be something global, like an environmental issue, or something more local, like a lack of creative opportunities in your high school.
  • Column 2: Raise the stakes. Help us understand: Why was (or is) overcoming this challenge important? What might happen if this problem went (or goes) unchecked? 
  • Column 3: Articulate the vision. What might the world look like if this problem were solved? Inspire us to dream with you.
  • Column 4: Describe what you did. Tell us the specific things you (or you and your team) did to solve the problem.
  • Column 5: Clarify your role.  Describe your particular involvement. Why were (or are) you crucial to the project’s or club’s success?
  • Column 6: Share the impact you had, lessons you learned, or values you gained. Provide specific evidence that gives us a sense that your work mattered.

 

Don't forget to use active verbs! Additionally, you can absolutely re-use this essay (being mindful of word count) to respond to multiple community service prompts from different schools.

Elise holds a BA in Political Philosophy from Williams College and an MEd in Administration & Social Policy from Harvard. She has spent the past twenty years working in top-tier independent schools.

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