The debate over whether teens should use their summer community service travel programs as material for college essays has been ongoing ever since “voluntourism” became a mainstream activity. 

A VISIONS teen alum was recently featured in Newton North (MA) High School’s paper, the, on the very subject. Laurel Stanley has spent three summers with VISIONS, in Montana, the British Virgin Islands and Ecuador.

“Personally,” said Stanley, “doing service has NOTHING to do with getting into college. The fact that people think it will help them is actually absurd because it has become so ‘mainstream’ to do service trips.”

Many college recruiters now advise to avoid using the story of your service trip as the basis for your application essay unless it had a profound impact on your development. Luigi Solla, dean of admissions at Wesleyan University, told the Newtonite: “Usually those essays are fine or really good,” he said. “The only time I think ‘not again’ is if the essay is really just a story of what you did over the summer. Talk about yourself—that’s what’s important.”

Spend time reflecting on the impacts of your service experience on your development as a person, and make sure those values are reflected through your application. Values like maturity, teamwork and empathy are built into the core of every VISIONS trip, and will be obvious to even the most skeptical admissions officers.

Service Trips: How do they affect college applications?
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VISIONS in The New York Times