Doing projects that impact the community is a relatively new trend in India. This has come from the U.S. where the idea of individual impact is more the norm and where top colleges look for students with the enthusiasm and initiative to build something new — an idea, a business, a new bit of knowledge for the world — and for signs that the student is capable of this. Liberal arts colleges in India too are attracting students who are looking for a university environment that fosters such an approach. So for students looking to build their own story, here is a guide:
This is the big one that everyone thinks they should do. But does it really impact your admission? Most students from India have done some sort of community service. One idea could be to create a curriculum to teach students in an NGO. This is something documentable that you can write about in your application and something significant that you can do over a period of time. Another could be to create a team and have everyone contribute their time once a month to the NGO. The idea is to do something concrete that you can express some learning from.
Why does a community service project help? A 2019 Forbes survey of 264 admissions officers at American colleges found that 58% felt that community service had a positive impact on a student’s acceptance to the institution. Even more important, 53% said that community service was a tie-breaker between equally qualified students.
Working with an NGO helps build relationships with senior leadership and a letter of recommendation can enhance your application due to their credibility. It also helps attest to your teamwork and leadership skills, which most universities value. Taking up a voluntary project is also testimony your passion and your dedication; qualities that no admission board can ignore.
An easier and more doable task that looks good on your college application. If there is an issue that you are passionate about, fundraising is a good way to contribute. You can start small by talking to your family and friends about it and slowly expand to crowdfunding online through various available sites. You could also connect with a company supporting a cause that you’re aligned to and do fundraising or awareness-building activities for them.
You can set up a student organisation in your school or community and do something significant over at least two years. This is highly impactful, as it is like a legacy that you are leaving behind. For example, you could start a mental health awareness club that hosts talks and events to let students know that help is available. Or a recycling initiative in your condominium or look after the neutering of strays in your neighbourhood. Working with senior citizens on entertainment, music, tech skilling or even spending time is another highly valued initiative to explore.
Blog or podcast
Start your own blog on Medium or WordPress. Or record a podcast on Anchor and publish it across platforms like Spotify. However, this requires regularity and so you will need to keep thinking of topics you want to write/speak about. You will also need to research how to better engage your audience and how to attract more readers/listeners. Several student blogs have been picked up by magazines on Medium or other online blog portals. A successful blog/podcast on subjects of teen interest like fashion, relationship management, self-development or mental health can lead to building a small community of followers that creates opportunities for further initiatives in fundraising or online events.
Doing a research project showcases your interest in the subject and the depth of your knowledge. It also shows your ability to think differently and the originality of your thoughts. Research and projects also hint at psychological qualities like patience, perseverance and curiosity to know new things. It is an indicator of your creativity. You might need to figure out which topic you want to work on and then create an outline to get an idea of the area you want to focus on. Then find a guide or mentor, who has some experience in the field. He/she will not only guide your research path but also introduce you to specialised areas that might otherwise be difficult to find. Also, in order to make an impact on your university application, the work will need to be published. All this will show how good you are at completing work within a deadline and your organisational skills. Also getting the work published helps you develop a relationship with others in that field.
With inputs from Kritika Malhotra and Kamalika Chowdhery.
The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. firstname.lastname@example.org