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College Admissions – Opportunities to Engage Abroad

studyabroadmoneyWith college admissions rates dropping across the board, today’s college applicants are looking for ways to diversity their applications and land a coveted spot at one of the top schools on their list. Likewise, college admissions committees faced with thousands of student portfolios are looking for ways to narrow down a pool of applicants. Volunteer experience, especially volunteer abroad experience, is one such way that you can stand out from the crowd.

Why Volunteering Works

Volunteering teaches life and leadership skills, including interpersonal skills, written and oral communication, public speaking, team building and group management, and time management. Travel volunteer experiences allow you to get to know another culture and perhaps even practice foreign language skills. All of this adds up to a college admissions candidate who is caring, well-socialized and on the path to becoming a leader. This is exactly the type of student that colleges want! Students who serve abroad have demonstrated that they are willing and able to step outside of their comfort zone and have new experiences.

Translating Experiences Back Home

While you obviously gain plenty of life experience on a short-term volunteer abroad opportunity, the learning isn’t something that has to end back home. In fact, you may be a more impressive candidate if the service learning doesn’t end when you return home. Volunteer organization Do Something published a 2011 study revealing that admissions committees look particularly favorable on students who had a memorable volunteer experience abroad and were able to translate that experience into something back home. So if you particularly enjoyed teaching children to read in Ethiopia, you may find fulfillment back home by becoming involved in literacy tutoring or with new immigrant programs. You’re taking the interests and service learning skills from your travel experience and incorporating them into your everyday life. In short, you have a passion for this type of service, and you are demonstrating it.

Likewise, if you take steps before you leave to gain skills related to your volunteering abroad, this will impress college admissions committees. For example, you may take six months of Spanish language classes or become involved in academic tutoring in your school, with the goal of traveling on a service learning program and using these skills to serve internationally.

Demonstrating Experience in a College Application

While you may have experience in student government, extracurricular clubs, international volunteering and volunteering at home, college committees want to see more than a laundry list of student service. The key to selling service learning in the application is communicating the depth and the meaning of the experience. Committees want to see that an experience was meaningful to you on a personal level, and not just an obligation. Since many high schools have a community service requirement as part of graduation, taking the time to communicate the personal tie to the experience is key. A teacher, parent or even a friend can help you craft a strong personal essay that explains how your volunteer abroad opportunity has transformed and enriched your life, and how you plan to continue your passion in college.

Financial Benefits of Studying Abroad

An additionally, more practical positive application of studying aboard is the inherent savings and academic reward you will receive. Below are some interesting statistics taken from Indiana University in a study they did on those who study aboard:

  • Using the entering cohort from 1999, 95.3% of students who studied abroad graduated within 6 years as compared to 68.5% of students who did not study abroad.
  • Study abroad students earned higher grades and completed degrees in four years at a higher rate than their peers.
  • The average study abroad student earned a cumulative GPA of 3.21 compared to 3.12 for peers who didn’t study abroad.
  • Study abroad students had a probably of .91 of completing a bachelor’s degree in four years compared to .84 for peers.

Completely school faster with better grades will work towards higher-income out of college and lower student debt. That, coupled with the invaluable experience, is a total win.

Plan ahead when looking for volunteer opportunities to select the right opportunity to meet your personal goals and impress college admissions officers. Choose something about which you are truly excited. There are so many interesting and unique ways to serve that you don’t need to volunteer somewhere just because you think it will look good on an application. A successful service learning trip will be something that is first and foremost meaningful to you, then geared toward resumes or college admissions second.

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