On Those Fancy Service Trips

Foreign Service Trips, Service Trips, Travel and Admissions
If a college applicant wants to build houses for deserving people for the sake of humanity, do it. But if a college applicant is doing it to boost his or her case for admission, don’t do it (photo credit: Joe Mabel).

Going on service trips to faraway lands to build homes, distribute medical supplies, and/or teach the English language to young people can be a great way to boost a student’s case for admission to highly selective colleges, right? Wrong. While going on service trips to faraway lands may be a wonderful thing to do for the sake of humanity, if your child is doing it because you think it will improve his or her case for admission to our nation’s elite colleges, well, you don’t get it. Students don’t need to travel to faraway lands to boost their cases for admission. In fact, we would argue that such travel programs will hurt — not help — their cases for admission. It will flaunt wealth. It will serve to render the applicants unlikeable. And while it’s a point we’ve raised before, we feel the need to raise it again because, well, it’s a myth that keeps getting perpetuated.

One of the core objectives of our college admissions blog is to correct misconceptions perpetuated by colleges, by reporters, by local butchers and crossing guards. In an editorial published yesterday in The Los Angeles Times penned by the student body presidents of Yale, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, they wrote, “Across the United States, many high school students from high-income families have the resources to attend elite private schools, take personalized SAT/ACT prep courses, go on resume-boosting travel programs, embark on cross-country college tours to ‘demonstrate interest,’ and employ professional college counselors to strengthen their application materials. Students from lower-income backgrounds often have no opportunity to engage in any of these activities.” And while we don’t disagree with the rest of these points they raised, we raise our red flag when they write “go on resume-boosting travel programs.” No, no, no.

If you still aren’t convinced that fancy service trips in faraway lands hurt rather than help applicants’ cases for admission, check out Ivy Coach’s managing director debunk this very belief in a wide-ranging interview on That Experts Show below.

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1 Comment

  • JeffM says:

    Ha ha the Mission Trip essay. I have four kids, all four went to Ivy League or top ten schools, including HYP. So, people in the community ask me all the time what they should do, and they usually say they are sending the kid on a mission trip. I say don’t bother, if it is for college. Then, the essay. Kid writes about mission trip. His local college advisor (some local parent who hung up a shingle) recommends the mission trip essay. I say don’t do it. Write about literally anything else. Kid doesn’t get in. I am told system is rigged. Some other time I may share my more general thoughts, but they absolutely include getting a job in high school.

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