Why do school admissions value volunteering?

Trying to work my way into MD school and this isn’t something I’ve ever really understood. I do get that admissions officers are looking for people who are well rounded and worldly, but the requirement of volunteering to prove this seems unnecessary. Work experience, travel, and personal hobbies all seem like they could be valid examples of being “human” enough for a school, but since I didn’t formally sign off on a sheet saying I was donating $7.25 an hour it isn’t weighed very highly.

This system seems to be a bit unfair to people who aren’t as privileged as me as well. My parents are well enough off that I’ve never had to worry about bills in undergrad, and any part time work I’ve done has been supplementary income. Someone who’s having to work 40 hours on top of going to school would be hard pressed to find time to volunteer on top of class and work. Why is 40 hours a week of paid work seen as less valuable on a resume than a tenth that in volunteering?

I don’t think that schools actually value volunteering as much as they say they do. It might make a difference for an application with marginal grades, but it is more like the “talent” portion of a beauty pageant.

It’s not about being “human” or whatever but demonstrating empathy and regard for your fellow human beings. That doesn’t have to be through volunteering, but volunteer work is a sign you think about people other than yourself.

Or it means you want to get into a good school.

Sure, but you can suss out the kids who are actually serious about it versus the suburban kids who simply want an application checkmark.

Also, it’s not the worst result if we end up with more kids taking part in their communities, even if they’re not as personally invested as they let on.

Schools want to know what you will being besides academics.

Will you start the next Facebook? Will you bring a really unique perspective to classroom discussions? Will you lead a club? Produce serious research? Get hired by someone ultra-prestigious? Given a choice, schools want more than students who sit in class taking up space. They want people who bring something more, either to classroom discussions or to student life.

So they are looking for certain qualities- unusual perspectives or experiences, leadership, commitment and passion- things that show that you are truly driven. Things that show that you have the capacity to do truly great things, or to help others achieve greatness.

So a check-the-box volunteer job is better than sitting at home playing Pokemon. But what they really want is a sustained, deep commitment to something. It doesn’t have to be volunteer work, but volunteer work is often the point-of-entry for students as they usually don’t have a ton of relevant work experience.

Schools are aware that different people have different opportunities. They know how to recognize pay-for-play opportunities (like expensive summer schools or pricey “voluntourism” trips) and they don’t really give these much more credit than any other productive use of time. Likewise, they know how to recognize someone who really does have to work at McDonalds every summer, and they will give you credit for that, especially if you can write a good essay about it.

Top schools have too many perfect applicants with perfect grade averages. They need some additional method of choosing, so they look at organizations the student belongs to, volunteer work, etc.

Mandating things like volunteering and unpaid internships and a multitude of extracurricular and “leadership” activities are a way to help the privileged preserve their privilege.

Ditto, schools never cared about well-roundness until the Asian kids out test the white kids.

This. All true, and a healthy (non-bitter way to look at it, as well).

It’s all pertinent, especially the last 3 paragraphs. I **bolded ** some remarks I felt were especially pertinent. They are not really expecting that everyone they accept will change the world, but they hope to find people who will at least change their corner of it.

I just had to hit this again.

If one of these young Olympians applies to medical school and meets the minimal academic requirements, they have a decent chance of being accepted, more so if they demonstrate solid academics.

Merely demonstrating the capacity to work hard, maintain focus and excel at almost anything* good enough to be “world class” is quite an accomplishment and is felt to be indicative of an individual’s future potential.
*for some values of “almost anything”- this does play into accepted values and the personal values of the admissions board. A world class musician might rank above a world class swimmer, to some. A world class gamer may have trouble getting recognition for his accomplishment. A world champion hot-dog eater would probably want to seriously buff up other parts of their application.

If one were of a suspicious mindset, there is also the possibility that the organizations for whom one volunteered may serve as a political filter by which to evaluate applicants, if the institution is inclined to do so.

Decades ago when I was in college, my peers in the Arts category were trying to decide what to do with their lives. The logical answer was, “teach”. They went into teachers’ college. Now, there is in Ontario a Public school board and a Catholic School Board for most areas. The catholic folks looked at the hiring process and realized they needed volunteer time and a recommendation from a parish priest to get hired. So, they volunteered for the parish Scouts or Girl Guides for a season or two, and then got the parish priest to write a recommendation. Also put in a year or a seaso of attending mass every Sunday for the religious recommendation.

So these weren’t people doing something to become well-rounded persons, or because they were interested in it. They were getting a box ticked off on their list for a job. If someone is doing the minimum necessary then what’s the point?

As someone who was too uncoordinated to play sports, too socially inept to satisfy some other social agenda, and without the time or mobility to participate in various social activities - I found it offensive to ask me to do stuff that was not relevant to what I was applying for…

It also tells the admitting committee how rich the parents are.

WTF does living in the suburbs have to do with how serious one is about volunteering?

Absolutely untrue. Schools stressed extracurricular work when I was applying back in 1970, and had been for decades before that.

The idea was that your ability is more than just your grades. It’s not just volunteering, but it’s also extracurricular activities. The college doesn’t want nothing buy drudges who spend all their time studying. They want to see evidence that you will take part in campus life and have something to give to other students.

And it’s not like only rich kids volunteer. There are volunteers at all income levels.

Sadly, quite true. Modern admissions criteria were originally adopted to keep out high-academic-level Jewish students. Exclusion of high-academic-level Asian students was not even on the horizon.

The U of Toronto medical school, for example, went from strictly marks to an interview and “well rounded character” process for admissions about the time I was going there in the 70’s… also about the time people started complaining that academically gifted (and will to work hard) Hong Kong students were taking larger numbers of spots but their English was difficult to understand.

So I’m willing to give the theory some credence that it’s about racism and elitism, disguised as a need for “well-rounded character”.

It shows the ability to Put Up With Crap, a necessary ability in every job.

When I was in high school, the district actually imposed a requirement that you volunteer for X amount of hours in order to be eligible to graduate.

I ended up getting my diploma via an alternative program that lacked such a requirement.