student applying for college admissions on laptop
In the moment of truth, do you have the proof?

Do Colleges Verify Volunteer Hours?

How You Can Show Colleges Proof of the Real You

Colleges Value Community Service, So Credibility Matters

ACT and SAT test scores are now optional at about half of all colleges and universities. As a result, students’ sports, leadership, and volunteering have more influence on their college apps. Admissions offices are diving deeper into non-academic strengths. Like your academic transcript, colleges need accurate activity records to decide your future. Why else? The College Admissions Scandal revealed just how far some families will go to get into top-tier colleges. Colleges can’t audit every service record. Consequently, students have the burden of proof when it comes to verified volunteer hours.

Holistic Admissions Balances Extracurriculars and Academics

Now the good news: For years, applying to college seemed scary. Students felt pressured to get super-human grades and sky-high standardized test scores. While strong academics are always important, colleges want to see how you can be productive and solve problems in the real world. So help admissions officers visualize you as an active, engaged college freshman. Think of showing proof of your community service impact as another way of demonstrating your potential.

Why it Hard to Show Proof of Volunteering

Showing an accurate picture of all your community service is easier said than done. Why? Colleges can see your grades in one place – on your academic transcript. Unfortunately, high school volunteers have records all over the place. For example, schools, clubs, sports teams, and honors programs track service hours differently. Imagine if some teachers didn’t add your grades to your transcript. Insane, right? Another problem: Paper certificates do not translate well to online college apps. Students who earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) receive an award certificate. For that reason, VolunteerCrowd’s verified service transcript is available online. When students add the transcript link to college and merit aid apps, it shows proof of volunteering and earned PVSAs.

Pro Tips

  • Inaccurate and fraudulent hours can look the same. (Trust us, we’re experts at this.) When students report their volunteer hours weeks or months later, they often make mistakes. Therefore, always track your hours right away!
  • Nonprofits verify hours based on specific dates and times. Consequently if you guess, the nonprofit may not verify your service hours. Track carefully.
  • Volunteering tons of hours in a short period can send the wrong message. An application reader may interpret it as ‘hours stuffing’. Colleges know you are busy and are impressed with consistency, not quantity.

Admissions Audits and Verifications

Higher education institutions want to attract successful students who thrive academically and contribute to campus life. Unfortunately, Varsity Blues jolted many institutions into self-reflection mode. Here is a preview of how colleges may verify extracurricular activities:

  • University of California: Just 3 months after news of the scandal broke, the University of California conducted an audit to scrutinize their admissions process to better identify applications with false information. The audit recommended stricter controls and more careful fact-checking about students’ extracurricular participation, especially in sports. 
  • University of Pennsylvania: This university is also trying to close any loopholes for students tempted to falsely report extracurricular participation. According to admissions officers, the school is considering implementing a process in which “selected applicants can be chosen for further vetting randomly or because of inconsistencies in a student’s application.”
  • Northwestern University: Like the other schools, Northwestern University is also committed to a zero-tolerance policy for submitting false information. If students do this, “it can result in a revocation of admission, or, if enrolled, the student can be expelled,” the university says.
Image of student volunteering in a hospital.  Interns can request a letter of recommendation for their college app.

How High School and College Students Can Prepare

Don’t let admissions officers wonder whether your activities are real. Colleges take grades and test scores seriously because schools, the College Board, and ACT have sophisticated tracking and reporting systems. Volunteer and shadowing digital credentials are accurate and verified, helping you build credibility. Submit proof on your college app with links to your digital transcript, online badges, and Letters of Recommendation. Always corroborate your extracurricular activities and community service.

References Can Reinforce Your Impact Story

A club leader or volunteer coordinator can provide proof of your community service impact. Request recommendation letters throughout high school as you complete service projects. For example, if you volunteered as a hospital intern, ask for a recommendation before you leave. That way, you’ll be prepared when you tackle your college application. Context is important. Collect pictures and videos (you can post them to Instagram, too!) of yourself participating in extracurriculars. 

Tell the Truth

Avoid overstating your volunteer hours on your college application.  In the era of self-promoting, it might be tempting to exaggerate to feel like you are keeping up with your peers. Ultimately, the Varsity Blues photoshopped athletic images and dishonesty hurt everyone. Most of all, it derailed the students’ futures.  Remember, college admissions officers want to know the real you.  Not to mention they can often spot an overhyped version.  Plus, if your application is flagged for an extra fact-checking, you’ve blown the chance of a good first impression. So, be truthful about your activities.

Image of student pole vaulting, similar to image used by the Varsity Blues mastermind Rick Singer.
In the College Admissions Scandal, students were photoshopped into action-shot images.

While the college admissions scandal rightly created outrage, it has also shined a light on much-needed change. In the future, colleges are taking extra steps to verify information on student applications to make the process fairer. So take note and make sure you’re ready to provide colleges with all the information they need so that you can get that acceptance letter.

VolunteerCrowd finds academic-related volunteer and shadowing opportunities to inspire students. We help them build a verified service transcript, earn digital badges and request Letters of Recommendation to impress colleges and employers. Visit VolunteerCrowd or download the app.


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