Paris and Volunteering

PARIS: When you apply to an Ivy League school, you need more than good grades and test scores to get you in. Every person who applies to Harvard has a perfect GPA and great test scores. It’s the extras that put you over the top. The clubs, charities, volunteering. You know.
RORY: Oh yeah, I know.

Paris explains to Rory what she should already know – to get into a top university like Harvard, you need something to set you apart from all the other excellent candidates.

Paris has been volunteering since she was about nine, and began by handing out cookies at the local children’s hospital (possibly the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford). By the age of ten she was running a study group for teenagers, probably through Chilton. She has also been a counsellor for a children’s summer camp, organised a literacy program for seniors, worked at a suicide prevention hotline (a truly terrifying thought), and a residential centre for runaways and homeless youth.

She has also adopted dolphins (you just send money to an organisation like The Oceanic Society), taught American Sign Language (perhaps through the American School for the Deaf in Hartford), and trained guide dogs (volunteers raise puppies and give them socialisation and basic training before handing them back so they can be trained as guide dogs; Paris may have done this through Guiding Eyes in Hartford.) We know Paris likes dogs, because her dog Skippy is said to have had a litter of puppies on Lorelai’s mini-dress that she borrowed: weirdly (or perhaps lazily by the writers) her dog has the same name as Rory’s unfortunate hamster.

Paris has done an insane amount of volunteering for a 16-17 year old girl, but in fact choosing this as a good method of getting into Harvard is almost certainly wrong. Colleges don’t seem to be really be that impressed by you doing huge amounts of random volunteer work (probably because anyone with half a brain and no life can rack up hours of unpaid work fairly easily).

What they really want to see is how your extracurricular activities demonstrate the kind of person you are, and the unique skills and interests that you have. For example, Paris wants to work in medical research, so the children’s hospital was a great start, but she didn’t stick with it. It would have been better to continue volunteering with just one or two organisations, and demonstrate that she had gained a leadership role and given real help to the community – maybe even won an award of some kind. Paris’ volunteering CV looks as if she’s desperately taken any role offered (and sending money to dolphins doesn’t look impressive to anyone).

Furthermore, it depends on the university how highly they rank volunteer work when assessing applications. It doesn’t seem to be extremely important for Harvard, which makes Paris’ efforts even more pointless.

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