The Changing Landscape of Service Learning –

And the Real Life Consequences for Students


As educators, the obligation to create global citizens means experiential learning in and out of the classroom.  It is no surprise service learning – building outside volunteerism into classroom curriculum with a clearly defined project or outcome – is increasing in prevalence.   Service learning incorporates adolescent developmental needs of belonging, relationship building and a sense of accomplishment into a structured outcome benefitting the community.  It is this structured environment that encourages positive outcomes, empowers students to take active roles and reduces the risk of poor adolescent decision making related to volunteerism.  But what is the risk?


From a purely institutional standpoint, leaving developing minds to make decisions that will impact them all the way down the road at graduation can have real impacts on college admission.  Consider short term vs. long term pressures and the adolescent decision-making process.  By structuring volunteerism into curriculum, we remove the decision between going to a friend’s house (short term benefit) and volunteering to help the community (long term benefit).  While easy for the adult mind, this equation can be challenging for an adolescent mind…with increasingly high stakes. 


It is well known volunteer hours are factored into the college admissions process.  A widely published, long-standing report by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education explains why colleges should consider community involvement to an even greater degree.  The report had more than 75 endorsers when published – many with leadership positions in university admissions across the country.  As educators, failing to structure such an important consideration can have real world consequences when students apply to college.

Dr. Leslie Smith writes extensively on the topic in her work: Leveraging the College Admissions Process to Benefit Students Through International Service Learning.


Dr. Smith concludes, “While international service learning experiences may initially be attractive as a means to bolster the college resume, they have the potential to greatly benefit high school students in a number of meaningful ways.  They not only provide students with the learning outcomes to reflect upon and write about in their college admission application, but they also have the potential to improve their mental health and well-being as they connect and serve others, with increases caring, compassion, and empathy.”


Every institution strives to prepare students academically.  Those that seek to set their students apart are focused on adding character and global citizenship to the academic experience – knowing colleges value these traits more than ever when evaluating applicants.


MobileServe is committed to making volunteer hour tracking and verification simple. As a fully certified B-Corp, MobileServe strives to remove the challenges of volunteer management to help those who are building our communities.  Please visit to learn more about our mission.

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