Lots of great points here. And different recommendations depending on school selectivity targeted, this student’s stats, budget, etc.
I’m happy to share my D21’s experience if helpful. However, we were not targeting schools without merit…i.e. the tippy top (donut hole family). She is premed so we wanted to preserve funds to assist with med school. She is at a T10 LAC (full ride) and was a finalist/semifinalist/alternate for merit awards at multiple other schools (e.g Stamps). We believe her service experience helped her stand out from all the other average excellent GPAs/scores. I have no evidence other than the fact it was pointed out by multiple scholarship/foundation committees.
The level of school that OP’s child is targeting isn’t clear from the initial post. For Ivy/T20s, community service matters. Visit their websites, read their mission statements. That group of colleges views themselves as educating future leaders who will meaningfully impact the world. Demonstrating a deep commitment to community service is a valuable piece of the admissions package. Top grades in rigorous courses are assumed for a competitive Ivy/T20 applicant.
My D is at an ivy that values the pursuit of knowledge in service to society. Knowing that, she made sure to highlight her years of civic engagement and community service. She was also able to articulate how her college education, and the resources of that particular college, would allow her to have a wider impact.
I think the Congressional award program is better known. I’d consider working on those levels at the same time.
I do not know how this factors in for admissions, but Jesuit schools are known for their focus on community service. I imagine it would only help to see an applicant has a strong track record of community service, and Jesuit schools may also see it as evidence that a students values align with theirs, especially if this is explicitly called out in the Why X School essay. Here’s a list of top Jesuit schools: Best Jesuit Colleges 2021 (collegeconfidential.com)
I think the real focus for selective schools is “community” vs “community service”. If you look at essay prompts of selective schools, they are asking various questions to see how you will fit as a member of that school’s community on both an academic and social basis. They want to get a sense of whether you will enhance the school’s community. A record of community service that shows purpose, commitment and achievement will support that, as well as leadership/achievement within the school, clubs/organizations, sports teams and family. A long list of service hours (or any ECs) scattered across disparate activities without tangible achievements is not helpful.
Look for the schools that offer public service scholarships, social justice scholarships or service-related honors programs.
When a school offers these types of scholarships it demonstrates that they value public service and volunteerism in their applicants. Tulane and NYU are two schools that I am aware of off the top of my head; others have been mentioned up-thread.
Some colleges also award scholarships to students who have completed service programs through AmeriCorps. These schools are called “Schools of National Service” and you can search the list here:
I do agree with previous posters that schools are looking for dedication and passion related to community service, not just a collection of volunteer hours.