This is a great chance to talk about whichever community service project you’ve been most involved in. Here’s a step-by-step guide we put together for this one based on two strategies we recommend: the uncommon connections technique and the Elon Musk structure.
Give it a read and see if you can:
a) Come up with 1-2 ideas that may work.
b) Pick which structure might work better.
Bonus points: Spend 10-15 minutes mapping out a basic outline based on either the uncommon connections technique or the Elon Musk structure.
Example (using the Elon Musk technique):
The rusty spigot spewed a stream of Malibu High’s signature yellow water into my bottle. I raised it to see the visible particles floating around. “I’ll just wait another five innings for a drink,” I thought.
Malibu High’s water was universally shunned. The only alternative was bottled water, which wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford it, and which led to tens of thousands of plastic bottles in landfills annually.
Our environmental club set out with one goal: to provide everyone on campus with clean, filtered water.
With a hint of ignorance, we marched into the school board meeting and made our case for filtration stations. Unfortunately, the board was not as enthusiastic as we were. Despite passionate speeches from myself and my environmentalist colleagues, they didn’t see the importance of our mission.
So we went rogue. Nearly every student and staff member joined our movement with a pen stroke, and our community united under a common vision for Malibu High’s future. Everyone wanted the water (it’s useful for survival), but the district still refused funding. In response, I set up a GoFundMe, and we rallied community support. The GoFundMe raised over $2,500. The district was out of excuses.
We got our water!
In only one semester, we have saved 30,000 plastic bottles. The stations have become the center of the Malibu campus and community: during passing period, students and staff get the rare opportunity to affiliate outside the classroom, all while enjoying a refreshing, non-yellow beverage.
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Tips + Analysis
Set the stakes (identify the problem). What problem did you work to solve through your service work? Who did that problem affect? In short—Why should we care? This student uses an anecdote to show how the issue affected his community—student athletes couldn’t stay hydrated. Then, she raises the stakes even higher—access to clean water was being restricted to students who could afford bottled water and her school was contributing to a national problem (plastics in landfills). By the end of the first two paragraphs, we’re ready to march into the school board meeting with her. Raising the stakes can get your reader fired up about the problem and make them care even more about what you did as a solution.
Name specific actions. What did you do to solve the problem? This student began by advocating to the school board, and when that didn’t work, she “went rogue,” collecting signatures to build emotional investment and starting a GoFundMe campaign to build material investment. The student could have been even more detailed, sharing steps she took to collect those signatures or specific actions she took to publicize the GoFundMe. The clearer your role in the work is, the more effective your writing will be.
Cite tangible outcomes. Okay, so you’ve identified a problem in your community and described the steps you took to help. But did it work? MIT won’t expect you to have solved the problem entirely, but the reader may like to know what the impact your actions had. Here, as with most other essays, specifics are key. In this case, the student didn’t just reduce waste, she “saved 30,000 plastic bottles.” In addition to the measurable impact, her work also created a new social space on campus.