You’ve probably heard that volunteering in high school can make your college applications more competitive. 53% of admissions officers agree that volunteer experience can break the tie between two similarly qualified candidates.
So, high school volunteering can give you an edge in college admissions—but there are plenty of other benefits too. In this post, we’ll dive into the many reasons to volunteer in high school, plus how to navigate finding the right volunteer work for you.
Why You Should Volunteer in High School
Volunteering helps organizations, families, and communities and leads to personal growth. Students who volunteer develop skills like empathy and patience. Volunteering also increases happiness, confidence, and overall well-being. It reduces anxiety, exposes students to diverse backgrounds and people, and even increases the likelihood that students will stay in school and achieve in the workplace.
That’s because volunteering shows students how the skills they’re learning in school make a positive impact in the real world. They also further develop skills that will help them succeed in their future careers. As a volunteer, you’ll enhance your communication, work ethic, teamwork, interpersonal skills, and more. You may discover a new passion or find a career path you’d like to pursue.
You’ll also build your personal and professional network. Volunteering helps you meet teenagers with similar interests, as well as adults who can extend resources and opportunities in the future. They can write you recommendation letters, set you up with internships, provide job references, and maybe even offer you a job.
And as we’ve mentioned, college admissions officers like to see volunteer experience on your application. It suggests that you’re likely to actively participate on campus and contribute to the college’s mission. It also demonstrates that your values likely align with the values of the college. Similarly, volunteer experience can help you earn scholarships and pay for your college education.
What Colleges Look for in Your Volunteer Experience
In 2016, a coalition of college admissions officers collaborated to create a list of recommendations related to high school community service experience.
These recommendations included:
- Select volunteer work related to your passions and interests.
- Commit to your volunteer work by sticking with it for at least a year.
- Choose projects that deepen your understanding of diversity. Projects that emphasize collaborating with diverse groups, rather than just serving people from different backgrounds, are preferred.
- Community engagement projects are also considered ideal, although individual projects have value too. Colleges like to see your involvement in group efforts that require communication and teamwork.
- Focus on “building skills and generating ethical and emotional awareness.” Your goal should not be to get the most hours or complete the most unique and impressive projects. Colleges value quality over quantity and personal development over efforts to impress.
Importantly, the coalition’s recommendations will also help you make the most of your volunteer work. By following these recommendations, you’ll find recommendations that help you learn, grow, and make a positive impact on your community.
Best Places to Volunteer
The best volunteer work aligns with your interests, passions, or career goals. Find a meaningful way to contribute to a cause you care about, and your volunteering will be a more valuable experience that’s also more appealing to colleges. Colleges want to see you engaged in and committed to activities that spark your passion. Plus, you’ll enjoy the work much more if it resonates with you.
That being said, here are a few excellent ways to volunteer in high school:
- Read to children at a local library
- Work with youth sports teams
- Mentor younger children
- Help with after-school programs
- Start/join meaningful initiatives at your school (e.g., food pantry, anti-bullying, honoring diversity, etc.)
- Contribute to beautification projects at your school or in your neighborhood
- Petition for something that addresses a challenge or need in your community
- Help clean up the community following a natural disaster
- Work with service animals
- Join animal advocacy groups
- Volunteer at a local wildlife facility or animal shelter
- Help out at a soup kitchen, food drive, or clothing drive
- Join organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, Amnesty International, American Red Cross, or Reading Is Fundamental
- Volunteer with a local nonprofit organization whose work you admire
- Babysit free of charge for families in need of affordable childcare
- Offer areas of expertise for free (e.g., teach seniors to use computers, provide free art or music lessons to disadvantaged children, play the piano in a nursing home, offer free copywriting or photography to a nonprofit, etc.)
- Spend time with seniors in nursing homes or help out at a local hospital
- Volunteer at a museum, library, nature preserve, or another favorite place in the community
Which of the ideas listed here interest you? Make a list and think about related opportunities in your area. If none of these ideas appeal to you, did they spark inspiration? Is there a different volunteer experience you’d like to create for yourself? Next, we’ll talk more about how to find or create the volunteer opportunities you’d like to pursue.
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How to Find Volunteer Opportunities for High School Students
The possibilities for volunteer work are endless, and that can be overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to begin, talk to your guidance counselor or ask friends where they volunteer. Most schools also have clubs that facilitate volunteer opportunities for their students, like Key Club and the National Honor Society.
Alternatively, you can always start your own fundraiser, school club, or even a nonprofit organization of your own. Your school will have guidelines about how to start a new club or activity. Again, your guidance counselor is an excellent resource to help you get started. In most cases, you will need a teacher to sponsor your club. Ask a teacher you have a good relationship with, ideally one who is also invested in the cause you’re championing.
Research local nonprofits and call or send an email asking if they’re looking for volunteers. Provide a list of skills you have or areas where you’d like to contribute. You can also do an Internet search for “volunteer work in [your area].” Tell your parents and other adults about the type of volunteer work you’re interested in and ask if they know of any opportunities.
The most important consideration is to find volunteer work that matters to you. What’s a problem in your community you would like to help solve? Is there a local organization doing work that you think is especially important? What’s a need you’d like to fill in your school or community? Start by answering those questions, then research available opportunities accordingly (or create your own!).
How to Have a Successful Volunteer Experience
Once you find volunteer work that inspires and excites you, it’s important to ensure you have a successful experience. Here are some helpful tips:
- Ask questions about age requirements, expected duties and time commitment, what you should wear, and additional requirements like orientation or training.
- Follow rules and guidelines, and always show up on time. If you’re going to be late or are unable to fulfill a commitment, contact the organization ahead of time.
- Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. Try new tasks and have new experiences. Remember, volunteer work is all about growth, and growth requires challenges and change.
- Have a positive and optimistic attitude. Treat everyone with empathy and kindness.
- If you have ideas or feedback, express it politely and thoughtfully.
- Work hard and do your best to make a meaningful contribution. Take initiative and jump in where you’re needed.
- Make connections. Talk to people, ask questions, and express your gratitude for the experience.
- Keep track of your hours. Note the duties you complete and the contributions you make, as well as everything you learn.
With these tips, you’ll be an excellent volunteer who makes a great impression. That generates references, recommendations, and future opportunities. You’ll also learn and grow more, making the experience more meaningful for you too.
How Volunteer Hours Work
Some high schools require volunteer hours for graduation. If your high school has these requirements, you’ll need to carefully track your hours and make sure you complete the full amount. For hours to count, they must not be mandated because of a disciplinary infraction, and you must not be paid.
Typically, your school will provide a form for you to log your hours. You will likely need to have an adult sign off on your hours to confirm that you completed them. In most cases, you will turn your service log into your guidance counselor.
But if your high school does not require community service, you might wonder: How many community service hours do I need for college?
Again, colleges are more interested in the quality of your volunteer work than the quantity. But having just 25 hours in four years doesn’t give the impression that you’re especially civic-minded. It’s best to aim for 75-200 hours in volunteer areas you feel strongly about. Instead of spreading yourself thin over many activities, choose a few that you’re passionate about and commit to them.
Even if your high school doesn’t require volunteer hours, you should log them. Each day you volunteer, record the date, hours worked, and tasks completed. This way, you can include the total number of hours on your college application. You can also write knowledgeably about your personal contributions and learning experiences.
Final Thoughts: Volunteering in High School
Volunteering in high school is an extremely rewarding experience that also reaps tangible rewards: scholarships, more competitive college applications, and sometimes future internships or jobs. You’ll grow as a person and learn valuable career skills.
When searching for volunteer work, find opportunities that are meaningful to you. Think about your interests, passions, and the causes that matter to you. Then, talk to your guidance counselor, reach out to local organizations, and search online for related opportunities. Don’t strive to get the most hours or be the most impressive. Find a few volunteer projects you love, then commit to them for at least a year. Aim for at least 75-200 hours, with a focus on making those hours meaningful.
Track your hours and contributions so you can accurately report them to your high school and/or colleges. Quality volunteer work can serve as a tiebreaker between you and applicants with similar GPAs, test scores, and achievements. Colleges will see your empathy, dedication, passion, and willingness to actively contribute to making their campus a better place. Even more importantly, you’ll genuinely develop those attributes—and that will make you a better person and a more successful employee.