Many students ask us at Empowerly how much volunteer work matters in the college admissions process. This is a tricky question, because some students view it as something to check off, and others are genuinely passionate about volunteering. In this article, we will go through a framework to help students decide whether they should be volunteering, how they should volunteer, and which colleges care the most about volunteer work.
Should I Be Doing Volunteer Work?
Here at Empowerly, we take a fundamental approach to college admissions. We believe that students should first discover an interest, pursue it more deeply, and then build on that story. In order to discover an interest, students should try many different activities across areas to see what they like and what they do not like.
When we think about activities, we think about four types of activities – in school, out of school, social/volunteer work, and competitions. Volunteer work does not define a student’s story or the strength of their application. Instead, it supplements and adds to a theme that a student already has – whether that is in the sciences, arts, math, or some other area.
Therefore, volunteer work cannot in itself be a guiding factor in developing a student’s extracurricular story for admissions. Yes, some students are passionate about social work and giving back, but in the context of something larger. Perhaps they want to use technology to give back to those in need or they want to bring people of different backgrounds together using social work and giving.
Therefore, ask yourself:
- Do I actually want to volunteer?
- Does volunteer fit into my extracurricular story and my longer term goals?
If you can logically and naturally fit volunteer work into your story, then consider doing volunteer work.
How Should I Volunteer?
Next, the question is how to volunteer. Volunteering should come from the heart and align with an area that you are passionate about. Let’s say that is science. You want to become a doctor. Building an extracurricular story of giving back to those in need by volunteering at hospital makes logical sense. Another potential opportunity is to create a nonprofit that gives back to a specific type of patient or educates a certain population on a predisposed illness.
Volunteering should be something that is quantifiable and meaningful to you. In the end, the best essays for college admissions and for life focus on something that the author genuinely likes to do.
The same extends for work experience in the college admissions process and beyond.
You can be creative in how you volunteer and give back. This gives you an edge in the admissions process but it also makes the work more personalized and relevant to who you are. Think about starting your own foundation, putting a twist on an existing organization, or taking a leadership role and building the story of the nonprofit in a way that makes sense to you.
Which Colleges Care About Volunteer Work?
At Empowerly, we also want to take a strategic approach to volunteering in terms of admissions. Once students pursue something that is genuine and meaningful, how can we optimize and showcase that hard work to college?
We have aggregated data from the admissions offices of top colleges that tells us on a scale of 1-4, 4 being the highest, how much colleges care about volunteer work specifically. Here are some examples of colleges that rank volunteer work as 4 out of 4:
- Most of the Ivy Leagues and top schools rank volunteer work at the 2 level – Considered
- This includes Duke, Yale, and UPenn
Volunteer work matters in the college admissions process if it matters to the student. In this article, we provide a framework to help students decide if they should volunteer, how they should volunteer, and which schools care most about volunteer work.