Volunteer Work for College Applications

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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Volunteer work is a great thing to do at any age, but it may hold extra weight for high school students applying to college. At a time when students are trying to excel with great grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, volunteer work may make you stand out from the crowd. Nonetheless, you probably have a few questions about how to do it properly. For example, whether or not you need to do volunteer work; what kind of work you should pursue; or any questions about volunteer work and college applications. Good news! If you’re planning volunteer work for college, we have answers; read on.

First things first…

Do you need volunteer work on your application?

Yes and no. While most colleges don’t require a demonstration of volunteer work for admittance, there are a lot of great skills a student can show off through volunteer work. Therefore, a more useful question would be, “What interests and skills do I have that I can put towards resume-worthy activities?” Then, ask how those skills and interests can translate into volunteer work. You don’t need volunteer work per se, but it can offer a wide array of benefits to your college applications, and to your own personal enrichment.

It’s worth noting…

Colleges are aware that certain students can’t afford to volunteer. There’s only so much time in the day, and you may have a job in addition to school and other extracurriculars. What you really need to show then is that you’re a good citizen or member of your community. While volunteer work can demonstrate that, a job or other extracurricular activities can also foot the bill.

The next question students often ask is:

How much time do I need to spend on volunteer work for a college application?

Since volunteer work is not required on most applications, there’s not a great answer for this. What’s more important is to focus on the quality of your work rather than the quantity. Volunteering at a soup kitchen once a month regularly for four years on your own will say a lot more than participating in a school food drive once because you have to for a club or a class. Even if the hours end up being the same, what colleges really want to see is dedication, self-motivated students, and passion for the activity involved.

With all of that in mind…

It may still be helpful to you to have a set number of hours to reach. Many college counselors recommend that high school students pursue at least 50 hours of volunteer work or community service in high school. They also find that students tend to stand out more the closer they get to 200 hours of community service. But anything beyond 200 hours tends to be less important when it comes to college applications. It’s also important to make sure volunteer work doesn’t get in the way of your academics.

Finally, many students want to know if volunteer work is better than other extracurricular activities?

At least, as far as college applications go. Some admissions officers and college counselors would argue that it is. Volunteer work shows community involvement and real world experience, but it also shows many of the other skills and attributes that extracurriculars show, such as time management and leadership. It also serves as a way to stand out from the large number of students who are involved in a number of extracurriculars at school, as volunteer work can be a step above and beyond.

What about beyond college?

Some students also wonder how aligned volunteer work needs to be to their overall goals for college and a career. In other words, should your work align with what you want to study? Since many students aren’t yet sure of what they want to study, it’s not so important. However, if you can align your volunteer work with your goals, such as tutoring underprivileged students if you want to be a teacher, then there’s certainly a benefit to be had there.

In summary

All of these questions about volunteer work and college applications can be answered by keeping one principle in mind. College admissions offices want your extracurricular activities to demonstrate that you have done something meaningful to you that will make you a good student in college. If you are able to demonstrate that through commitment to an activity, leadership in it, and potentially through real-world results, then you’re truly meeting the “requirements” for volunteer work and college applications.

Questions? Let us know!