5 Ways to Make a Difference During the Pandemic

Giving back is more important than ever with the wide-range negative effects of the pandemic. Try these ideas to make a difference and improve your college apps.

When applying to competitive colleges, every aspect of your application is carefully scrutinized. We’ve interviewed several admission officers during the pandemic and asked them what they look for in students. They all said the same thing: They’re looking for students who step up and make a difference (even a small one) in their community. This year, many students will face an additional (optional) 250-word essay to expand on their activities and contributions to others during the pandemic. So it’s more important than ever to do something productive and not just sit at home. Coming up with an idea and getting started is the hardest part, especially when you have to factor in extra safety precautions! To help you in your journey, here are a few ideas to ignite your passion for helping others during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Donate masks to local children’s hospitals or nursing homes

Places like hospitals and retirement centers have a limitless demand for masks right now—and for who knows how long. Recruit a few friends to help make face masks for others. Not able to make or acquire masks? You could make cards to brighten up the day for COVID-19 patients. Let them know they’re not in this alone. 

Take it to the next level: Get local media involved. Reach out to local news channels, newspapers, and community websites to help spread the word and recruit more volunteers. Start a GoFundMe campaign to be able to purchase supplies for more masks (or make your cards bigger and better). Record a tutorial of how your team assembles their masks for other groups wanting to follow in your footsteps. 

College admission tip: If you get on the local news or in print, include this in your college application in the activities list, and send them the article or news clip in a separate email to add to your admission file.

Related: Answers to Top Questions You Need for Volunteering and College Apps

2. Start a food drive in your neighborhood

Requests for meals from soup kitchens and food banks have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. Hosting a food drive is a simple way to give back to others while still being able to remain socially distant and safe.

  • Step 1: Find a local food bank and ask what type of food they need.
  • Step 2: Create fliers detailing when you’ll be picking up the supplies, where to drop them off, and what supplies are needed. Drop the fliers on your neighbors’ porches, ask local businesses if they can hang up the fliers, and post on your social media platforms.
  • Step 3: Keep track of how much is donated and collected for supplies.

3. Start a tutoring service for local children

If you’re strong in a certain subject or interested in teaching, consider using your skills to help kids or your peers who need extra help with their homework. You could do this over Zoom or in person (as long as you follow everyday COVID preventative actions).

  • Step 1: Decide which subjects you could teach.
  • Step 2: Create a free website on Wix or WordPress to advertise your services, and also post about it on your social media platforms.
  • Step 3: Offer weekly tutoring sessions where students can drop in and ask their homework questions or schedule a more structured one-on-one lesson. 

Related: A Student’s Guide to Moving Forward in a Pandemic

4. Join a Beta Bowl virtual entrepreneur session

If you’re a business-minded student who could benefit by working with a mentor in the field to get your idea off the ground, then Beta Bowl, a virtual enrichment program, might be for you.

  • Step 1: Brainstorm a business idea with your mentor that could help people during the COVID-19 outbreak. Make sure to create actionable steps to take to get the idea launched.
  • Step 2: After your sessions, spend time growing your idea each week. A little progress each week will add up to big results.
  • Step 3: Recruit fellow students or friends to help get your idea off the ground.

5. Connect with a pen pal at a retirement center

People, especially the elderly, have felt increasingly isolated during the quarantine due to heightened health and safety concerns. Try connecting with those who can’t have in-person visitors by sending letters to a pen pal. If you prefer, you can also paint or draw pictures with small notes of encouragement.

  • Step 1: Coordinate with a local retirement center and discuss the idea with a contact person there.
  • Step 2: “Adopt” one or two seniors as pen pals. Write letters each week and drop them off. The letters can be a simple message at first, and you can add drawings or paintings as well. As you grow the relationship, you can speak more about your day-to-day lives and interests.
  • Step 3: Recruit fellow students and help keep them on track writing letters each week.

Take the idea to the next level: Once you’re able to, go volunteer at the retirement center in person so you get to meet your pen pal in real life.

Related: An Easy How-to Guide to Start Volunteering as a Student

Get started now

No matter what your idea or activity is, the time to start helping others is now. You can make a difference in your community while also building your high school résumé to improve your college applications, gaining valuable experiences in the process.

For more advice on what to do during the pandemic, check out our regularly updated COVID-19 student resources page.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger is a college counselor and tutor at Moon Prep.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Nikole Dixon

Nikole Dixon

$500 Refer-a-Friend Scholarship Winner

Toward the beginning of last year, I was searching for scholarships to apply to through my school, town, websites online, and anything else I could find. I asked tons of questions [online] about scholarships and the best places to find them because I was desperate and needed as many as I could find. I came across a ton of bogus websites, but as soon as I found CollegeXpress, I knew I had to tell other people about it. It was definitely the most helpful site I came across, so I told my friends about it. CollegeXpress is definitely a website worth giving as a source.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress showed me that Western New England University was a great match for me both with curriculum and location. CollegeXpress is an excellent resource both future and current college students.



High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

Rose Kearsley

Rose Kearsley

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has seriously helped me out a lot, especially when it comes to scholarships and studying for tests like the ACT. I also really love the financial help. It’s a little harder to pay because I live with a family of eight, so any help is appreciated. Thanks for this opportunity!

Keaun Brown

Keaun Brown

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2020

As I transition to furthering my education, I can say with certainty that it simply wouldn’t be possible without the help of generous organizations such as CollegeXpress. Those who initially founded CX had no idea their platform would give a plethora of information to a first-generation homeless kid native to the ghettos of over half a dozen states. Everyone at CX and Carnegie Dartlet gave me a chance at a future when the statistics said I had none. And for that, I thank them.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Miami University

Oxford, OH

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI

High Point University

High Point, NC

Emerson College

Boston, MA

Moody Bible Institute

Chicago, IL