Many people see volunteering as an essential activity in high school—especially since it’s desirable on college applications. However, we must remember the true definition and purpose of volunteering: to serve your community! Never volunteer for anything unless you’re truly dedicated to the cause and enjoy it. With that being said, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before taking on volunteer opportunities. Read on for all the answers!
What do colleges think about volunteering?
Colleges, and the rest of the world, think volunteering is great! The real value of volunteering comes from consistently offering your help to the same place, allowing you to develop a good relationship with the coordinators and possibly get recognition within the community. With this deep, rich experience, you’ll not only be able to write interesting college essays and strengthen your college applications but also obtain valuable letters of recommendation for scholarships, internships, and jobs in the future. Additionally, make sure you’re consistently volunteering at the same place for a long time. Don’t stop volunteering unless you have a genuine reason, or else colleges will see that you only volunteer when you have nothing better to do. You want to show them that you prioritize volunteering and your community, so unless you have a mandatory basketball practice or choir concert, keep to a volunteering schedule at a specific place. Continuity is key.
Does it matter where I volunteer?
Yes and no. Babysitting your siblings or neighbors doesn't count as volunteering, even if you aren’t getting paid. Search the internet for opportunities in your city or ask your school counselor about places to volunteer, then pick what seems interesting to you. If you enjoy a hospital setting but tutoring local elementary school kids seems easier, don’t pick tutoring kids; if you’re genuinely interested in something, put all your efforts toward it. You want to make sure the volunteering you’re doing is worthwhile—to you and colleges. Volunteering at your local library stacking books and organizing shelves is community service, and so is volunteering at a local food drive every week. At a food drive, you’ll directly make a positive impact on people’s lives. At the library, you’re simply making the librarian’s job easier—but volunteering at a library isn’t invaluable. Every experience can teach you a lesson and help you gain skills, but it’s just a reminder to choose wisely.
How do I decide what to do for volunteer work?
I’d recommend asking your counselor for places to volunteer then put all your possible activities in a hat and pick one. This way it’s a surprise but you’ll still learn something and help a cause. If that seems unappealing, try looking for different activities such as volunteering in professional settings that interest you. But remember to ensure these are still meaningful! For example, if you’re interested in becoming a doctor, try contacting your local hospital to see if they need volunteers. If these types of opportunities seem out of reach, stick to school activities. Join a club and dedicate yourself to it by always attending meetings, asking if they need extra help, and developing a relationship with the advisor and board members. Eventually, your hard work could reward you with a board position and someone to write a letter of recommendation. Some clubs are even community service oriented, such as Kiwanis. These clubs are a great way to find more service opportunities in your area, and you’ll be representing your school while doing it. But be aware that in my experience, events sponsored by Kiwanis aren’t recurring events; they’re simply events where volunteers are needed at specific one-time events.
What do I do if I start volunteering and realize I don’t like it?
Sometimes coordinators can make you do uncomfortable or seemingly useless things while volunteering. For example, if an organization constantly asks you to clean up after their mess week after week, you might get the sense they’re using you as a cleaner rather than a dedicated volunteer. Most organizations won’t do this, as they want volunteers to help out in meaningful ways—but I have seen this happen in the past. In this case, try asking if you can do another activity and thoughtfully explain how your skills can be of better use. If you get turned down, then it’s acceptable to find another organization to help. But find another opportunity immediately; don’t get an unnecessary break in your volunteer hours.
On the other hand, let’s say you started volunteering at a hospital but realize you don’t like being there. If you absolutely can’t stand it, it’s okay to leave for another opportunity. However, if you simply wish you were playing Xbox instead of being at the hospital volunteering, give it a chance and don’t quit. You’ll still have experiences to write about and opportunities to develop relationships with the people around you. Engage yourself in the activity instead of dropping it haphazardly. You may end up not enjoying the other activity you choose either, and saving someone in a video game doesn’t count as community service.
With volunteering, and every activity in high school, always remember to do it with 100% dedication. If you don’t, it won’t yield the full benefits you expect it to. The goal is to be consistent and satisfied that you’re helping your community in whatever way you can.
Volunteering pays off in more ways than one! Check out this list of Colleges Offering Community Service Scholarships.