With so many variables at play in the college admissions process, it is tempting to look for ways to gain an edge. For many students who feel trapped by average GPAs and test scores, and even for students with stellar scores looking at elite programs, finding ways to boost their applicant profile becomes a priority. Aside from raw numbers, an applicant is also evaluated on their extracurricular activities, awards/honors, the strength of their admissions essays, and service to the community. Of course volunteerism doesn’t carry as much weight as other application components, but, depending on the school, it can matter more than applicants realize. Liberal arts colleges, specifically, are very invested in an applicant’s service record and how much they give back to their communities. So, what is the best way for a high school student to find volunteer opportunities that match their interests? When we help high school students build a record of volunteerism, we consider their grade-level, time commitment, goals, and values. The summer is a great time to explore opportunities to serve the community. Here are our suggestions for how to get started:
- For 9th and 10th graders, consider taking advantage of opportunities at local places of worship (VBS, mission outreach, youth group service activities, etc), soup kitchens, donation drives, etc. Many volunteer opportunities have minimum age requirements, but the above suggestions usually accept assistance from younger teens.
- For 11th and 12th graders, look at organizations like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities that match your personal interests. Do you love animals? Consider volunteering at an animal shelter? Do you love kids? Consider volunteering at a summer camp. Do you enjoy spending time with elders? Consider volunteering at a retirement home or assisted living center. Some organizations have minimum age requirements and require background checks.
- As high school students become more interested in certain subjects and career paths, they can look for volunteer options related to their professional goals. This is often a great way to open the door to future career opportunities. Students interested in the medical field could look for volunteer options at local clinics or hospitals, for example.
- Make sure you are honest with yourself about the time you have to commit to service opportunities. Do not promise more time than you can give. Organizations frown upon people who over-commit and under-deliver, or students who flake and fail to show up when needed. Volunteering is an opportunity to demonstrate responsibility and commitment. Students who stay with the same organization can often find opportunities to take on leadership roles, and supervisors can sometimes be sources of excellent letters of recommendation.
Ultimately, the best experience will come from matching a student’s passion with the right opportunity. Students shouldn’t volunteer just to strengthen college applications; they should want to make a difference in their community.