Volunteer Work for High School Students: How to Select Meaningful Experiences


Volunteer Work for High School Students: How to Select Meaningful Experiences

Volunteering builds character by allowing us to use our abilities, strengths, and privileges to help others. Service is humbling and rewarding - a well-spent use of the resources available to us, whatever they may be. Engaging in volunteer work for high school students is also an essential component of a competitive college application. When admissions officers evaluate candidates for admission, they look for students who stand out based on the impact they’ve made on their community as well as their personal achievements. Colleges want students who will thoughtfully contribute to their school and surrounding area in addition to excelling in the classroom. 

Why? Because people who serve others improve their communities and those around them, and colleges want students who will make them better. While any community service is always better than no community service, there are strategic ways to go about thinking of volunteer work for high school students. Your choices should have purpose and meaning behind them, both for yourself and the communities you serve. 

Here are some ways of selecting volunteer experiences that have meaning, value, and the potential for impact. 

Look for causes or organizations that matter to you.

If you’re not sure where to start, focus on issues that especially connect to your interests. Do you like animals? Try volunteering at your local animal rescue league or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) chapter. Has someone you know been affected by cancer? Join a fundraising campaign to raise money for research. Are you passionate about clean energy? Get involved with an outreach group focused on environmentalism. 

Alternatively, think about the places where you spend a lot of time or organizations you care about the most. When you’re in search of volunteer work for high school students, reach out locally to see who or what needs help, including places like:

  • Public libraries
  • Hospitals and blood banks
  • Community centers
  • Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship
  • Food pantries or soup kitchens
  • Recreation centers and town programs
  • Public schools
  • Museums and historical societies
  • Tutoring centers

Many organizations offer volunteer work for high school students - you might just have to take the leap and conduct some research. Colleges also appreciate if you’ve taken the initiative to seek out opportunities. By volunteering for something you care about, you can serve others and at the same time, have fun doing it. This kind of service has the added benefit of demonstrating your interests: instead of merely telling admissions officers that you’re interested in medicine, you can demonstrate your passion more concretely through your volunteer work at your local hospital.

Look for problems in need of solutions. 

The word community isn’t restricted to one single space or even physical location. Your “community” is the city you live in, but it can also be your school, a group that you are part of, or your people (defined however you like). When it comes to “community service,” admissions officers are looking for projects in which you had an impact -- how you changed the community you’ve helped for the better, in some small (or large) way. 

So, as you look for volunteer work for high school students, think about what your community needs, beyond the service organizations that already exist. Does your school generate too much waste? Do you know families in your town that are hungry? Does your church need a new roof? Do your neighbors struggle to find affordable or educational after school care for their young children? 

If you’re thinking, “too bad there isn’t a school recycling program or a local food pantry or a fundraising campaign or a pro-bono babysitter/tutor to help out” then you’re taking the wrong approach. Just because there isn’t a solution in place doesn’t mean that you can’t create one! In fact, identifying a problem in need of a solution is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your leadership skills in addition to your care for others. 

Remember, the more you care about something, the more motivated you’ll be to affect change. To maximize your potential impact, select or create a volunteer opportunity that you deeply care about; often, such projects are rooted in issues that “hit close to home,” literally and figuratively.

Think about your resources and what you can offer. 

Resources include not only money but also time, talents, and abilities. If you’re 15 years old, you probably don’t have extra cash to donate. But you might have an upcoming break from school with little or no responsibilities. Or you might have unusual skills in carpentry or an aptitude for math. You might enjoy working with kids or the elderly, or you might be bilingual in an area with a high demand for translators. Or you might have a strong, able body. The possibilities to dig into your skills to find volunteer work for high school students are abundant.

Similar to volunteering for a cause you care about, using your unique abilities and interests ensures that your service work is enjoyable to you, as well as beneficial to others. Additionally, such service can demonstrate and deepen your talent as well as showcase your personal qualities. 

Aim for impact over time. 

Finally, when you’re selecting volunteer work for high school students, look for a project you can dig into and expand on over time. Like extracurricular activities, community service is more meaningful when you’ve been involved for more than one day or in more than one event. Look for opportunities you can come back to week after week, month after month, year after year. Admissions officers always appreciate seeing sustained involvement on your application. 

Volunteering to help at a Special Olympics event shows that you’re interested in sports and have some interest in helping others. But volunteering at the Special Olympics every year shows that you’re really committed and don’t just want to do it for the sake of having it on your Common App activities list. Moreover, volunteering to serve as a partner, coach, or event organizer shows the depth of your interest in and dedication to the program and its participants. Look for ways to expand upon your experience, improve the project, and demonstrate your commitment to a particular cause. (Bonus points if this pursuit is related to your academic or other extracurricular interests!) 

If you’re looking for more ways to get started on seeking volunteer work for high school students, check out these organizations for meaningful opportunities and ideas for creating your own project: 

At the end of the day, the most important aspect of volunteer work for high school students is being able to demonstrate genuinely care towards working with the organization or community that you wish to help. Use our tips to guide yourself through the ways to optimize your impact - showing your leadership skills and commitment along the way - and hopefully you’ll find yourself on track to making a real difference in your community. Good luck!

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