Posted by Julia Wasson

Oct 26, 2016 3:56:47 PM


The competition for admission to many four-year colleges is fierce and getting tougher each year. High school students feel intense pressure to make their applications stand out among all the others on the desks of college admissions officers. 

If you are debating whether to start doing volunteer work, here are some compelling reasons to get involved.

It Can Distinguish You from the Pack

As competition intensifies among college applicants, good grades are simply not enough to make you stand out. By building an impressive resume of activities, you have a chance to really shine against the competition.

Colleges want well-rounded students who are upstanding citizens and who give back to the community. College admissions officers realize that volunteerism is a good indicator of the types of individuals they'd like in their student body.

Of course, volunteerism isn’t a new thing on college applications. To stand out from the pack, look for opportunities to take a leadership role in the organization you are volunteering with. For example, instead of just participating in a walk-a-thon, offer to help with publicity or with organizing volunteers. Some organizations seek out young voices for their leadership boards; ask around about such opportunities.

Local nonprofit leaders, particularly with umbrella organizations such as the United Way, are often well connected in the nonprofit community and can help you find opportunities to lend a hand. If no organization related to your cause exists in your community, start your own!

It's Now Viewed as a Standard Part of College Applications

Because of the increasing competition, more and more college application features that were once optional are now considered standard. Extracurricular activities have made that transition, and volunteering is joining the ranks. In other words, not volunteering may exclude otherwise stellar candidates from being accepted.

It's a Good Way to Showcase Priorities and Goals

If you think about it, high school volunteerism is a form of career prep. Volunteering instills a sense of giving and community, which should last throughout your academic career and adult life.

It's not easy to make your personality, goals, and priorities shine on a college application. The right volunteer experience, however, speaks for you. It's clear that you're dedicated and selfless in volunteering your time, but the organizations you choose also speak volumes about what matters to you.

High school students who know their career goals should choose volunteer activities that align with those goals. If you'd like to be a pediatrician, volunteer at a children's hospital. If you think you'd like to be an environmentalist, organize events for the Sierra Club. If you’d like to be a structural engineer or interior designer, build a home with Habitat for Humanity. If you think veterinary school is in your future, head down to your local animal shelter.

There are countless charitable community organizations, and they're always looking for volunteers. To find volunteer opportunities in your area that are related to your interests, visit

It Provides Something Intriguing and Personal to Write About

The college essay is often the standout factor that leads to college acceptance or rejection. Stories are always floating around about how the college essay was the "clincher" in securing a spot at a certain university.

But what topic should you choose? How do you show the college admissions officers how spectacular you are and why you'd be such an excellent addition to their esteemed institutions?

Volunteer experiences and the lessons you've learned are excellent topics for a college essay. If you dedicate your time and effort to an organization, you may be rewarded with a compelling essay topic.

It Shows Dedication and Commitment

When you choose an organization or cause, stick with it. According to a survey by that questioned college admissions officers from 32 of the country's top universities, 92 percent are more impressed with a candidate who spends four years volunteering at a single organization than with one who commits only a short period of time to several one-off projects.

Of course, if you have a wide range of interests and you want to help your community, it's better to have a laundry list of volunteer activities than to have none at all. Just try to dedicate the majority of your time and effort to the ones you're most interested in or that align best with your intended college major and career goals. Or try turning brief projects into long-term commitments to bridge the gap between the two.

The college admissions process can be nerve-racking, and you never know what the person looking at your college application is thinking. All you have at your disposal are your own talents, your own goals, and the ways you spend your time. As the college admissions process becomes more and more competitive, it’s essential that students branch out and give back to their communities.

Volunteering shouldn't be a last-ditch effort right before college application season, either. Even middle school students should consider getting involved in volunteer activities. The longer you're involved with an organization, and the greater role you play in their efforts to create a better world, the more impressive your college application looks.

Of course, your main motivation to volunteer shouldn’t just be all about you. Service, by definition, is about focusing on the needs of others. Most nonprofits can use volunteer help, and you may have just the skills they need. When seeking volunteer opportunities, look for places where genuine needs intersect with your own skills and interests. A volunteer experience can be as valuable a learning opportunity as time spent in the classroom, and the benefits — for yourself and others — can reach far into the future.

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