Volunteering in Your Community

volunteerIt’s no secret that admissions offices at many colleges and universities, particularly those that are highly selective, like to see that applicants have experience volunteering in their community. In fact, volunteerism can be nearly as valuable on your application as academic work and extracurricular activities at school.

There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Admissions officers want to determine if applicants are well-rounded and able to be successful outside of an academic setting. Of course colleges’ first priority is academics, but having too narrow of a focus can be off-putting, and a breadth of experience and interests is indicative of a dynamic individual who will make good use of the diverse skill set learned while in college.

  • They also like to see students’ volunteer interests correspond to activities on campus. It stands to reason that those who volunteer in their communities will be similarly active on campus, possibly joining service fraternities, student government, awareness programs, and so on. Having such groups is key to building a great campus community.

  • They want to see how students’ academic interests may be applicable in real-world settings. For example, a pre-med student who volunteers at a local nursing home may be more likely to have a good bedside manner.

  • Every school wants to have employable graduates. Most colleges view their job placement rate as a key indicator of the quality of their institution, in addition to a strong alumni network. Students with great volunteer experience have better resumes and often are easier to place into jobs right out of school.

  • Character is key to quality education. Ultimately, having good people who are genuinely interested in others will enhance the education experience not only of those individuals, but also everyone they interact with on campus.

Volunteering is also intrinsically rewarding. It can serve to balance the energy you put into your schoolwork, and because many high-achieving, low-income students live in areas struggling with social problems, it can be important work for helping improve your community.

So how does one begin volunteering? First, think of your interests or perhaps an area you’d like to explore. Simple web searches can bring many opportunities to your attention, and there’s likely to be something that is an obvious fit for you. Contact someone from the organizations you find, and consider trying it out by attending a single meeting. Keep trying until you find the right one for you.

Beyond web searches, here are just a few ideas for finding a volunteer opportunity:

  • Ask teachers, counselors, and other adults you admire. School employees are often themselves active in their communities and know of even more opportunities. Because they know you personally, they may be able to guide you toward the perfect opportunity. Additionally, your school may even keep a list of volunteer groups to contact.

  • Check with city government and/or local churches. Civic and religious offices often keep lists of active community groups, work directly with some of them, and may even have an individual or team specifically for coordinating volunteers and organizations. You do not have to belong to or attend a church to inquire about volunteer opportunities; most are happy to connect willing individuals with the right organization.

  • Look for affiliates of well-known national organizations. Most communities have several chapters of nationwide groups nearby. For instance, Habitat for Humanity is present in most major American cities, as is the United Way, Salvation Army, and a host of others.

  • Use a national network. Several nonprofit organizations connect individuals nationwide with opportunities in their communities. For example, Volunteer Match has an excellent search tool you can use for free. Another one to check is the HandsOn Network, which leads approximately 250 volunteer action centers across the country.

  • Start your own volunteer group! If you can’t find a volunteer opportunity that really appeals to you, consider making your own. Identify a need in your community and see if you can get a few friends to help and at least one adult for guidance. You can really make a difference and the leadership you demonstrate will be very attractive to admissions offices.