If you’re a high school student with the drive to make a difference in the world, volunteering is a tremendous way to apply your passions and serve others. Beyond that, it’s an essential component of any resume or college application (the Common Application allows for 10 possible entries related to volunteering!). What’s great about volunteering is that it most often requires minimal experience, which means high schoolers have the only real requirement needed to be a great volunteer: enthusiasm! If you’re looking to start volunteering, check out these tips about how to find the right opportunity and how to be strategic with your volunteer commitments.
Which opportunity is right for me?
To begin your volunteer search, take the time to consider which specific category of opportunities most aligns with your interests and passions. From social justice to animal rights, there are countless ways to give back to the causes that mean the most to you. A key consideration in your search for opportunities, however, should be your ‘hook,’ the extracurricular and academic areas that you dedicate the bulk of your time to. If your hook is environmental science and sustainability and you’re the president of your school’s Green Board, for example, you would make best use of your time volunteering with an organization like Greenpeace. Similarly, if democratizing access to the arts for marginalized communities is your hook and you spend your time starring in theatrical plays and a cappella groups at school, volunteering at an arts camp wouldn’t be a bad idea for you. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your opportunities in a way that helps you make the greatest impact, follow your most authentic passions and see where they take you!
Finding The Right Resources
Once you determine your area of focus, the next step is to find the right opportunity. It’s easiest to begin by looking locally, which is great as it gives you the ability to support your own community. Physical postings at community organizations (think the YMCA, public parks, etc.) or at religious establishments (churches, synagogues, mosques) are likely to have been put up by residents in your town and are therefore likely to be workable options. VolunteerMatch, JustServe, and Points of Light are popular databases with loads of opportunities to choose from that can be filtered based on location and type of work. Finally, check in with your teachers or counselor, as they might be aware of after school programs or school partnerships with organizations in your town with which you can get involved.
Making an Impact in the Context of COVID-19
The advent of Covid-19 has shifted the volunteering landscape immeasurably by skyrocketing virtual opportunities and diminishing the availability of in-person opportunities. Above all, staying Covid-safe should be your priority in your volunteer search (you can’t volunteer at the local animal shelter if you’re ill!) and considering both your own needs and the needs of the population you intend to serve will allow you to do so. Thanks to diligent social distancing and disinfecting measures taken by organizations across the nation, there are definitely ways to volunteer in-person while staying Covid-safe, especially if you’re equipped with masks, gloves and glass protective shields. If you still feel uncomfortable with the risk, however, especially if you’re unvaccinated or have a family member with an underlying condition at home, be sure to refine your search to strictly virtual opportunities.
Two Birds with One Stone
Not only is volunteering a great way to grow as an individual and serve your community, but it’s also a fantastic way to knock out requirements at your school and improve your resume and college applications. Volunteer hours can count towards CAS requirements for IB students, which should be consistently logged throughout junior and senior year. Additionally, one of the Congressional Award’s categories is “Voluntary Public Service,” so consistent work volunteering with an organization for up to 24 months can qualify you to earn the Gold Medal.
When it comes to filling out your resume and college application with volunteer experience, depth is better than breadth. Colleges and employers want to see consistent contributions over time. The ability to take on leadership roles demonstrates both your dedication to the organization’s mission and that the lead volunteers trust and value you. There are strategic ways that you can maximize your time and impact with one or two organizations; for example, volunteering at a summer camp will allow you to accrue large quantities of hours over the duration of summer break and allow you to gain leadership experience working with younger campers.
Juggling School with Your Volunteer Opportunity
Another crucial priority for you will be reconciling your scholastic commitments with your new volunteer commitment. The first strategy you can use is to separate the commitments temporally. Here are three perfect time slots you can dedicate to your favorite organization:
- Summertime! – You can dedicate weeks at a time to volunteering!
- Winter or Spring Break – These time periods often precede busy seasons for organizations, such as holidays and seasonal fundraising events, so you can truly provide a helping hand.
- The Weekends – Blocking off time away from school every weekend can prove less stressful than trying to swap after school homework time with your new volunteer commitment.
There are definitely benefits to integrating your volunteer commitment into your academic routine, however! Volunteering can actually function as an excellent destressor rather than as a contributor to stress. Practicing gratitude and giving back to your local community will prove just as fulfilling as the new relationships and bonds you will form with your fellow volunteers and clients! Knitting gloves for the homeless after school could really help you to take your mind off of your exams, and preparing kittens for adoption is sure to bring you joy after a strenuous soccer practice. If you’d like to volunteer in conjunction with your coursework, it’s important to find balance and choose an organization you’re excited to work with.
Still Haven’t Found the Right Fit? Start Your Own!
If you can’t seem to find the right opportunity by searching through local and online volunteer postings, you should create your own! There are many ways to make an impact in your community that don’t require you to work with an established organization. Collecting food, money, or clothing donations will allow you to make valuable contributions to those in need. If sustainability is a passion of yours, find ways to improve your school or community’s ecological footprint by encouraging recycling or organizing cleanups in your town. Whatever your passion may be, you can take it to the next level and make a direct impact just by being creative and working with your surroundings. Starting your own ventures is also a great way to demonstrate initiative and highlight the skills and values you would bring to campus if a school were to accept you.
Volunteering won’t just bolster your college applications and demonstrate your well-roundedness as a student – it will also provide immense social and emotional benefits that will improve your day-to-day wellness! Giving back will grant you a chance to fine-tune your skills, meet new people, and explore your interests in a uniquely philanthropic context. Whether big or small, virtual or in-person, for the elderly or for puppies, make sure you start your search on ways to give back today.